Classical Connection

led109Meet The Masters

A good way to develop the ability to create interesting musical and memorable melodies is to become a student of melody, learning to play any and every melody that captures your ear, imagination or fancy. Powerful and almost magical melodic ideas, insights and inspirations can be found in tunes based on great works of classical music, such as those by Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Brahms and Boccherini whose ideas we will study here in this lesson.

Always learn to play your favorite melodies on the guitar, first try to replicate them by ear but having a large collection of professionally produced sheet music never hurt anyone. Analyze every tune you learn,thinking about how it was created and understanding what makes it tick. When you doing so, listen for important points of interest such as:

  • Scale Passages.
  • Chord Tones.
  • Chromatic Approach Notes.
  • Skips and Leaps (Intervals).
  • Interesting Rhythms.


Melodies In A Major Tonality

Tonality is the word musicians use to describe the overall quality ,flavor and effect of the music. The following melodies are all written with a C major scale and therefore the melodies are said to have a C major tonality. Something in a major tonality is based on the notes in the scale and the sound quality of the scale.

This course in improvising places importance on knowing the elements or the ‘raw materials’ of melodies isuch as melodic devices, scale patterns and arpeggio shapes. below, you see what I consider as the basic, square one knowledge a guitar player has at his fingertips and in the front of his mind when playing and thinking in the key of C major.

Basic Theory


Root 6 Guitar Skills

Ode To Joy

Beethovens’ Ode To Joy, from his 9th symphony, is a testament to the melodic power and grace of stepwise motion -moving up and down the scale step by step (in order) is the cornerstone of melodic construction. Stepwise motion, often called ‘the law of melody’ is the basis and central idea behind a staggering amount of melodic and improvisational work. In this melody, intervallic leaps or ‘skips’ are used quite sparingly.


The Take Away

As you study the melodic composition of Ode To Joy note the use of repetition one the foundational and unifying principles of all interesting melodies and solos, most repeat themselves in some way. To be a good soloist you must work with simple melodic ideas and clean, understandable rhythms. This melody has a logical, understandable form -a beginning, a middle and an ending. To be a good soloist play solos with a clear shape and purpose. Think about how you would climb up the notes of your solo, reaching a climactic moment and then gracefully arriving at a clear, definite ending.

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

In this melody, Mozart is brilliantly, clearly, and directly stating the basic G7 to C cadence with a stream of single notes -imitating the sound of the chords. Here,the power of strict chord tones, is direct and effective especially when the transition between the two chord sounds is done by half step or whole step.


The Take Away

To be a good soloist, connect chordal phrases with 1/2 or whole steps to achieve a melodious smoothness, balance this approach with scale passages as is done in Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

The Celebrated Minuet

This minuet is a theme taken from Luigi Boccherini’s String Quintet in E major, but the beauty and power of the melody has transfromed it to a stand alone piece, usually performed by itself and known as ‘The Celebrated Minuet’.


The Take Away

Again the careful, and musical blending of simple ideas (chord tones + scale passages) yeilds beautiful, memorable and extremely musical results.

Melodies In A Minor Tonality

Melodies based on a minor scale are said to have a minor tonality – a sound flavor and character reminiscent of its parent scale. The basic, square one theoretical knowledge of a competent guitarist concerning a natural minor scale appears below.


Root 6 Guitar Skills


Funeral March

Nothing expresses the dark, sad and gloomy quality of the minor scale like Chopins’ funeral march. Virtually all songs, in every style are based on pleasing and interesting combinations of chords. All musicians throughout history have been given the same simple task that we as lead guitarists face ; string together a melodic line of single notes that creates a meaningful, interesting and artistic interpretation of those chords.


The Take Away

Chopins’ funeral march illustrates two principles of melodic construction: repetition -again, repetition is a one the foundational and unifying principles of melodic construction. Chopin repeats the original phrase found in bars 1 and 2 two additional times. Displacement -the first repetition (bars 3 & 4) is a displacement, that is moving the entire phrase up the scale uniformly. Each note in the phrase is displaced by the same distance, a minor third.

Hungarian Dance No. 5

In this example, Johannes Brahms proves that music based on the minor scale does not always sound forlorn and gloomy because this piece sounds stiring, interesting and captivating. The minor scale can also have an ethnic or exotic sound as is heard here in Hungarian Dance No. 5.


The Take Away

C minor arpeggio begins each 8 bar phrase and the melody pretty much work its’ way along the C minor scale. Hungarian Dance No. 5 also has an interesting example of a sequence as is highlighted in the transcription. A sequence is some orderly patterning of the scale. This one works as follows:

  • Start On Root Note Of Chord.
  • Go Up Two Scale Degrees.
  • Leap Down, Returning To Staring Note.
  • Descend To Next Lowest Scale Tone.
  • Repeat Process Starting On That Next Lowest Scale Ton.

Finally there is a B natural in bar 3, (the major 7th and not the minor 7th). When a minor scale uses the major 7th in place of the minor 7th its called a harmonic minor. This raising of the 7th note by a half step produces an exotic, foreign sound and creates and this b natural, also called the leading tone, creates a strong pull back to C, the root note.

led109C Harmonic Minor
When a natural minor scale has the flat 7 replaced with a natural or major 7th, the resulting scale is called a harmonic minor scale. Many composers and improvisors will favor the harmonic minor scale ove rthe natural minor scale because of the stron pull created by the leading tone, the B natural. The B natural note is also the 3rd of a G7 chord, which is a common replacement for the G minor chord found in the harmonies of the natural minor scale. I have always told my students to think of the harmonic minor scale as something promotes and reflects strong harmony, strong chord changes.


Tocatta And Fugue In D Minor

J.S. Bach wrote this melody using the D harmonic minor scale, for purposes of consistency I have transposed this excerpt to C minor. The natural 7 creates a distinct and striking pull towards the root note, C. The first three phrases of the melody start on a G note, the 5th of the c minor chord. The fifth of a chord is known to be full of power and substance, often described as free and joyful


The Take Away

Being a good lead guitarist is dependant on strong improvisational skills, your ability to compose and play interesting music on the spot. As melody is the principle element in all styles of improvising, you must become a student of melody. Learning to play and analyze the worlds great melodies, especially those found in the works of the great composers is entertaining and enlightening. When you practice improvising, remember the techniques of melodic construction we have studied here:

  • Repetition.
  • Sequence.
  • Arpeggios.
  • Scale Passages.
  • Displacement.


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