Playbook

Part 2: The Melody

Once your band is dancing to the Groove, the next thing to do is learn the Melody. Ensuring that every member of the band knows the Melody is important for many reasons. 

  1. The Melody is the most recognizable part of any song. We want to make sure our students know what song they’re playing.
  2. It’s a great stepping off point for self-expression and improvisation
  3. It’s important for every member of the band to be able to identify their role throughout an entire arrangement. Are you playing the melody? You should be playing out! Are you playing a background part? Make sure the melody is highlighted.

THE KEY WORD WHEN TEACHING THE MELODY IS: PHRASES. 

When we write, we express our ideas through sentences. These smaller chunks of related information come together to express one bigger idea in a paragraph. The same concept can be applied to music. Smaller (and related) musical phrases combine to create one larger Melody.

HOW CAN WE HELP OUR STUDENTS IDENTIFY PHRASES AND THINK MORE BROADLY ABOUT THEIR FUNCTION WITH IN THE MUSIC?

Let’s take a look at the song Just A Closer Walk With Thee and examine a few ways we could identify the 4 phrases that make up the Melody. 

  • Lyrics. If the song has lyrics, this is the place to start. It’s a good bet that the phrases within the lyrics align with the phrases of the melody. Let’s take a look at the first verse of Closer Walk:

I am weak but Thou art strong
Jesus keep me from all wrong
I’ll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee

Now let’s listen. Each lyrical line is expressed through its own musical statement. We can hear how both the lyrics and the Melody can be broken down into 4 distinct phrases.

  • Looking. Large chunks of rest (2 or more beats) often act like a period, denoting the end of a musical phrase. Students can explore this idea by listening while they look at the music. Can we identify where the larger rests are? When listening for the melody, what does it sound like when we get to those larger rests in the music? Similarly, a new phrase often starts at the beginning of a measure, or even a new line, on our sheet music. Listen to the melody of Closer Walk. Each phrase is separated by 3 to 4 beats. Every phrase begins on a new line (or with a pick up into a new line). 
  • Listening. Sometimes it’s helpful to simply allow our students to explore by listening. Does it sound like this musical idea lands somewhere? Can you hear when a musical phrase starts? What about when it ends? What direction does it sound like this phrase goes – higher or lower? Maybe higher, then lower?

In this post, we’re talking about using phrases to more easily comprehend and remember the melody. However, the broader goal is to use the Melody to help our kids begin to think about all music in phrases. Phrases are going to come up when we talk about Bass Line, Harmony, Counter Melodies, Improvisation – Any musical statement can be thought of as a phrase. Structuring musical thinking into small chunks helps simplify and demystify musical thinking. Suddenly, we’re not learning 16 whole measures – we’re just learning 4 phrases. 4 is a lot less intimidating than 16!

A FEW HELPFUL TECHNIQUES FOR TEACHING MELODY:

  • Re-Establish the Groove: The Groove is the foundation of everything. We want to make sure our young musicians are connecting the Groove and Melody together. Continuing to re-establish the Groove is essential in setting the tone for the way that the melody should be performed. Don’t lose this in the process of learning a different building block!
  • Call and Response: When possible, we love teaching Melody (and anything else) through Call and Response. Again, breaking the Melody down into phrases makes the Call and Response easier and less intimidating. Call and Response is so important – it helps our students develop their ears and gets their attention out of the page and into the music. 
  • Singing: Why even bother with the stress of the instrument at first? Teaching our students to sing the melody before they learn to play it builds confidence and gets the music in their ears. If there are lyrics, add the lyrics – especially if it’s a song they might be familiar with. If there are no lyrics, following the articulations in the music is incredibly helpful. Even though they haven’t touched their instruments yet, we still want them hearing and performing in a way that reflects the final goal. Placing emphasis on energy, groove, and articulation – even when singing – helps establish these ideas quickly. One of the easiest ways for our students to get frustrated – especially when learning by ear – is if they don’t actually have a sound in their head. Then they’re just guessing and that’s no good for anyone! 

The Groove and Melody are enough to begin to perform the most basic version of the song. Before moving on to the Bass Line and Harmony, give your students (and yourself!) a chance to create with what they have. Help your students build an arrangement: 

  • The melody can be passed from section to section, individual to individual, or a mix of both
  • Are there a few students who may be interested in improvising with the Melody? 
  • Or even someone who is interested in jumping into the rests between each phrase with a response?

We don’t want to become so focused on delivering the information of the four Building Blocks that we forget they are simply tools to the ultimate goal: A creative and fun performance in which students are able to make decisions and connections for themselves.

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