This lesson is for intermediate to advanced skill levels.
is a style of guitar playing in which
the melody and the underlying harmony (chords) are played
together, simultaneously, to create a complete
orchestration. It is usually done in a solo guitar context,
although it can also be appropriate in a group setting.
Fingerstyle playing is recommended, although plectrum
(pick) style playing is also perfectly acceptable, and the
concepts outlined in this lesson are also valid in that
This lesson will attempt to clarify some of the questions
regarding the style, which can seem quite advanced and
intimidating to some. Hopefully, it will help you get a "grip"
on the techniques involved, both literally and figuratively.
Over the course of these pages, I will arrange a piece of
music, step-by-step, until we arrive at a well constructed (I
hope!), performance level chord-melody arrangement. Along
the way, we will pause to discuss various theory, harmony,
chord voicing, and arranging concepts.
Fear not!! Arranging songs into a chord-melody need only
as simple or as complex as you choose, and it can be
easier than you think!
If you are already familiar with intermediate to advanced
level harmony and theory, you will be adequately prepared
for chord-melody playing. If you are an absolute beginner,
feel free to explore the lesson, but be aware that there may
be subjects and
concepts that will be unfamiliar to you. This lesson can be
approached "buffet" style - you can take what you like and
leave the rest - but you may be better served by learning
some basic theory and harmony concepts before you
attempt this lesson. Search the lesson directory...there is a
whole bunch of great info there!
As a primer for this lesson (and for a complete music
education), I would strongly suggest that you check out any
or all of these excellent lessons:
As well as this great article:
hord Progressions 101
by Josh Graves
For sake of clarity, the type of chord-melody playing that I will
talk about in this lesson will pertain primarily to arranging an
existing piece of music (but all the concepts are equally
suited for original compositions as well).
Now, on to the lesson!
The first thing we need to do is outline some basic rules
and review the harmonized major scale.
The number one rule in chord-melody arranging is that the
melody is always the main focus...anything we do
harmonically or rhythmically is to support the melody.
Having said this, melody notes will always be the upper
most note (also called a voice
) in your chord voicings.
This will require that you transpose most written melodies
up an octave to put them in a range that will allow you to play
full or partial chords beneath them. Under certain
circumstances, you may even find the need to change the
As I just mentioned, the notes of a chord are often referred
to as voices
(hence the term, "chord voicing"). Your
typical four-note chord therefore contains four voices. The
lowest note or voice is referred to as the bass note and is
often the root of the chord (although they can be other chord
tones as well). Many people prefer to label the voices as in
the classical school of thought. From low to high, they are
the bass, tenor, alto, and soprano, respectively. I tend to not
use those terms exclusively, and in this lesson you will find I
will refer to the chord tones as the lowest voice, the middle
voices, and the top voice (which will be your melody note).
Let's take a look at the harmonized major scale. Using
standard four-note, 7th chord voicings, here is
the harmonized major scale, in the key of G, with all chord
roots lying on the 6th string:
Here it is again, this time in the key of C, with the roots of
each chord on the 5th string:
And again, in the key of F, with the roots of each chord on the
Every guitar player needs to be familiar with these chords,
and if you haven't already comitted these to memory, you will
need to! Fortunately, there is no shortcut! Practice playing up
and down the major scale in every key using these voicings.
While you do this, observe the following:
1) That every voice in the chords moves in stepwise,
scalewise motion from chord to chord. Notice how each
voice creates an independant, melodic line.
2) Pay attention to what note is in the upper most voice of
each chord. For example, in this Cmaj7 chord:
E, the 3rd, is the upper most voice.
My very first guitar teacher once told me that I need to be
able to play the same chord at least
ways on the fretboard. Boy, was he right! This is going to be
extremely useful when we begin arranging, so don't sell
yourself short by not taking the time to absorb these chord
voicings! Playing them up and down the scale is very
musical, so practicing them is not that boring. In fact, once
you can play these smoothly from chord to chord, you will
already be playing chord-melody! Also, once you consider
that these chords are valid for all seven modes of the major
scale, you will already have the knowledge to harmonize any
diatonic or modal melody!
That's alot to use already!