The Power Of Traditional Melodies
In my journey as a guitarist and guitar student I have had the pleasure of working with many great teachers, one thing they all have in common is incorporating traditional melodies into their teaching program. Guitarist often referred to these as fiddle tunes, flat picking, bluegrass instrumentals or simply folk melodies. Many of these songs have been part of the basic musical repertoire for centuries and I often explain to my students music does not last that long, and stay relevant because it’s bad, quite the contrary they are still being played because of simplicity, beauty and solid musical concepts, flatpicking songs are literally a school to themselves.
These traditional melodies serve many purposes not the least of which is developing technique and familiarity with scales they’re also a rich source of ideas concerning melodic construction and careful study can serve as the basis for improvisations in any style. Finally, traditional melodies also make great performance and recital pieces.
The Devils Dream
One of the best tunes to incorporate into your teaching program is the song played in the preceding video, the wonderful Devils Dream, considered a jig or a reel it traces its origins to the British Isles and is mentioned in musical literature as early as 1805. My lesson plan for Devils Dream appears below as you can see I have done an analysis of the form and also a melodic analysis of the phrases.
The first and most salient points that I address and my lesson is this, music is highly repetitious in this whole amazing performance of Devils Dream can be attributed to four short two bar melodic phrases (As an aside most improvised phrases and also composed melodies rely very heavily on two bar ideas).
I have also added fingering indications which may or may not be followed as long as the student understands why selecting particular fingers for passage is important in the first two bars there are two options one of which gives me the opportunity to explain the important concept of using an open string to switch positions.
The Devils Dream serves as a great confidence builder and study and the power of repetition and creating musical melodies and solos with small amounts of melodic material. Students of all ages enjoy and are proud to perform it. Interesting versions of many great traditional melodies appear in the highly recommended Fiddlers Fakebook by David Brody. All the instructors I know have had great success incorporating traditional melodies in their teaching programs.