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Author Topic: Questions About Moving Melody Notes Within a Phrase  (Read 147 times)

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Offline davidbeinct

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Questions About Moving Melody Notes Within a Phrase
« on: October 26, 2023, 06:03:12 AM »
Itís pretty common for fingerpickers to move melody notes around in a phrase, and I have questions. First Iíll give a concrete example from a song Iím learning now. Itís Freight Train and Iím learning it from John Millerís Elizabeth Cotten series.
The melodic phrase Iíll use as an example is sung ďÖwonít know wha-at route Iím on.Ē Itís played over a bar and a half of C followed by a half bar of G7 (the fourth to last and third to last bars in the verse) either fully contained in those two bars or finished on the first ďandĒ of the penultimate bar.
The first time she plays this phrase is all pinches. The second time the melody notes lag behind the bass in the first bar of the phrase. In the second bar she pedals the open G interspersed with the melody notes so that the last melody note, the C fretted at the first fret of the B string, doesnít get played until the ďandĒ of the penultimate bar in the verse. Under her singing she curtails the pedals sooner and gets the C in the ďandĒ behind beat four.
Questions-is she, along with other players like say Mississippi John Hurt, making these decisions on the fly, or thinking them out, or a combo? How can I as still a relatively new player, get to the point where I can make these decisions? How can I teach myself to hear in the music where the melody notes are coming in relation to the beat? I find it very difficult, I feel like I have to listen to two different things at the same time, the bass and the melody.
All the best, David.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Questions About Moving Melody Notes Within a Phrase
« Reply #1 on: October 26, 2023, 09:55:15 AM »
Hi David,
I understand your difficulty. Many players phrased the melody on the guitar differently than they phrased the sung melody. One way you could possibly get a handle on this and begin to sort out the placement of the melody relative to the bass is to take a simple melody, "Freight Train" being a good choice, and play it first, just playing the melody, so that the melody lands simultaneously with the bass, all in pinches. So in the first four bars, you'll have pinches on beats one and three in the first two bars, and in the third bar will have pinches on beats one, three and four. In the fourth bar there is no melody note.

To get a feel for phrasing in front of the beat (John Hurt's preference), play those first four bars, but with the melody notes arriving on the + of the beat preceding the beats  where you had pinches in the first version. Repeat this enough times until you can play it by feel as opposed to having to count it out in your head.

To get a feeling for phrasing behind the beat, play the first four bars, but with the melody notes arriving on the + of the beats where you had pinches in the first version.  Repeat this enough times until you can play it by feel as opposed to having to count it out in your head.

Once you can play all three of the above rhythmic placements in the first four bars smoothly, try mixing and matching the different rhythmic placements. For example, phrase the melody in the first two bars after the beat, but the melody for the third bar before the beat. Try a couple of different variations, mastering one before you go on to another.

When you can do all of the above comfortably, give the remainder of the tune the same varied treatment. I hope this helps. At a certain point, the alternating bass should become a physical given, requiring little or no conscious coordination direction. When you get to that point, it becomes easier to vary phrasing. Best of luck with this, and just stick with it for a while. Practice and repetition are the answers.
all best,
Johnm


Offline davidbeinct

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Re: Questions About Moving Melody Notes Within a Phrase
« Reply #2 on: October 26, 2023, 10:18:44 AM »
John, thank you for your response. I will try varying up where the notes fall as you suggested. I do feel I have a pretty good handle on making the alternating bass automatic.
Do you have any suggestions on hearing where the notes are falling in a recording? I pretty much go back and forth between your instructions and the tab but I feel like my learning will come faster if I can hear that level of detail for myself.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Questions About Moving Melody Notes Within a Phrase
« Reply #3 on: October 26, 2023, 11:27:01 AM »
Hi David,
To get a feel for where the guitar's melody notes fall relative to the pulse, I would recommend concentration on a particular player, and becoming conversant with the way that player tended to phrase melody. John Hurt might be a good person to start with, since I think you probably already play a number of his songs. Start off by looking at his songs that you already play and noting where he phrases melody in between the beats--is he phrasing in front of or behind the beat? Play some of the phrases where he is displacing the melody notes from the pulse and re-phrase the melody so that it either falls on the pulse or is otherwise different than the way he phrased it. Note the difference in sound and feel as you move the melody relative to the pulse. Then go to some John Hurt songs for which you have no transcription. Listen to his renditions, and just tapping out time as you listen, see where he phrases relative to the pulse. Do this for several songs and I think you'll find that you can soon differentiate between phrasing in front of the beat, on the beat and after the beat.
All best,
John

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