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Combining the Melody and the Chords

melody chords chet atkins the moody blues

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#21 dadfad

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Posted 04 June 2012 - 08:51 AM

Here's a clip of Roy Rogers pretty much combining everything on Robert Johnsons Terraplane Blues.
This might be a bit hard to tab John.


Yes, it would be difficult. Especially his ornate little rapid... intro-licks... before he actually begins the tune, as well as the other intracacies he's added to the original. But then any fingerstyle like that (or hybid-picking as Rodgers used, etc) is fairly difficult to tab note for note whether it's Roy Rodgers or Blind Blake or another master in the style.

We know these old-guys (Johnson, Blake, Fuller, Jackson, Lonnie Johnson, etc, etc) never played their own tunes identically note for note. They played the tune using the style in which they always played. The single time they played a tune and it was recorded just happened to be the version "written in stone" for others, like us, who have followed. We know this to be the case (as in the slightly different alternate-takes of some of Johnson's tunes finally released fifty years later than the original 78s, or Blind Blakes "number 2's" etc. I've met a number of old blues-guys and they never played their tunes exactly the same way as their old recordings. And so this should be taken into consideration when learning their tunes.

This is kind of how I've come to approach (for many years now) learning to play the tunes of these guys (and sort of how I tab them as well). I think of it as more "style for style" instead of "note for note."

First I'll try to learn to play part of the tune... maybe the first verse or a guitar-break intro or solo... actually note for note to the recording. I do this for two reasons: 1} to get the "feel" of the artist's style itself; and 2} so I don't have an excuse for my own lack-of-skill. (Of course there are sometimes things where my skill-level will never match the level of that master, for example Blind Blake or John Jackson's ability to pick perfectly in either dirrection with not only fingers but with their thumbs as well), but generally I try to get it note-for-note at first. (And typically I'll also tab the first verse or intro guitar-break when I do a tab.)

After I have that down pretty much I'll no longer worry about playing it note-for-note from rote-memory. I'll use their key-licks and structure, etc. And if it's an artist who has a number of recorded tunes and whose style and licks from those tunes I'm also familiar with, I'll keep those licks in mind too as I try to play the tune I'm working on. Drawing on that artist's "bag of tricks" in much the same way as the artist himself might. Often you find the same (or very similar) "signiture licks" within a number of tunes of that artist's material. Even in tunes that the guitarist has done in what are different keys and even different tunings you'll often find the same or very similar licks even if played somewhat differently. (For example the "Robert Johnson Walk-In-A" even if done in G, or Open-G or D, or with the added 2nd-string embelishment it's still basically the same signiture-lick.

Johnson's A-walk, done out of the barred
Long-A position (003335).......

--5---5------5---5------5---5------5---5----(5)--
-------------------------------------------------
-------------------------------------------------
--2---2------5---5------4---4------3---3----(2)--
-------------------------------------------------
-------------------------------------------------

or with added 2nd-string...

--5---5------5---5------5---5------5---5------5---
------------------------3---3------4---4------2---
--------------------------------------------------
--2---2------5---5------4---4------3---3------2---
--------------------------------------------------
--------------------------------------------------

And so in using that same-sounding lick will immediately make a tune sound Robert Johnson-ish to anyone familiar with the body of his work. He used it or a similar lick in many of his tunes. Terraplane Blues also has it's own Johnson-sig lick (similar to Milk Cow Blues)...

In Open-G (or Open-A)...

D}--5----5-5-5----5---5---5-----0---0---0------
B}--6----6-6-6----5---5---6-----0---0---0------(repeat this twice more)
G}--0----0-0-0----0---0---0-----0---0---0------
D}------------------------------0---0---0------
G}------------------------------0---0---0------
D}---------------------------------------------

...or, with added 3rd-string

D)--------5---5-5-5---5-5---5-------------------------5-5--5------
B}--------6---6-6-6---5-5---6---0-0-0-----------------6-5--6------
G)--------7---7-7-7---7-7---7---0-0-0--(x3 then...)---7-7--7------
D)------------------------------0-0-0-----------------------------
G)----0-------------------------0-0-0-----------------------------
D)--0-------------------------------------------------------------

...which is heard repetatively within the tune whether by Johnson or Rodgers. And of course the lick can be used in another tuning, for example Open-D (or Open-E)...

D}--0----0-0-0----0---0---0-----0---0---0------
A}--5----5-5-5----5---5---5-----0---0---0------
F}--6----6-6-6----5---5---6-----0---0---0------(repeat this twice more)
D}--0----0-0-0----0---0---0-----0---0---0------
A}------------------------------0---0---0------
D}------------------------------0---0---0------


And so once you become familiar with a given artist's licks and aspects of his style then you can play his material very authentically (or not, dpending on what you want). I know maybe (hard to say really) about a dozen or so Johnson-esque licks plus some variations on them. Maybe twenty-five or so Blind Boy Fuller-esque licks' or Lonnie Johnson's, etc, etc. And so that allows you to play most of their material. Also, not trying to play exactly note-for-note has other positives. The first is that most of the time for most of us we'll never match the original artist and a listener might as well listen to the original. So you've removed yourself from trying to be little more than a human CD-player! :lol: And probably more importantly, by "opening up" that artist-lick improv bag, you've also opened up the tune to putting more of yourself, your own style and nuances and all the rest, into the tune. And while it's still a Robert Johnson tune (for example) in some ways you can "make it your own" as well. Like the tremendous skills Roy Rodgers above has injected into the tune. It's still Robert Johnson's, yet at the same time very much his own.

Anyway, I've rattled on enough!

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When the roll is called up yonder he'll be there...


#22 Matt B

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Posted 04 June 2012 - 11:32 AM

Also, not trying to play exactly note-for-note has other positives. The first is that most of the time for most of us we'll never match the original artist and a listener might as well listen to the original. So you've removed yourself from trying to be little more than a human CD-player! :lol: And probably more importantly, by "opening up" that artist-lick improv bag, you've also opened up the tune to putting more of yourself, your own style and nuances and all the rest, into the tune. And while it's still a Robert Johnson tune (for example) in some ways you can "make it your own" as well. Like the tremendous skills Roy Rodgers above has injected into the tune. It's still Robert Johnson's, yet at the same time very much his own.

Anyway, I've rattled on enough!


This is something that I think a lot of people don't realize. A fair number of the older (typically) people I have played with around town are sticklers for "playing it as it's written." It has caused me to give up on quite a few opportunities for bands/jams/whatever because I hate playing that way. I can, and do, learn songs "correctly" but as John mentioned, play that way. If a bar or club owner or the patrons want to hear Chuck Berry's version of Johnny B Goode, a Jukebox is much cheaper than paying live bands. My take on Sitting on Top of the World has gotten me glared at by both bluegrass purists and blues purists. I play a much much more uptempo, rockified version based loosely on Creams take, but it's completely different, and a lot of people (even musicians) get annoyed by that. Anyone can learn a tune note for note (assuming they have the correct skills), but it takes a real artist to take a song and make it his (or her) own. That's one of the many reason I'm glad my current band only does one or two covers per hour at shows, sticking to our leader's vast catalog of original material.

#23 tenn_jim

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Posted 04 June 2012 - 12:13 PM

Thanks John for sharing those pointers. It's funny how we take some things for granted isn't it. Back in my youth I'd sit for hours watching Chet Atkins and then trying to play him note for note. One day he told me I was wasting my time, he never played a song the same way twice, so if I was trying to play the same as he did, I'd never achieve it. He then told me to play what I was hearing, not what he was playing.

One day I was noodling around the old RCA studio in Nashville, just playing a little of "Under the Double Eagle". Chet came out of the studio, picked up his guitar and began playing rhythm. We jammed for about five minutes when he laughed and said, let's hear how this sounds on playback. Unknown to me, he had recorded the entire session, first me playing on my acoustic and him playing on his Gretsch. I still have that old recording and when I think I'm a fair guitar player, I take that out and listen. When I hear Chet play the same lead, I know my place!

Edited by tenn_jim, 04 June 2012 - 12:41 PM.

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#24 Crawdaddy

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Posted 04 June 2012 - 02:23 PM

Some excellent insights there in the last 3 posts gents. A key thing there is to hear the music in your own head and then to try to translate that out through your own playing. Of course for most of us upon hearing a tune or or song for the first time the tendency is to want to try play it as somebody else did and whilst there is merit in learning things that way and you will learn some things, the reality is that for the most part you are only listening to one recorded version of a song and trying to replicate that. For your own progression and creativity though it is also a very worthwhile thing as has been pointed out to listen for key elements or signatures in a tune and combine them with the things that you know yourself from within your own playing style. The things that you know yourself will have been picked up on from listening to any number of other players. So if you cop a bit from one and cop a bit from another and so on you eventually wind up with a number of guitar playing tools in the form of chords,licks,melodies,phrases and so on. As guitar players or in fact any musician that's the way in which you will grow and improve more as a player. What it amounts to is paying reverence back to the original, copping whats good for yourself to use and using it in conjunction with your own personality basically.
When i first started playing at around the age of 14 I took some lessons on acoustic guitar, that was my introduction to playing until I got an electric and then somehow managed to convince myself that I was somehow related to Hendix and after that the lessons went out the window, I was making heaps of sound but not all that musically.
I was however actually shown some things early on though that I think are pretty important in being able to create an interesting and full sound from an acoustic and that are helpful in playing in such a way as to combine the Melody with the Chords.
This involved learning songs in 3/4 time and in 4/4 time (mostly 4/4).
In learning open postion chords there were always the bass notes being required to be played for the purpose of keeping time within the tune. Even with barre chords there was no escape from the bass notes.
So basically if a song was in 4/4 the strumming pattern would be bass note, strum, bass note strum or if it was in 3/4 it would be bass note,strum, strum, bass note, strum, strum. Apart from being good for time purposes it was also good for learning the bass notes for all the chords. This kind of thing actually provided a discipline in structure because whilst the songs that I was learning to play sounded "right" being that they were time wise they didn't necessarily sound accurate to any original recorded version, close in some cases but not accurate note for note as it were. This didn't involve reading sheet music it only involved reading the time feel of the song.
I've learned over the years too that chords can be broken down into partial chords. What notes from within a chord that you choose to use as partials is entirely personal choice as to what kind of feel your wishing or needing the tune to convey melodically. Even with using partial chords you would still be playing or at least nodding back to the bass notes which are providing the backbone for the melody to hang off of, which is good insofar as having the bass there it can allow the partials to be used as pieces of melody or some of the notes that make up a part of the melody and this can work pariculalry well if you continue along playing the bass notes either in alternate bass style or using just one bass note as a drone note throughout.
Basically there are a number of ways in which you can combine the chords, partial chords and melody notes and lines in any one particular song which is one of the great things about the discovery of what you're capable of playing for yourself.
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#25 dorio

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Posted 08 June 2012 - 09:07 AM

Even though it's not always working I do try to translate the music that's in my head into my own playing and according to what comes out I'll do my own version of the tune in question. And this version of the tune in question is never a note for note version. I may play it louder with variations here and there. The only thing that's the same is the chords progression. I've given up trying to replicate the original recorded version a long time ago.

When in the process of learning licks and solos I really do enjoy the insight we can get on the guitarist playing style. For instance if you work on the 'Wish You Were Here' intro which is made of several little licks you get tricks you can find on some of Dave Gilmour solos. So as you suggested above I'm incorporating those elements into my own playing style. It gets me to different levels.

Basically I always play with my ears and usually I've but an approximative idea what notes I put my fingers on. The main thing being that it sounds good and depending on my tiny audience's reaction I can see if it was good to me only or if it was really good.



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