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beginner forum: for novice and developing blues harp players > Relationship between Song Melody and Harp Solo?
Relationship between Song Melody and Harp Solo?
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112 posts
Jul 19, 2019
3:20 AM
I would be grateful if people could share their thoughts on this relationship.
I've been listening to Blues harp for some time now. Many of the solos flow naturally into the song without adhering rigidly to it.

I am stuck at the 'improvisation' point in my own playing. Have been for quite a while now. People often say that we should 'serve the song'and that it should 'mean something.'

Recently a friend proposed that we work on The Sky is Crying. I have listened to various Youtube harp renditions and can't make much sense of it. It seems that people are mostly off improvising with no real relationship to the song.

Thanks in advance
283 posts
Jul 19, 2019
4:10 AM
I often base my solos on the melody line of the verse or the melody line of the chorus.
I listen to what other instruments are doing,,esp if there is no harp being played.
I listen to what the clarinets are doing for their accompaniment and solos for example..and the trumpets like Louis Armstrong.

As one teacher taught me to do the solos so when you are ending the solo you've set so the next instrument comes in nice or set up for the vocalist to come in right on the beat with smooth transition setting them up to do their best...and the whole song will benefit from your efforts.

Last Edited by Spderyak on Jul 19, 2019 4:10 AM
6078 posts
Jul 20, 2019
5:57 PM
It’s a deep topic. People have written books on it.
Melody is certainly one good approach, but not every song has a strong or interesting melody. Those which do though are good candidates. I think I’d almost always begin developing a solo based on melody.
I’ve been playing “she caught the Katy” and I take a solo straight after the bridge.
Incidentally, I noticed the harp on Taj Mahal’s famous early recording of the song is not done simultaneously with his vocal. It’s very challenging to try playing the Taj Mahal fills while singing this in a performance situation. I play the intro and thereafter resort to blues brothers style fills
But, I use the intro lick to begin my solo, and then I just pretty much wing it, with my head firmly planted in the vocal lines. I might play double stops and octave splits to thicken up the textures and I don’t know what I do with double or triple tonguing of particular notes but melodically I know the general shape is going to emphasise the key pitches of the melody which incidentally follows the chord changes. ‘Big FEET’ ‘CRAZY’ seem like two moments where what I play will match the way I sing...and that brings me home to where I let go and hand off to the guitar
And then we leave the instrumental and bring the vocal back in on the bridge. I agree it’s important to hand back to vocal so it can come in strong. Thankfully the bass sends a strong signal that we are moving to the bridge and the guitarist better realize that.
6080 posts
Jul 21, 2019
6:25 PM
I’m gonna listen to the sky is crying and see what I think of it. That’s a song the guitarist I worked with previously was always keen to play.
6082 posts
Jul 22, 2019
5:00 AM
ok, Sky is Crying is an interesting tune. it seems some play it as a minor, some play it using lots of 9th chords, Elmore James likely played it using open D tuning; so theres a lot of scope for versions, but i believe they all are 12 bars with a quick change to the IV chord on bar 2

the melody seems very much blues scale. if you stick to the blues scale and try to catch the general sense of the melody that would be great, especially if you could get a few key phrases in the right place.

think about how you might play behind a singer, and insert fills during their pauses. its like you are answering their phrasing. when you are soloing, you can do both the call, and the response...so you can play a bit of the melody, then play your own fill to take you to the next important melody note/phrase.etc.. but if youre gonna do that, you must first become familiar with the melody, best be very familiar so that you dont have any doubt about where you are aiming to land and know when you are there. if you get youre landing points sorted and you can zip around within the scale and have a few slick movements you can pretty much just fill the gaps with drama. its easier to play like this on a slow blues in some ways. do it well and everyone will tell you that was so beautiful, i thought i was gonna cry, but it comes with a risk if you go for it big and crash...so practice...
i'm still in the practice zone myself..i can talk about it and do it at home without an audience but im still using training wheels "live"
113 posts
Jul 22, 2019
7:31 AM
Thank you both for your thoughts on this. Most useful.

I was trying to find it in third position (which I am just starting to work on) as I got the minor feel to some of the recordings. Got very lost.

It does seem to be more findable in Second. I will keep it on the list of tunes I am working on as it obviously has something to teach me.
77 posts
Jul 22, 2019
6:10 PM
A tough one for sure especially when were starting out and you don't have the chops/technique to cash the check your head is writing. I can hear or know what I want my solo (sometimes) to sound like but can't pull off like 3 sets of triplets than back to quarter notes and get back to where I want be in time so I really pair it down to what I can pull off at my present skill level. As others have said probably most important is the timing 5 or 6 well timed notes is much better of than some speed lick that falls just short of the mark.
If your band mates are patient thank God mine are you'll get something your happy with sooner or later your on the right track is too have an approach prior to playing it.
Good Luck

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