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Oct 15, 2021 - 12:39:16 PM
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274 posts since 9/19/2014

Greetings!!

The other day someone called me an "Advanced" player. Said person is a credible and well respected musician and can play many instruments well. Though a compliment and kind of him I do not think I am an Advanced player.

I can play in jams, find chords w/ and w/out a capo, hear the changes and take breaks. However, it is the melody that eludes me still. Trying to find the melody on my own w/ time is something I have done. Trying to find the melody of an unfamiliar song during a jam, no bueno.

How do some of you do it?? What is your secret?? I have heard of a guitar pill, is there one for banjo?? Kidding aside, I would like to truly improve. Please advise,

Thanks

Oct 15, 2021 - 12:57:50 PM
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3951 posts since 3/28/2008

First, be sure you actually DO know the melody. Can you sing it (not necessarily well!)? You have to have a clear image of it in your mind, otherwise you won't know when you've found it.

Then find the first note. For every succeeding note, ask yourself, "Is this note higher than, lower than, or the same as the previous note?"

Now here's the pro tip: Most notes in the melody are notes in whatever the chord is at that point in the song. The few that aren't are mostly stepping-stones between one chord note and the next. So instead of trying higher or lower notes at random, start by trying higher or lower notes within the chord.

For example, let's say the chord at a particular point in the song is G, you've found that a melody note is D, and you've determined that the next melody is lower. Don't try lower notes at random; try B (the next lower note in the G chord). If that's not low enough, try G (the next one lower than B), etc. If you get to a note that's part of the chord but that's TOO low, then the note you're seeking is higher than that one but lower than the next-higher chord tone (which makes it one of those "stepping stone" notes I mentioned above). That narrows down your search considerably.

This all gets easier the more you do it. Start with melodies you really know well, like "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" or "Amazing Grace" or whatever. Make sure you know the chords. Find the first note. Then go for it.

Do it enough, and (at least for typical sorts of melodies) you'll get to the point where you can do it while playing in real time, just like the big boys and girls do!

Edited by - Ira Gitlin on 10/15/2021 12:59:43

Oct 15, 2021 - 1:09:33 PM
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chuckv97

Canada

60501 posts since 10/5/2013

I agree with Ira,,, try sing the melody first to ingrain it into your mind,, then finger the first note on your banjo, etc.
I’ve played in hundreds of jams and some unfamiliar songs still elude me as far as taking a decent break on them when it comes around to my turn. If I know the chord progression I just play off the chords,, or just pass completely.

Oct 15, 2021 - 1:46:14 PM
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4444 posts since 12/6/2009

Pick a simple song you know by heart....it could even be a song from your childhood. Sing the first bar. Use a chord that sounds compatible with the key your singing in. then just try and copy the notes you just sang.....keep doing that until it dawns on you what’s involved....you probably will even see how easy it really is. But start with simple tunes....and use your thumb to start picking out notes. Fancy stuff comes later on.

Oct 15, 2021 - 2:42:18 PM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

26546 posts since 8/3/2003
Online Now

I have a repertoire of what I call melody phrases; i.e., 1 to 4 bar phrases that can be plugged into songs that will hit the melody note(s). When you have that under your fingers, it's fairly easy to figure out the chord structure and melody of an unknown song fairly quickly so you can at least take a simple break if you get the nod. It's something I figured out over the years by lots of jamming at festivals and at club meetings and with my band working out various arrangements of songs. Nothing is written down, it's all between my brain and fingers. They seem to know what to do and it usually works pretty well.

As you play more and more songs, you'll notice that a lot of bluegrass songs have the same chord progression or very similar ones and many melody notes are located in the same place in certain chords. Once you figure that out, you'll have your melody phrases and be able to pick new songs quite easily.

Oct 15, 2021 - 4:58:54 PM
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241 posts since 3/2/2013

How i've become somewhat comfortable in finding the melody on the fly has been thru really taking stock where those "sounds" that you need are. Meaning that within each chord structure becoming familiar with the sound of each note and also each note that is acceptable to play with the fingers that are allowed to move and reach for other "sounds" while the others are holding the basic chord. This is actually a thing. I believe if a person can know where to go with their voice on the fly after hearing a phrase or a whole tune only once you can do the same thing with your fingers. Granted some may not have as good an ear as the next person so it may take more work. How does your voice know where to go? It has to skip so many half or whole steps too sometimes to get to the right note, right? And most people can do this without fumbling around...at least on a simpler tune. Same thing with fingers once they are trained by muscle memory where those sounds are. May not work for everyone but this approach has worked very well for me.

Edited by - brententz on 10/15/2021 17:01:43

Oct 15, 2021 - 5:11:27 PM
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241 posts since 3/2/2013

After rereading the other posts i realized I said basically the same thing Ira did...I think : )

Edited by - brententz on 10/15/2021 17:12:14

Oct 15, 2021 - 5:45:16 PM
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Players Union Member

Eric A

USA

1340 posts since 10/15/2019

They all said the same thing, and they are all correct. Sing, sing, sing.

Remember, you don't have just one instrument (banjo). You have two instruments (banjo and voice). Voice follows the melody.

And even if you seldom or never actually sing out loud, you are free to do it in your head as you play.  And after a while, the tune in your head just comes out your fingertips on the banjo.

This is why even fiddle tunes usually have some sort of lyrics to them, as nonsensical as they may be. This helps people remember the melody without having to know how to write down music.

Cripple Creek's wide and Cripple Creek's deep...

Edited by - Eric A on 10/15/2021 17:49:22

Oct 15, 2021 - 5:59:23 PM

727 posts since 2/15/2015

I'm too lazy to learn any songs so I just work on different chord patterns. And doodle and noodle and noodle and noodle. I have a pretty good sense of what I'm doing on most stringed instruments, and different tunings that I play around with.

I do have to juggle my instruments around because my ear gets tired of hearing the same timbre day after day so I switch it up with a different instrument and work on one or another for varying lengths of time.

It hurts my overall instrument playing on any one particular instrument or another, but musically I'm not pigeon holed and that keeps it enjoyable.

Edited by - geoB on 10/15/2021 18:01:12

Oct 15, 2021 - 7:25:54 PM
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45 posts since 3/10/2009

I think they all missed the point of you question. You asked how do you take a break on on unfamiliar song in a jam. I also had the same problem and still do at times but over time and gaining playing experience i can basically play something of a break. Doesnt have to be perfect just something that fits. I remember the name of the song and go home and look it up on you tube or get a recording and work it out. Hang in there and after a while you will become familiar with most of the songs that are played in a jam.

Oct 16, 2021 - 1:49:18 AM
Players Union Member

pickn5

USA

1632 posts since 8/8/2012

Great topic. Some great advice that made me realize I have to pay more attention and listen as I play notes, so I'm able to recognize where the notes are on the fingerboard.

Oct 16, 2021 - 4:58:46 AM

USAF PJ

USA

274 posts since 9/19/2014

Thanks, all ya all. I have learned that phrase since moving from so Cal. I do appreciate your advice.

Off this topic, any thoughts on Stelling Banjos, will they be hard to come by in the future? They are the best, IMO.

Oct 16, 2021 - 6:05:05 AM

Fathand

Canada

11826 posts since 2/7/2008

quote:
Originally posted by USAF PJ

Off this topic, any thoughts on Stelling Banjos, will they be hard to come by in the future? They are the best, IMO.


I love my 1985 Stelling Golden Cross. It is the loudest banjo I have played. Craftsmanship is excellent. Neck is super easy to play.  A Stelling has a different tone than a Gibson style banjo.  It is excellent for a wide variety of music styles including bluegrass but if I were to only play Scruggsy bluegrass then a Gibson type banjo has more of that jangly Scruggsy tone. If you want to also play jazz, blues, melodic style, and others a Stelling is excellent.

Oct 16, 2021 - 6:11:33 AM

Fathand

Canada

11826 posts since 2/7/2008

quote:
Originally posted by USAF PJ

Greetings!!

Trying to find the melody of an unfamiliar song during a jam, no bueno.

How do some of you do it?? What is your secret?? I have heard of a guitar pill, is there one for banjo?? Kidding aside, I would like to truly improve. Please advise,

Thanks


You need to work on some kind of ear training. There are courses, websites and free apps on Google store. If you can hear chords, your ears work. Sometimes it is easier to think of melody when you are not playing banjo.

The singing advice might work but some of us can't hear what notes we are singing even if we can pick them out on a banjo. 

Edited by - Fathand on 10/16/2021 06:11:59

Oct 16, 2021 - 9:03:25 AM
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241 posts since 3/2/2013

quote:
Originally posted by candkath

I think they all missed the point of you question. You asked how do you take a break on on unfamiliar song in a jam. I also had the same problem and still do at times but over time and gaining playing experience i can basically play something of a break. Doesnt have to be perfect just something that fits. I remember the name of the song and go home and look it up on you tube or get a recording and work it out. Hang in there and after a while you will become familiar with most of the songs that are played in a jam.


I think we all understood his point very well actually, not trying to argue but if you go back and read first post he asked "how to find the melody in an unfamiliar song"... not as you suggested....how to fake a break. (You can already pretty much do that if you can hear chord changes and OP said that he can do that well).  You also basically suggested that it's near impossible by saying just fake it and go home and learn it right which does have its place but leaves out the fact that it can be done very well and precise on the fly, granted some songs are more difficult than others for sure.  I think how to find the melody in an unfamiliar tune has been answered very well by the suggestions to practice training the ear to where those sounds are within chord structures mostly and passing notes linking chords together. Again no arguement here, just a slight clarification in order to help the OP as much as possible : )

Edited by - brententz on 10/16/2021 09:18:36

Oct 16, 2021 - 1:00:21 PM

45 posts since 3/10/2009

I read the post. He said he could find the melody on his now but not in the jam session. If you hear a new song in a jam go home and learn a break you can play.

Oct 16, 2021 - 1:38:34 PM
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3951 posts since 3/28/2008

quote:
Originally posted by candkath

I read the post. He said he could find the melody on his now but not in the jam session. If you hear a new song in a jam go home and learn a break you can play.


You're right, he did say "trying to find the melody" (my emphasis) was something he'd done. But if he can't do it in real time, I'd say (as both a picker and a teacher) he simply hasn't done it enough, and possibly hasn't learned how to do it efficiently. That's what most of us were trying to address in our comments.

Oct 16, 2021 - 6:46:07 PM

Alex Z

USA

4556 posts since 12/7/2006

If the unfamiliar tune is a song being sung in the jam session, then obviously that's the melody right there.  smiley

Maybe the difficulty is if the unfamiliar tune that's an instrumental -- what exactly would be "melody" notes?  It's more like patterns.  Think "Ground Speed" or "Gold Rush."

So I think a clarifying question to the poster is needed:

    1.  Does "trying to find the melody" mean trying to find the notes of a song being sung, but find them on the banjo?

    2.   Or does it mean absorbing the instrumental tune enough so that the "melody" can be remembered?

    3.  Or does it mean taking an improvised break on an unfamiliar instrumental such that the break sounds at least somewhat like the instrumental?

    4.  Or does it mean taking a break on a song being sung and having the break sound like the melody of the song?  Think "Your Love is Like a Flower."

    

Oct 16, 2021 - 9:42:38 PM
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12427 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by candkath

I read the post. He said he could find the melody on his now but not in the jam session. If you hear a new song in a jam go home and learn a break you can play.


Since you understand that he has the ability to find the melody -- and work up a solo -- on his own time at home but not in real time at the jam how does telling him to go home and work up a solo for the next time the song comes up help him accomplish what he's clearly asking, which is to be able to convey melody on the spot in an improvised solo to a song he doesn't already know the first time he hears it at a jam?

Of course he can go home and work up a melody-expressing solo for later. He wants to do one in the moment.

USAF PJ:

Other people have described the learning process for this, and I don't have a different process to offer.

I just want to comment that a key term that no one has used so far is "intervals." Music is all about intervals: the distance between notes.  And if you have the ear to hear chord changes, find chords and improvise solos, you already have the "relative pitch" for rendering melody -- or very close to it -- on the fly. Spend some time learning what the distances between notes (in frets) sound like.

Good luck.

Edited by - Old Hickory on 10/16/2021 21:43:55

Oct 17, 2021 - 12:43:08 AM
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Tommy5

USA

3947 posts since 2/22/2009

Here is the easiest way, if you have a couple of minutes to figure it out before your break, just roll through the chord changes going up and down the neck rolling through the chord inversions , you will hit some of the melody notes as most  of these notes will be in the chord, in many bluegrass tunes, the melody note will even be the tonal or bottom note of the chord especially when the chord changes. After you have a few melody notes figured out, just play them as you roll around the chords add some licks and passing tones ,smile a lot ,act you know what your doing and you are there. I used to be reluctant to play lead breaks unless I knew the melody by heart, but I noticed the flatpick guitar guys often just played scales and riffs and licks and seldom found a melody note. I can do that, nowadays playing a memorized break to a song I know seems boring so I just try to improvise everything, it is way more fun, sometimes it works, nobody is paying that much attention to me anyway, the other jammers are to busy thinking about there own lead brakes, it’s bluegrass, not the opera.

Edited by - Tommy5 on 10/17/2021 00:48:44

Oct 17, 2021 - 4:27:42 AM

4444 posts since 12/6/2009

Back in the early days of learning whether it was guitar or banjo or whatever it was the melody that was important. There wasn’t too much emphasis on fancy lick things or fancy abstract breaks. Most breaks in those days were mainly always the melody. I suppose is why we all learned mostly melody by ear......if someone sang. “goin down the road feeling bad”....that’s what you tried to play on the instrument at break time. So I would say....definitely the ear training needed.so you have to have the ability to transpose that with the help of knowing the notes and scales around the neck in different keys is imperative.

Oct 17, 2021 - 5:19:31 AM
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USAF PJ

USA

274 posts since 9/19/2014

Thanks Alex! To be precise it is numbers 1 and 4. I was never thinking instrumental.

@Overhere

How do we define "ear training", I think I have gotten better by listening, but what are your thoughts on this as it does not seem this is often taught during lessons, my experience.

Oct 17, 2021 - 5:20:02 AM

USAF PJ

USA

274 posts since 9/19/2014

How do I highlight to tag in a post?

Oct 17, 2021 - 6:14:14 AM
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O.D.

USA

3622 posts since 10/29/2003

quote:
Originally posted by USAF PJ

Greetings!!

The other day someone called me an "Advanced" player. Said person is a credible and well respected musician and can play many instruments well. Though a compliment and kind of him I do not think I am an Advanced player.

I can play in jams, find chords w/ and w/out a capo, hear the changes and take breaks. However, it is the melody that eludes me still. Trying to find the melody on my own w/ time is something I have done. Trying to find the melody of an unfamiliar song during a jam, no bueno.

How do some of you do it?? What is your secret?? I have heard of a guitar pill, is there one for banjo?? Kidding aside, I would like to truly improve. Please advise,

Thanks


adding to the great replies so far , Ill add

the short answer is, doing this enough,( in red) , will lead to the ability to do it on the fly.

F W I W

good luck Everett

Oct 17, 2021 - 7:04:21 AM

241 posts since 3/2/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Old Hickory
quote:
Originally posted by candkath

I read the post. He said he could find the melody on his now but not in the jam session. If you hear a new song in a jam go home and learn a break you can play.


Since you understand that he has the ability to find the melody -- and work up a solo -- on his own time at home but not in real time at the jam how does telling him to go home and work up a solo for the next time the song comes up help him accomplish what he's clearly asking, which is to be able to convey melody on the spot in an improvised solo to a song he doesn't already know the first time he hears it at a jam?

Of course he can go home and work up a melody-expressing solo for later. He wants to do one in the moment.

USAF PJ:

Other people have described the learning process for this, and I don't have a different process to offer.

I just want to comment that a key term that no one has used so far is "intervals." Music is all about intervals: the distance between notes.  And if you have the ear to hear chord changes, find chords and improvise solos, you already have the "relative pitch" for rendering melody -- or very close to it -- on the fly. Spend some time learning what the distances between notes (in frets) sound like.

Good luck.


Very good point about intervals!...thats what i was trying to convey when talking about how most people can jump half and whole steps automatically when mimicking a tune with their voice and how that can eventually be taught to your fingers finding the right note. I need to brush up on mt terminology : )

Oct 17, 2021 - 9:19:27 AM
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12427 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by brententz
Very good point about intervals!...thats what i was trying to convey when talking about how most people can jump half and whole steps automatically when mimicking a tune with their voice and how that can eventually be taught to your fingers finding the right note. I need to brush up on mt terminology : )

And I should have read your message more carefully. I would have acknowledged you talked about intervals without using the actual term.

Ira was getting at that, too.

The sounds of half-step, whole step (second), two whole steps (third), seven half-steps (fifth) can all be learned. Anyone who can hear chord changes and get the right chord already recognizes these intervals since what they're reacting to most of the time (I believe) is the root note of the chord. So they need to transfer that recognition to melody notes independent of the chord.

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