DO YOU REALLY "KNOW" THAT TUNE ?:
When can we say that we really "know" a tune? Here is a short check-list that should help us answer that question.
We should be able to:
1) Play the melody accurately, and if possible in more that one register. It is a good idea to check the original published melody of a song before taking too many liberties with the phrasing and the eventual embellishments. Then, for inspiration, I like to listen to a rendition by one of the great vocalists. My all time favorites are Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra. No matter what Standard I'm looking for, chances are one of those three amazing singers recorded it.
2) Play the basic chord progression (the "changes"). When working with the actual voicings, I tell my students to first be able to play the tune using only 3-note voicings (Root, 3rd & 7th). Then, they should be prepared to face two possible scenarios:
a) There is no bass player: the guitarist is playing in a duo format (with either another guitar, a horn, or a vocalist). This means that our chords will have to contain bass notes (played on the 5th and 6th string-- walking or not) and provide some sort of rhythmic foundation. The function of the guitar is really to be supportive, not just harmonically, but also rhythmically.
b) There is a bass player (or an organ player covering the bass parts): we can then focus on higher voiced chords, most likely laying on the top 4 strings. It is also preferable to avoid notes on the lower 2 strings, since that range will already be covered by the bass player. Rhythmically, we can (and should) use a lot more space. Harmonically, we can (and should) use a lot more colors.
In any case, we need to be familiar enough with the changes, and should be able to "comp" for an imaginary soloist for at least 15-20 minutes non-stop: just with The Metronome! Some people believe that they can "comp" over a tune after they only practiced through one or two choruses. They are then surprised if they get lost when in a real playing situation, either going to the bridge too early, or taking the wrong ending... Practicing comping over the same tune for a very, very long time and with no interruption also forces us to search for different rhythmic ideas and voicings. More on this here: 2 Secrets
3) Improvise with the metronome. This means without another instrument accompanying us, without a play-along track or Band-in-a-Box or anything else-- here again, just with The Metronome!
4) Improvise on our own. This means with nothing at all. We can mix single-lines and occasional chords, but we are really on our own now !
It's all down-hill from there.
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