Watch the Playing Melodically online guitar lesson by Andy Timmons from Electric Expression
Let's talk about melodic playing. There have been some people that have referred to my playing as being melodic at times. Hopefully that's the case, because at the end of the day it's great having chops and playing flashy, but hopefully at the end of the day making music and creating more of an overall picture so to speak and melodic playing is exactly that, it's melody. So how do you develop that ability? I often make the analogy of the Beatles and why they were great songwriters. How did they come up with these great melodies? Well, they learned a bunch of songs. Before they even got signed they were playing, just hours and hours of gigs, they got a residency at the Star Club in Hamburg in the early '60s. I mean, maybe as early as '60 and '61. They'd have to play 8-10 hours a night, just nonstop. Little breaks here and there, but they ran out of Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly songs pretty quickly, so they started learning show tunes and just any songs they could get their hands on that they liked. I'm sure they didn't realize it at the time, but it was the best education they could've gotten, because they were filing all these tunes and these chord changes and these melodies in the back of their brains, their musical brains. So they had this backlog library of all these great songs that when it came time to make their own music it all comes from somewhere. Little bit of this, little bit of that. Obviously the way they put it together was unique, so they had their own kind of signature. But at the end of the day it's the same with improvising melodies. The more melodies you learn in ways of playing melodic phrases, they'll eventually work their way out into your playing. So really one of the most valuable things you can do is just learn the melodies to your favorite songs. I started doing this as a hobby a while back where I'd take a melody and just see how I could voice it on the guitar and different ways of playing it. That's the intro melodic motif to "God Only Knows" by the Beach Boys. The great Brian Wilson where it's a very simple melodic statement, but the way the melody is played on the French horn, the way Brian orchestrated it, it sounded more like that note would slide. Just that three-note grouping is huge, because you've got this wonderful melodic up a fifth, down a whole step. But the way that it swells into it and releases, that to me is just a beautiful melodic phrase.
When I arrived at TrueFire yesterday I met Brad's dogs Jagger and Ziggy, and it reminded me of a song I actually heard on the radio the other day. It was a cheesy tune, but it's a big hit song. I thought that's kind of a cool melody too, the way you could play it. Learning the entire melodies to songs is great. Or even if it's just that little phrase that moves you in a certain way, find it on the guitar. It's great for ear training, which again, I should point out is one of the most valuable assets as a musician. I mean, obviously I'm happy to be here showing you things, giving you ideas, but I want to encourage you to get as much as you can on your own as well. When I grew up learning to play guitar there wasn't as much musical education available. The only thing I could really do was sit with my records and pick the melodies out in that way and learn whatever guitar licks I could. Not knowing that I was really fortifying what I consider to be the greatest asset of any musician, and that's their ear, being able to recognize melodic phrases or chords or whatever it may be. So before you go straight to the instructional, try to pick some of it up by ear, and train that ear as much as you can. Then when you have trouble you consult the transcription or the video or whatever it may be and this is a good way to do it. Every melody is valid especially the ones that move you. One tune that used to strike me when I was a kid was "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by Elton John. It's a cool study. In the beginning part of the melody it's all chord tones, it's straight up a G minor to C7 and it's all chord tones. So it's just a lot of fun learning these melodies and it can be something that you're doing if you're watching TV. I've been doing that lately where if I'm sitting on the couch with my son at the end of the day or in the evening, he might be watching Nickelodeon or Disney channel or whatever, but I'll have my guitar. I'll just start playing along with whatever songs are going on. So you can start improvising over whatever chords are happening, or picking out the melodies to whatever the show's theme song is. Obviously film soundtracks are a bit more challenging because the harmony tends to be a bit more dense and dramatic because it is what it is. So these are things that I think would really help anybody's playing, mine included. Beginner, advanced, whoever it may be that's wanting to broaden their horizons. This is really a great way to do it. Find some melodies. Again, whatever it may be,start simple, just so you can train your ear and then see about trying to incorporate some of those melodic ideas into your improvisational excursions. You'll find a lot of jazz musicians will quote other songs within their improvisations, and it's a cool thing for the listener to grab onto. Oh, I think he just played something from Vaughner's 12th symphony or whatever it might be. If he had a 12th symphony, I don't know. Anyway, have fun with that. Learn some melodies, and of course that will lead to melodic playing.