Jazz Drummer’s Workshop
A Framework for Musical Practice, Part 2: Melody and Form
by Steve Fidyk
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.
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.) Below is a phrase-by-phrase analysis that identifies the nonsymmetrical start of each phrase. We will apply this information a little later as our fi rst accompaniment approach.
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.
Here’s an example that voices the melody around the kit using combinations of single and double strokes.
MARKERS ALONG THE MELODIC TRAIL
As you listen to the melody of “Straight No Chaser,” take note of the different points that are accented within the musical line. These markers provide a second tier of rhythm that jazz drummers often emphasize as they accompany soloists. As you practice these extracted rhythms, come up with your own ideas that swing with the same intensity as the melody itself.
This first comping example applies the nonsymmetrical phrasing of the melody to the ride cymbal, with the rest of the rhythm broken up between the snare and bass drum.
The next example uses the 8th-note pickup rhythm found at the start of the tune as an accompanying ostinato played on the hi-hat. The melody is voiced around the kit.
In the next example, the melody is played in unison on the ride cymbal, snare, and bass drum. Using segments of the melodic rhythm as your ride cymbal beat can help you connect with a tune’s phrasing. Check out Roy Haynes, Mel Lewis, Jack DeJohnette, and Adam Nussbaum to hear this approach in action.
The more often you record your practice sessions, the easier it will be to refi ne and edit your style of accompaniment. At fi rst you’ll have to focus on the weaknesses that need attention. In time you will begin to hear ideas that are uniquely yours. Remain patient and continue to develop these ideas, because they are what will make your individual playing style.
In part three of this series we’ll explore ways of using the melody as the vehicle for developing memorable improvisational statements.
Steve Fidyk has performed with Terell Stafford, Tim Warfi eld, 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, including how to sign up for lessons via Skype, visit stevefidyk.com.