In most jazz performances, the melody, or head, is the pre-composed section of the song that allows the listener to identify the song. While it can sometimes seem like jazz musicians treat the melody of a song like a mere throwaway prelude to the improvised solos, melodies are an essential part of the experienced player’s toolbox. Most of the great jazz musicians are known as much for their interpretations of melodies as they are for their improvised solos.

In this class, we will focus on effective ways of learning, performing, and interpreting the melodies of American songbook standards. We will also examine methods for using the melody of a song as a basis for improvised solos. The ability to use thematic content from the melody in a solo can give your improvisations much greater depth and connection to the composition and help you avoid the stereotypical “running changes” which leads to similar-sounding solos on every song.

Anatomy of a Melody covers:

  • in-depth analysis of the melody of the standard “Autumn Leaves”
  • the importance of connecting the lyrics with learning, phrasing, and performing the melody instrumentally
  • techniques that jazz musicians use to make an American songbook style melody into a jazz performance
  • transcribed examples of jazz masters Chet Baker and Miles Davis performing “Autumn Leaves”
  • application of Baker’s and Davis’ techniques to your own performance
  • examination of techniques such as rhythmic anticipation, back phrasing, interspersing improvised phrases, using shading devices, and changing melody notes
  • scale exercises across three strings to encourage a more melodic approach to improvised phrases
  • using intervallic and rhythmic motifs from the melody in your improvised phrases
  • use of compositional techniques such as inversion, rhythmic displacement, and rhythmic reversal
  • example etude using the above techniques to improvise a new melody
  • 68 minute running time
  • includes 12 pages of written examples and exercises
  • includes backing tracks for musical examples, plus full-length backing tracks for practice
  • All musical examples from the video are provided in music notation and tablature.
  • Each example performance is shown in close-up view and titled and numbered for easy navigation.

Running time: 1hr 8minutes

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Class Content

Full Class + Download
Anatomy of a Melody Full Class + Download 01:08:33

Course Reviews


3 ratings
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  1. The finer Points


    In this class, Tom explores the finer points of playing a head. It helped to firmly crystallise the concept in my mind of what I have suspected Master improvisers were doing. Further, Tom shows how to use motifs drawn from the melody to improvise a solo. This adds relevance to the song. These are the finer details that take your playing from good to great. Thanks again Tom for another great lesson.

    by Pat Lajoie
  2. Well done


    I was okay with the first 3/4 of the course – it was good, but it’s the last 1/4 that involves what I’ve been working on, and it was very good. I could see more courses on just this portion about improvising based on the given melody. I would have liked more info on the transposition part, but otherwise great ideas. Well explained.

    by James Kangas
  3. Thank you Tom


    Thank you Tom, and the entire site team for so much precious content.

    Isaac Negrene

    by Isaac Negrene
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