Wednesday 12 June 2024

Ticket 78: Play the Vocal Melody

Melody is the essence of music.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart [1]

The vocal melody is usually the central element of the song and playing it on an instrument can focus more attention on it. This can work either by doubling the vocals (playing at the same time) or reprising the melody as an instrumental section in it's own right.

One Minute Theory Lesson

Songs generally benefit from a contrasting melodic section (like a guitar solo) that provides variation, but sometimes a completely new section isn’t needed. Reusing a song’s melody as the basis for an instrumental section can strengthen how memorable the song is whilst playing it together with the vocals can help to solidify the melody by weeding out extraneous variations.

Beatles Application

Norwegian Wood opens with the melody embedded within the acoustic guitar part [0:00]. The sitar then doubles the melody [0:08] before being replaced by the lead vocals [0:16].[2] George Harrison embeds the “little darling” part of the melody in Here Comes the Sun in several ways: preceding the vocals [0:00, 0:10], doubling them [0:28] and echoing them with the vocalising “doo doo doo doo” [0:46]. In She Loves You he plays with this idea again in exactly the same manner the playing the “yeah, yeah, yeah” tune in a chord melody style mimicking it as a kind of ‘call back’ [0:52, 0:55] as an echo [2:07] and finally in unison with the backing vocals [2:10]. Once again in Please Please Me he takes the “Last night I said these words to” part of the melody to create a separate melodic intro and interlude played in unison with John’s harmonica [0:01, 0:32].

Featured Artist

Nottingham musician Phil Grafton is a master at embedding the vocal line instrumentally. On his 2019 LP Too Hard to Please he uses piano to doubles the vocal melody on Have You Got a Match [0:46]; piano and acoustic guitar on Night Times for Livin’ [0:13, 0:35, 1:19], Moonshine [0:11] and Blizzard [0:37, 2:48]; piano and electric guitar on Kill the Monster [0:22]; synth on They Went Home [1:22], and violin on Too Hard to Please [0:57, 2:57].

Reader Application

Melodies can be created vocally or on an instrument. Writing vocally, as Paul did on Get Back can help a melody to flow in a very natural way. Writing on an instrument can cause you to push into more adventurous territory, incorporate wider intervals and use bigger patterns. Whatever the starting point singing instrumental melodies and transcribing vocal melodies on your instrument will make you a better musician. Experiment with playing the melodies on different instruments (or combinations of instruments); in different octaves; and (during solos) with small variations in rhythms and phrasing.

Extended Playlist

1963 Please Please Me - The Beatles [0:01, 0:32]

1964 She Loves You - The Beatles [0:52, 0:55, 2:07, 2:10]

1965 Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) - The Beatles [0:00, 0:08, 0:16]

1969 Here Comes the Sun - The Beatles [0:00, 0:10, 0:28, 0:46]

1975 Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen [3:07, 3:20]

1978 Bicycle Race - Queen [0:40]

1984 Don Quixote - Nik Kershaw [0:41]

1984 The Riddle - Nik Kershaw [0:08, 2:36]

1991 Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana [2:54]

2019 Too Hard to Please - Phil Grafton [0:57, 2:57]

2019 Kill the Monster - Phil Grafton [0:22]

2019 Night Times for Livin’ - Phil Grafton [0:13, 0:35, 1:19]

2019 Moonshine - Phil Grafton [0:11]

2019 Have You Got a Match - Phil Grafton [0:46]

2019 They Went Home - Phil Grafton [1:22]

2019 Blizzard - Phil Grafton [0:37, 2:48]

Further Study

Ticket 11: Play The Vocal Rhythm

Check out Too Hard to Please by Phil Grafton on Youtube and Amazon Music.

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[1] Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Michael Kelly: Reminiscences of Michael Kelly, vol. I (London, Henry Colburn, 1826) (p. 225)

[2] In the case of Norwegian Wood it’s probable that the guitar part was written first, meaning John is singing a guitar part, rather than playing a vocal line.

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