Soloing on the melody like Thelonious Monk

The next time you’re playing piano in a jazz group and it’s your turn to take a solo, consider trying something “radical”: use the tune’s melody as the basis for your solo!

Maybe you’ve though about this before, but dismissed it for one reason or another. Or maybe you’ve tried it but don’t actually do it very much.

But improvising around a tune’s melody can do a lot for your music. Here are a few of its benefits:

1. You’ll be connecting yourself to a big part of the early jazz tradition.

2. The audience will enjoy it.

3. Your solo will automatically have a sense of structure and coherence.

4. It relates your solo better to the actual song you’re playing.

5. Not all your solos will sound the same.

6. It will challenge you in new ways with every tune you play.

7. You’ll help your group avoid the “trap” of having every tune sound like a string of solos that may begin to sound monotonous.

8. It’s a lot of fun!

Some of the greatest jazz pianists who ever lived have embraced this technique. Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk come to mind. Watch this short video to see one way in which you can use Monk’s “Blue Monk” to get started using melodies as the basis of your solos. You don’t have to do this in every solo, of course. Once you become comfortable with the idea, you can pick and choose when you want to use it, and when you want to come up with your own melodic material.

One thing’s for sure, though; learn how to do this and you’re playing will improve. Here’s the video, have fun!

Jazz Piano Tip #33: Blue Monk

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