“ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECTS OF LEARNING ANYTHING IS MAKING SURE YOU REALLY KNOW THE MELODY YOU’RE WORKING WITH. IF THERE’S A FAULT WITH MODERN MUSIC, IT’S THAT PEOPLE AREN’T REALLY VERY GOOD AT TUNES – I DON’T HEAR GREAT MELODIES VERY OFTEN. I REALLY DESPAIR THE LACK OF MELODY IN MOST MODERN GUITAR PLAYING, SO I AVOID IT, TO BE HONEST. BUT IF YOU WORK WITH TRADITIONAL MUSIC, OR THE WORK OF THE BEST SONG WRITERS, THE BOTTOM LINE IS YOU HAVE THIS BEAUTIFUL TUNE, AND YOU HAD BETTER TRY AND DO IT JUSTICE.” Acoustic Guitar, March 2014.
[Martin Stewart Simpson (born 5 May 1953) is an English folk singer, guitarist and songwriter. His music reflects a wide variety of influences and styles, rooted in Britain, Ireland, America and beyond. He has been nominated 23 times in the 11 years of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, including nine times consecutively as Artist of The Year, which he has won twice. His album Prodigal Son was named album of the year in 2008 and a song from that album, “Never Any Good” was named best original song of the year. Martin Simpson is regarded by many as one of the most skilled folk guitarists currently playing on the British and American folk scene – Wikipedia. Martin Simpson lived in the US for a number of years and in his travels from Santa Cruz to Edmonton he stopped in a number of times in Cranbrook and performed a number of memorable solo concerts at the Studio / Stage Door.]
There, somebody has finally said it – nobody really knows how to play melodies any more. There is a reason for this and I’m not just hankering after the good old days. In the Swing Era and before, instrumental music was the predominate mode of expression and the primary melodic instruments in pop music were trumpets, sax, trombones, etc. Somewhere around the 1950’s pop music went into a transition and things started to change. The major melodic instruments had retreated from popular music into the esoteric world of Jazz and Be-bop. Now, apart from the occasional horn section, the major melodic instruments are mostly absent from pop music. The crooners and popular singer/songwriter have moved to center stage. By the time Bob Dylan and his colleagues had finished exerting their influence the song had become king in popular music. But there is a difference from the golden days of ‘tin-pan alley’ pop songs. Moon, spoon and June are no longer the primary lyrical motifs. Songs had moved into the realm of politics and personal statement. Lyricists and tune writers no longer work in tandem. The usual mode of creation has become the almost sole preserve of the singer/songwriter. And, as near as I can tell, the creative process, seems to revolve around the lyrics. The words come first and the melody and harmony arrive later. Nobody seems to write and harmonize a great melody then attach lyrics. The net result is that writing good strong melodies is secondary. Of course there were (are) exceptions. The Beatles being the most notable. Melodic expression comes in the form of instrumental solos inserted in the performance. The only problem with that, despite some magnificent exceptions, is that the solos tend to become fairly generic. A kind of one size fits all. Music has become more and more predictable and is basically the servant of the commercial world. It is now an “industry”. Musicians are notoriously conservative and none more so than your average rock/pop musician. The old image of the outlaw anti-establishment rock musician is basically a myth. When pop music is used to sell everything from toothpaste to automobiles it is hardly rebelling against anything. It is basically the servant of the commercial world. When was the last time you heard pop music that was really interesting? Nobody is really taking any musical risks anymore. We all know that revolution and rebellion are the life blood of change and pop music is in need of a significant change. There are a wealth of melodies (old and new), rhythms, harmony, styles and even pure noise (long live John Cage) out there that could rejuvenate the popular musical world. So let the revolution begin.