Decorating those melodies is as easy as 1-2-3!
Okay, let's say you've played through that chorus of Georgia On My Mind a hundred times and you're a little tired of playing that melody in the same old fashion. Do you have to do monkey flips to have more fun and make things sound more interesting?
Not even close.
Let's look at that first two measures of this classic song by Hoagy Carmichael & Stuart Gorrell:
Taking a brief look at both measures, we can see that there is one place in each measure where we have a note of long duration... yes, those dotted half notes. Here's what we want to keep in mind: whenever we have a note that is being played for an extensive amount of time like we have here, we can look at this as a point of inactivity. By that, I simply mean that the note is held for this time and we have no other melody notes to play while this happens. Well, we can look at such areas in our music as perfect opportunities! When the melody is not active - especially at the end of a measure or phrase - we can decorate by utilizing piano fills of various sorts...
What's important to realize here is that even if we only play that melody note (the dotted half note) for, let's say, one beat, we have still given respect to the melody itself - at least enough to acknowledge it. In other words, that C in measure #1 represents the "gia" in "Geor-gia"... therefore, once the C is played, the melody has been taken care of. This provides us with the opportunity to have fun with the next two beats as we decorate that melody with a piano fill...
Before we do that, I would like to address a point that I believe deserves your attention: Piano fills are a form of piano improvisation in which the intent is to "decorate" or "enhance" the melody... another very appropriate word is "compliment." Yes, you want to compliment that melody... you don't want to overpower it. It will serve you well to always remember that the melody gets the spotlight. A good way to understand this is to think of a live four or five piece band performing on stage. The singer is in front, singing the melody of course. He or she gets the spotlight and all the other members compliment the performance, including the saxophonist or trumpet player filling in with those fancy lines in the background. There you go... those fills should be in the background : ) More on this in a few moments...
Okay, let's look at the second two beats of measure one... let's say we are going to play the first two eighth notes and we're going to hold that over for one more beat, as we have here: (while we're at it, we'll illustrate both measures this way)
Okay, now that we have these two beats of measure one available, we can fill in tastefully with a musical idea of our own. Remembering that we want that melody to remain in the forefront, we can keep it simple. So what are your options? You have many, many, many...
In this lesson, I would like to acknowledge one in particular...
Since we want to complement that melody, we have an option of using that last melody note in the piano fill itself, which reconveys that melodic pitch to the listener (keeps it resonating in the listener's mind). In the particular fill that we are focusing on here, we will actually play the melody note two more times during that available two beats that we have - at the front end and at the back end. Here's what I mean: we have two beats to play with. We'll use four eighth notes in our fill. The first eighth note will be that melody note and the last eighth note will also be that melody note. This leaves us with two more eighth notes to come up with on our own:The choice is yours. For now, let's go with the C >> A
Which notes will we use between those two "C filler notes?" Again, it's true that you have many options. We are going to use one approach here, as we play a little "piano hopscotch"... we can actually refer to this fill as the Skip-One-Step-Step fill.
Here's how it works:
Our song is in the key of F Major. Therefore, we could say that that foundation of this song is the F Major scale, which we have
here: (the C that we are starting and ending our fill is underlined for the purpose of illustration)
F G A Bb C D E F
Now, from that C, let's proceed in either direction we skip just one note in that scale... this leaves us with:
C >> A
C >> E
From this A, we will proceed back to the direction we came from as we step up to the very next note in the scale... and then finally one more time which takes up back to that same C. Therefore, the resulting fill is:
C >> A >> Bb >> C
Go ahead and try this on your piano or keyboard and see for yourself how well this works as you proceed into measure #2... before you do, however, again let's keep in mind that we want to complement the melody... we don't want to take away from it. So, when playing those four notes of the fill, play them more softly than you play the actual melody itself. Being sensitive to this concept of volume contrast (dynamic changes) will absolutely result in your coming across with professionalism in your playing.
By now, I'm sure you will have no trouble with applying this Skip-One-Step-Step fill going in the other direction...
C >> E >> D >> C
Have some fun with that fill as you did with the previous one, remembering your sensitivity to that volume. I stress this concept because this kind of sensitivity really "separates the men from the boys" when it comes to sounding like you're in charge of what you are playing. You will become better and better at this as you listen to your own playing and that of professional players. Yes, listen... listen... listen : o )
You now have enough information to go on in order to go ahead and treat measure #2 in the same fashion. Remember, we are in the key of F Major, so you're still using the F Major scale and applying the Skip-One-Step-Step approach. It's important to realize that the more ideas you are actually to come up with on your own, even with a little guidance as you have here, the more confident and in command you will be in the long run. So, as your assignment, please follow through with this.
To make the most of what you are learning, the best way to make it a part of your own playing is to APPLY it. Yes, apply it over and over and over again. Therefore, look for other opportunities in your favorite songs where that melody is not active, as we have done here... then follow the procedure... and, of course, listen!
EXTRA CREDIT HOMEWORK
Of course, when it comes to music, we don't view anything as "work," do we : ) Have fun with this:
Listen to the legendary Ray Charles and his friends in this performance of Georgia On My Mind. Pay particular attention to the flute player and where those fills occur, serving as the perfect compliment to Ray's melodic vocals. Although most of the fills may seem a bit more complex than the one we have devoted this lesson to, this recording provides us with much "food for thought" and gives us a good idea of what tastefully played fills can really do for a melody...
You're well on your way to unleashing that inner creative musical genius that exists within you.
There's just one more very important principle to keep in mind, and here it is:
PLAY WITH PASSION!
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