My Three Cents Worth on Enhancing a Melody

This is the first of a series of blogs coupled with videos that focus on specific tunes from my threecents-1That’s Jazz piano method books that we will be playing in the 88 Creative Keys camp this summer.  The first step in learning to improvise is to get a tune well under your hands (preferably memorized) which is why we are requiring all participants to prepare at least one selection from the list below prior to arriving at camp.

Late Beginner – That’s Jazz Book 1
Spare Change
Swing Out
Burrito Cha Cha

Early Intermediate – That’s Jazz Book 2
Flint and Steel
Get Up, Get Ready
Repeat After Me

Intermediate – That’s Jazz Book 3
Fired Up
Livin’ the Blues
Stepping Stones

To begin, take a look at my video explaining how to get the most out of Spare Change, the first tune in Book 1.  Please pay particular attention around 2:15 where I explain basic improvisation techniques you can use to enhance a tune.

Now, a lot of people think you have to be an expert to improvise.  Wrong!  Improvisation begins simply by merely embellishing which means you decorate or enhance a tune you already know.  Here are three easy embellishments that can be applied almost any tune.

Fill notes – play the notes between the written notes.  This embellishment can be used anywhere a melody includes notes that are a third or more apart.

Take, for example, the first leap between the 3rd and 4th notes of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.  This is a great place to add fill notes.

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Here’s one possible way to add fill notes to this gap:

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Tip: When enhancing a tune, play it slowly enough to leave time/space for embellishments

Repeated notes – You can also make a melody more interesting and personal just by repeating some of the notes.

For example, in the 2nd measure of Twinkle:

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Neighbor notes – A third way to enhance a melody is through the use of neighbor notes which go away and back.  From any written note, play an adjacent note (above or below) and then replay the written note.

I happen to live on a hill so if I go to my uphill neighbor to borrow some flour for my baking project and come right back home, I’ve followed the same path as an upper neighbor note.  If go to the downhill neighbor and right back to borrow some sugar, I’ve followed the path of a lower neighbor note.

Here’s an example of an upper neighbor note applied to the last measure of Twinkle.

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Put all three of these embellishments together and you’ll find you have a much more interesting way to play this classic melody.

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Try mixing and matching these embellishments on other tunes and feel free to add ideas of your own.  There are many ways to customize a melody.

To learn more easy-to-play improvisational tips and tricks like this, pick up one or more of my That’s Jazz piano method books, available at many online and regular music stores.  Also, consider becoming a part of music history by attending the first ever 88 Creative Keys camp this summer.  We have tracks for students, adult pianists and a teacher training workshop.  If you are interested in expanding your ability to play more creatively “off page,” you won’t want to miss it.

Until next time, enjoy your creative musical journey!

Bradley Sowash

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To learn more about upcoming  88Creative Keys Camp, Workshop and Clinics coming THIS summer click here.

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