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Country Vocals Lessons: Improvisation - Introduction

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This lesson, we're gonna
take a look at improvisation.
Not jazz improvisation and scatting,
that's for a different course.
But we're gonna talk about how with
any melody that's established,
that's written, you can improvise,
you can change that melody as a singer.
And that ability to improvise and
create little variations in
the melody at the right time in the song,
can be a really powerful tool for
making the song your own,
making it your interpretation.
For building an emotional arc to
increase the level of energy, or
passion, or
intensity as the song goes along.
You can accomplish a lot with
a little bit of judicious and
tasteful and well-placed improvisation.
What makes improvisation powerful for
a listener is
the relationship that the new
interpretation has with
the melody as it's written,
as it's established.
So it's important to remember
that if you want to play
with a melody as a means of
building the energy of the song or
making it more interesting
the second verse.
You want to build the level of interest,
keep something interesting,
growing and happening throughout the song.
Most of what you want to create
with an improvised melody won't
be effective unless you have established
the melody early in the song,
so that the listener hears
the original pattern of notes.
The listener gets to experience
the original melody so
that it means something to the listener
when you start to vary it later on.
So you'll most frequently hear
singers sing the melody more straight,
more simple as the melody was
written by the songwriter.
Early in the song the first verse,
the first chorus.
And then maybe the second verse,
when the second verse comes around and
instead of repeating that melody
exactly note for note as written.
Now they might take a note in a spot or
two and
do something different with the melody.
Start on a little higher note and
bring it back to the original melody or
at the end of a line of the melody
take it some place new.
One good example of this that I
like to think about and share is on
the Hank Williams classic, I Can't
Help It If I'm Still In Love With You.
In A, today I passed you on the street.
And my heart fell to my feet.
I can’t help it if I am
still in love with you.
That was the original shape of the melody,
note for note,
as Hank Williams wrote it and
originally recorded it.
Now that song is such
a classic that a lot of
people are already very intimately
familiar with that melody.
It’s very simple, it plays a pattern,
and then it takes it up to the next
chord change,
And it's that very closely repeated
pattern that makes that melody
interesting and successful.
When Linda Ronstat recorded the song,
she exploited the fact and
capitalized on the fact
that this was a classic,
familiar melody with a very simple,
repetitive pattern.
And right off the bat,
she claimed it as her own and
took that melody to a new place.
That sat right in the sweet
spot of her voice.
Ronstadt has such a beautiful tone
on a very powerful, belting note.
Up in that G, A, B, above middle C range.
She used it right off the bat.
When she recorded, she sang the melody.
I passed you on the street and
my heart fell at your feet.
I can’t help it if I’m
still in love with you.
So by taking the melody
up to that incredible,
sweet, power belt place that she claims so
She did that in the second
line of the melody.
She established,
today I passed you on the street,
but instead of saying,and
my heart fell at,
she took it right all the way up
to the upper reaches of her belt.
Just thinking about her version
of it gives me goosebumps.
She just grabbed that melody and
made it her own.
We can use another example in the song,
Will the Circle Be Unbroken.
Here's the original melody.
I said to the undertaker,
undertaker please go slow.
One way you can change the shape of
a melody really naturally, bringing
a little more energy into it, is to start
the line of the melody an octave up.
I'm gonna sing an improvised
version of that melody,
starting on the G above middle
C instead of the G below.
Instead of undertaker I'm gonna
sing I said to the undertaker.
It was just a slight change,
but it raises the energy level.
Gives a new interpretation of
that melody just by starting
the melody line an octave
above where it was written.
Let's try the next line.
I said to the undertaker,
undertaker please go slow.
For the lady that you carry,
Lord I hate to see her go.
That’s the original melody.
Let's see what we can do to
get a little more passion,
a little more angst in this melody.
He's talking about his
mother having passed, and
having to watch his mother in the funeral,
go by him and saying goodbye to her.
So, let's introduce a little
bit more passion and
energy by raising the melody up a shelf or
a part within the chord,
starting it on a higher note
within the same chord of C.
So instead of, for
that lady that you carry,
Lord, I hate to see her go.
Instead of starting there,
let's start here on the C.
For the lady that you carry,
Lord I hate to see her go.
All I did was start the melody on
a higher note and follow the shape
of where it could go inside the same
chords as they're originally used.
So we're sticking to the same
original chord changes.
But just moving the melody up onto
higher notes within those chords.
Instead of for
the lady that you carry,
carry is all inside the family
of that A minor chord.
So if you sit with the chord
changes of your familiar melody,
it's easy to once you free
yourself from the original melody,
and start that melody on
a higher note within the chord,
just follow the shape of
the melody that you want to sing.
And the landing place,
if you end up in the same place,
you can follow the new shape that you
create just by starting on a higher note.
That's a little bit of an introduction
into what you can do to
start varying the melody or
improvising on the melody of a song.
In the next lesson,
we're gonna dig a little
deeper with a particular song,
Angel from Montgomery,
and take a little closer
look at how that works.