Transforming Tunes Using Rhythmic & Melodic Variation

One of the first things that I do when writing an arrangement of a jazz tune is to determine just how I can make it more interesting by using melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic variation. Generally, the more simple and bland a melody is, the more liberties you can take with it (within reason).

I once started an arrangement on the tune Sentimental Journey as a challenge to see what I could come up with simply because the melody (to me anyway!) was very bland and boring. What I ended up with was something so far from the original, I made it my own and called it “Semi-mental Journey”. Listen to that chart on this page.

Incorporating new rhythm and some melodic tricks into a standard melody can really freshen up a tune and make it new again. Be careful that you stay true to the original melody enough so that it is still can be recognized by the listener.

This short tutorial shows you how I took the simple melody on Jingle Bells and “beefed it up” by using new rhythm and some melodic liberties. In the next tutorial we will add new harmony to the tune to make it even better.

NOTE: Open this up to full screen by clicking on the arrows in the top right corner of the player.

Download Jingle Bells Here – Try Adding Chords

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3 Replies to “Transforming Tunes Using Rhythmic & Melodic Variation”

  1. Class Member

    This, IMHO, can be really important in trying to arrange rock tunes for an instrumental presentation. A lot of rock melodies are oriented towards a singer getting a lot of syllables in with a lot of 16th notes. It doesn’t always translate well into an instrumental. Lest the purists object, it’s also important to remember that the better rock musicians, like blues singers, often don’t even sing the song the same way.

  2. Jim Martin

    Yes, in that case, you would actually probably have to simplify the rhythm. The important thing is that the end result sounds good and is idiomatic for the players.

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