The Amazing Melodica! – Tutorial (fragments )


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    Ralph Nepomuceno

    I come back to this thread time and again. There’s so much info being shared here. Thanks Jazzman!


    Nepomuceno ,I hope that the translation conveys quite clearly my ideas, what is not certain : the translation not made by me and hasn’t been edited.


    Exercise 1: take the text of any familiar song, pronounce it rhythmically, whispering into the inlet slit, while pressing any key. For example:
    One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock, rock.

    If to pronounce with sound, most of the air will ‘flow away’ to the sides, the rest which will finding its way inside the instrument, will create the effect of hoarse frullato, due to the vocal chords vibration. The inlet ledge should not be taken into mouth, only touching the lips – then Melodica will respond to the slightest lips movement.
    For better articulation tongue and lips should be moved more active than for usual speech.
    Exercise should be practiced in all the registers.
    Melodica, of course, cannot reproduce all the specter of human speech sounds, some consonants in the words won’t produce any effect; but the end result will be more varied than simply “Ta-ta-ta-tu-tu-tu”.

    The First Improvisation

    Maybe, this is the first reader’s improvisation ever – but you should start sometimes! Besides, you will see that with Melodica it is easier than on any other instrument.

    Think of a simple sentence of 5-6 words that will get into 2 bars of 4/4, with enough time for pause.
    For example:
    How wonderful, that I can improvise!
    To spread it by bars, we’ll get:

    How ||: wonderful , that I can improvise! |(count) 1, 2, 3, 4 (How) :||

    1st improvising

    We’ve got a rhythmic phrase, not so simple, but typical of American blues and jazz; it clearly demonstrates connection between the rhythms of the spoken English and that of the American music.
    Anyone can perform this exercise with other text in his native language – and will get other rhythm.

    Ralph Nepomuceno

    Jazzman, your ideas have come across clearly thus far. Thanks again!


    The chosen phrase should be pronounced as a mantra – rhythmically and repeatedly, into the Melodica inlet slit, with any key pressed – let’s say, middle “A”. We’ll get ‘riff”, i.e. repeated rhythmic phrase. Historically riffs in music originate from Africa; the basics of blues, jazz, rock, funk etc., are all build on riffs.

    Riff is a smallest musical form in jazz and blues.

    Improvisation starts with riff.

    All the popular dancing music, as well as songs, is built on riffs, and their composition is usually starts with creating riff – trigger.
    The moment when Melodica is sounded even on one note with pronounced phrase – this is the moment when musical composition is born; if the words are coming while you play – we have a spontaneous composition.
    In vocal music it is called recitative. So, we have the following: anybody holding Melodica can easily create the musical recitative.
    Just think – how many years would it take to learn this on any other instrument?

    Speech intonation and melodic intonation
    Reciting text into Melodica with any key pressed (recitative) sounds literally like monotonous speech; one of the most essential elements of human speech is lacking: intonation.
    There are many opinions regarding definition of intonation. Phonetic musicians such as Daniel Jones, O’Connor and others side with the narrow definition: intonation is the variations of the voice pitch.
    But we won’t be concerned with defining the term “intonation'”. More important is to assign the intonation and learn how to use it in improvisation.
    Intonation in speech (and in music) consists of ascents and descents, flying up and falling down. In music it is sometimes replaced by the term “melodic contour”.
    Actually, there are three basic intonations: ascending intonation (simply: question intonation), descending intonation (simply: answer intonation) and monotonous horizontal intonation – which is what you could produce on Melodica so far.
    Each kind of intonation symbolizes one of the three main human emotional states: strictly horizontal is associated with complete tranquility, ascending intonation – with emotion, descending intonation – with calming own.
    Our own regular speech intonation is so habitual and spontaneous that, when we need to recreate it, even roughly, on the instrument – we find it quite difficult.
    At the same time most of us learn to imitate someone’s speech in childhood; some even grow up to become professional imitators.
    What we need at this stage is to imitate on Melodica our own speech intonation. These should not be the exact sounds or even in the same register – rather something very approximate.
    The main point is to catch the ups and downs of your talk intonation, while pressing not the separate keys but several simultaneously – what is called “clusters”. Such “blobs” will completely neutralize feelings of harmony, mode or tonality, releasing the effect of intonation. As a result we get your intonation scheme.

    But first you need to realize the exact direction of the spoken intonation: up, down, or horizontal. For that the right hand movements can be used, drawing in the air the directions in the rhythm of your speech: vertical movements if intonation is up or down, and horizontally to the right if the intonation is flat.
    Then the movements should be transferred to Melodica keyboard.
    It won’t be easy for the first time; here you can use the recording equipment – to record your own voice. Such equipment is very common today, especially among the musicians .

    Absolute note pitches and the intervals between them are not indicated in this example, but the arrows under notes indicate the exact direction of the phrase intonation, as spoken by the author. Most probably, intonation will be different if the phrase is spoken by someone else; voice intonation is an individual characteristic of the person speaking, like finger prints.


    Here is the same example but with clusters:

    Transforming intonation scheme into melody

    The last step remains in order to transform rhythmic phrase with intonation into a full-fledged, albeit simple, melody. This is not an improvisation yet, it is repeated without variations, without development; but it is fully yours, and can even express your character – you should value this!
    To build a house, you need building materials. Our building material at this introduction to improvisation – pentatonic minor mode.
    This simple mode is considered to be the oldest; it exists in musical culture all over the world.
    To construct the melody we’ll take the following pentatonic mode, on the white keys: A (in the center) – C – D – E – G – A (the next octave).

    These sounds will build the melody of your phrase, while its other main characteristics are already defined: rhythm, articulation, intonation, tempo, dynamics.

    Building such melody is easy: determine which syllable in your text will have the highest pitch – here it is “wo” from “wonderful“, it will be on the highest A. And the lowest pitch will be on “that“:
    It will fall on the lowest A. All the other syllables will be positioned between these two, taking into account intonation direction and using only sounds from the given pentatonic mode.
    Here is the result:


    Now we can take the 12-bar blues form and pack into it our constructed riff – 6 times.

    By changing the intervals and sometimes intonation, reflecting so the feelings (intervals widen with emotional upheaval, and becoming shorter with relaxation), while remaining within the mode, you receive quite an acceptable musical piece. Most important – it is really yours…



    Nothing is easier than to pronounce a word – and it is so much more difficult to transform this word into music. To learn this many aspiring musicians study composition. To perform this music on any instrument you need to master the instrument, mastering an instrument takes a long time.
    And so, ages may pass between pronouncing the word and its musical performance.
    Basically, when we talk – we actually improvise.
    The amazing MELODICA! book presents another way to your own music: from pronounced word directly to the musical sound, from pronounced phrase – to the musical phrase, from pronounced sentence – to the musical sentence; and, finally – from the story told in your words – to the story told through music.
    And here – the sky is the limit!

    To be continued…

    Ralph Nepomuceno

    Epilogue already?!?! That makes me feel kinda sad and empty…

    I learned a lot in this thread, man!! I really ’emptied my cup for it’, so to speak, and stopped using my mouthpiece. Translating speech into music and articulating every note you play rather ensures that I do not fall into the trap of playing just memorized phrases when I improvise. Also, I have begun to actually hear the difference in quality between articulated melodion sounds and those my mouth just randomly sends into the instrument. For sure, the idea that sound production in the melodion begins in the mouth is still novel for me but I can tell that it is helping me already.

    I look forward to the continuation, Jazzman. Thank you so much for sharing so generously!!!


    Thank you, Ralph, for the kind words! When I wrote this tutorial, I have kept the focus on two goals:
    to acquaint those interested, as well as change the view of those who are not interested, with the very instrument;
    uncover the technical and musical potential inherent in melodica – a situation not unlike any tutorial for the piano, or saxophone, or whatever it was traditional. The result – a tutorial wasn’t aimed specifically neither children nor adults ; and hasn’t included almost nothing of the traditional technique of keyboard. I as though has opened the door and invited enter and continue the journey. Without a doubt, the potential of melodica isn’t exhausted, and have yet to be detect it .

    Ralph Nepomuceno

    I look at my melodicas in a different light now, Jazzman. Indeed, there’s so much more about playing them that has yet to be formally addressed in any tutor book. And like you said, there’s so much inherent musical potential in melodicas that has yet to be discovered! I get excited even just thinking about it!

    Thanks for opening my eyes, Jazzman!! 🙂


    A few more words about the intonation factor. In the field of improvisation
      the main driver are the rhythmic impulse and intonation. If the rhythmic part is clear to all, the intonational – far from it! The confusion begins with the terminology in the West, the term refers to the exact location of Pitch and tuning instruments .
    Note contradistinction semiotic concept in the West and in Russia – there is a “doctrine.” Idiotic invention by Western musicologists, which in relation to Russia have never learned to separate flies from cutlets.
    In addition, there are the terms: speech melody, melodic curve, melodic contour, melodic inflection . Too much ! In Russian, there is a basic concept of intonation, related to individual sounds, to speech and to music.
    This specific human quality, serving for verbal contact, and extrapolated to music. And when you consider that all of us – musicians and not musicians – are talking in some rhythm (depending on the native language) and are expressed through the intonation, one can safely say, that all of us are natural improvisers and composers – who with only potential, who in reality.
    Now you can understand why it is necessary not only to respect other people’s sounds, but also your own – they are unique, like fingerprints – even if you are trying to emulate. and nobody, even a genius can’t copy them exactly. To discover the arts around us, we don’t need to study at the Academy, and even read books about it, just move the lens to a small fragment of the seen and the   heard .

    Speech melodies
    The order of recorded: Satchmo, Russian passer, from street bickering in South Korea.

    Otherwise, damn theorists completely twisted brains of all of us – in a democratic manner both in the East and the West!


    For students the most interesting in melodica – to play in an ensemble of melodicas . Children specially love it very much! You already know that to perform the rhythm on melodica isn’t difficult. In the case of duo, the second melodica gives harmony in rhythm. Chords must be in lower case in a narrow position, it is possible to use the inversions for good voice leading.
    2 melodicas
    Billy Boy 2

    If there is a instrument with lower register as Hammond 44 or bass melodica, then bass part is provided. 3 melodicas



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