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Finding Jazz…Melodic Concepts For “Carry On Wayward Son”

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In part three of the JGT series, guitarist Zack Devine delves into the melodic concepts of Kansas’s classic, “Carry On Wayward Son”.

Zack Devine: My goal is to show you how playing other styles has helped me transition to jazz, and also how jazz can help to influence the way you approach other styles as well.


In our last article, we looked at the song Carry On Wayward Son, and we reharmonized the verse and chorus, focusing exclusively on the harmonic structure of the tune. We attempted to change the melody that was there as little as possible, and only ended up having to change a couple of notes throughout to fit our new chord progression.

This time, we are going to look at melodic ideas that we can use over the new progression we created. I have written two etudes for us to look at, the first one being the easier of the two, the second being more advanced, more like an actual solo. The first etude is constant 8th notes, a technique commonly used for becoming familiar over changes, especially those that might be unconventional or non-functional. If you are having particular trouble with understanding certain changes, you could even reduce the 8th notes to quarter notes, leaving out your choice of notes, until you get more acquainted with the proper chord scales/arpeggios you can use to navigate a certain chord type. I learned early on, if you do not know what to play, you can play a root note and hold it, or better yet, if you are unsure, it is always acceptable to just not play for that measure. But again, these etudes are aimed at giving you the tools you’ll need to navigate more difficult changes.

The second etude is certainly more advanced, uses common melodic devices found in a lot of improvisation, and utilizes some more advanced rhythmic techniques. For this article, I felt it would be more beneficial to forego the written approach for our analysis, opting instead to walk you through each etude step by step in the video, so that I can explain exactly what is happening, and what the thought process was in making the melodic choices that were made. So let’s get into it…

Carry On Wayward Son Etude #1

Original Words and Music by Kerry Livgren


Carry On Wayward Son Etude #2

For a PDF download of the Zack’s Etude #1 and #2.

For more on Zack Devine.


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