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Chord Melody Style

Written by Christopher Schlegel

[Photo courtesy of Unsplash on Pixabay.]

Chord melody style is a way of playing a song as a completely self-contained solo arrangement. It's essentially a classical guitar approach.  When done to pop tunes, it is usually called chord melody approach. Its name comes from the approach: you play the melody of the song and the chords at the same time. Chord melody!

Here at GT we have tutorials that can help teach you this challenging, but rewarding style. Because so much of the style relies on basic classical technique, a little beginner classical guitar style can give you a strong foundation of understanding & physically playing the guitar in a way that clearly separates the melody from the accompaniment. The primary difference from classical in doing chord melody for jazz is in the voicings & the rhythms.

This thread has all my classical tutorials in order.

This thread has all my jazz tutorials in order.

But be warned, those only give you the basic tools to maneuver around the guitar. To play a tune, you need to figure out the single note melody in a way that can be played with the matching chord progression so they both work conveniently with each other on the guitar! This is how to do it.

1. Pick a song to arrange. Get the chart from a sheet music book or real book.

2. Know the melody. Really know it. Play it on only the top three, high strings; the G, B and E strings. Be able to "swing it."

3. Know the chords. Really know them. Be able to play the chords for the song in at least three different places on the fretboard. My Joe Pass tutorials will show you how to play chord inversions & walk bass lines. They can be a valuable tool in playing chord melody style.


4. Be able to play just the bass notes for the chords along with the melody. As in a classical counterpoint arrangement. You can use any one of the chords notes for the bass part. But it makes the most sense to start with the root note. The only exception to this is if the melody happens to also be the root note of the chord. In which case you should try the (major or minor) third of the chord instead, making a first inversion chord.

5. Add in more chord notes as the melody allows your fingers to based on where you are playing the melody on the top strings, the bass notes on the bottom strings. Fill in chord notes on the middle strings.

6. Add in more bass notes where the melody and your fingers allow. Try to create bass lines that walk out of the current chord and into the next chord. Sometimes it's better or only possible to do an alternating root-5th bass line.

There are chord melody arrangements in these tutorials:

After You've Gone

St. Louis Blues

Take Me Out To The Ballgame Advanced Version

They Can't Take That Away From Me


GT also has some blues tunes & a pop tune that are solo guitar arrangements that can be considered chord melody, or at least give a student a leg up on playing in that style.

Stop Breaking Down

Deep River Blues

Fields of Gold

Ragtime Fingerstyle

I also did a YouTube vid that summarizes the approach.

It's a challenging style. It's a lot of work but very rewarding! Have fun with it!

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