A Framework for Musical Practice, Part 2: Melody and Form

by Steve Fidyk

Welcome to the second installment in our series on approaching jazz standards. This article reveals ways of using the melodic rhythm as the source for creating accompaniment (or “comping”) patterns.

The Melody Itself

In order for you to feel comfortable and confident supporting any melody, it helps to have a solid understanding of the tune’s form. As you determine a song’s structure, listen closely for ideas that repeat.

One of the oldest and most common musical forms is the twelve-bar blues. This form is divided into three four-measure phrases, and each twelve-measure interval is called a chorus. It’s common in a live jazz setting to have dozens of improvised choruses played by multiple musicians within the band. Each performer uses the melody and its chord structure as a springboard to create variations on the original song.

Inside the Phrases

The focus of part one of this series was the standard “Straight No Chaser” by Thelonious Monk, which is built on the blues form. What makes the tune so much fun to play is the fact that the phrases do not resolve neatly every four measures. (This trait is found in many of Monk’s compositions.)

Melody Shaping

To gain a better understanding of the melodic contour of “Straight No Chaser,” try using a few of the sticking variations from part one, and voice them around the drumset using combinations of single and double strokes.

Accompaniment Approaches

Two comping examples include applying the nonsymmetrical phrasing of the melody to the ride cymbal, with the rest of the rhythm broken up between the snare and bass drum, and using the 8th-note pickup rhythm found at the start of the tune as an accompanying ostinato played on the hi-hat while voicing the melody around the kit.

For additional idea, be sure to check out the complete article in the November 2013 issue of Modern Drummer.


Steve Fidyk has performed with Terell Stafford, Tim Warfield, Dick Oatts, Doc Severinsen, Wayne Bergeron, Phil Wilson, and Maureen McGovern, and he’s a member of the jazz studies faculty at Temple University in Philadelphia. For more info, visit stevefidyk.com.