If you play church music, you have probably had multiple teachers tell you to emphasize the melody when you play hymn arrangements. That has always been a good rule to follow and if there is a melody, you should almost always be emphasizing it.
But here is the question for the day. Do you always need to have a melody at all in your arrangements? In other words, can you arrange a song in such a way that you move away the melody completely for an extended period of the song?
In my opinion, the answer is yes. That is especially true when the song is extremely well known. If you stay in context and preserve the mood, I think it is absolutely appropriate even though for the most part, no one is doing it yet.
I have not talked much about my new CD Quiet Place. But that project is unique in that I use this particular strategy on almost every arrangement.
If you listen to the songs on that project, you will often hear me play melody for a verse and then improvise for a while while sort of hinting at the melody. At the end of the song, I come back to the melody.
Here is a song from the project: Fairest Lord Jesus
The form for this song is very simple: establish an extended theme in the introduction, play a verse, improvise for a verse and then come back to melody for the last verse.
Some of you may classify the sound as New Age. In some respects that is a fair comparison. Like many New Age composers, my goal in this kind of music is to relax people and remove tension. I want this music to be especially useful for meditation and study.
But here is the key to making this work. During the improvisational sections, I am not actually just wandering around. I am rather playing the form of the verse including the length (usually 16-20 bars) and the same chords.
There is a principle about music. The more rules you have, the better chance your music is going to have to have impact. Now, I know that statement makes some of my more conservative friends salivate. But I am not referring to unsupportable, restraining rules of legalists who think they are called to educate the rest of us on God’s tastes. I am rather talking about writing with a plan and strategy in mind.
Amateur New Age music often lacks any sense of a plan or strategy and that is why it sounds repetitive pretty quickly. Don’t just wander around like you hear them do. Instead, when you improvise for an extended amount of a time during an arrangement, it is a pretty good strategy to limit yourself to the form of the song itself. While this might seem difficult at first, over time, you might find that it is actually easier to that because the structure is already defined for you (rather than you having to figure it out yourself).
Give it a try. Start with just improvising over half a verse or a chorus and make sure you stay in context (within the overall feel of the song).