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Chord-Melody 101:part 1:Getting A Grip
So far, we have harmonized diatonic melodies, using the harmonized major scale over a single tonality, to arrive at simple chord-melodies. We will now begin to arrange a standard tune, step by step. I will begin with basic arrangement concepts, and progressively I will introduce new ideas to expand on each previous chord-melody example.
When applying chord-melody arranging skills to composed music, you will of course encounter melodies and chord progressions which are not completely diatonic. You will also find that even some diatonic melodies will be cumbersome to harmonize using the voicings on page 1 exclusively. I will expose you to many different voicings in addition to those on page 1, but if you haven't committed those to memory by now, you need to! They are very important and will be used in this lesson.
Over the remaining course of this lesson, I will continue to introduce various theoretical and harmonic concepts, as well as new chord voicings. Whenever I do this, I will define and explain the concept, as well as provide a chord diagram for the new voicing.
The first step in arranging a chord-melody is to learn the original chords and melody as written by the composer, and also get the sound of the piece in your ears. The tune below is a popular standard. Take the time now to learn the first 8-bars of the chord progression and melody for this song.
I have intentionally chosen a ballad (Polkadots & Moonbeams, by Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Burke) that will provide us with a comfortable tempo in which to explore different concepts. This tune has a 32-bar, AABA form, with each section being 8-bars long, and it is in 4/4 time. For the purposes of this lesson, we will focus our work on only the first 8 measures.
Here are the chord changes for the first 8 measures (the duration for each chord is indicated with quarter-note slashes, i.e. \ \ \ \ equals four quarter-notes. A bar line is indicated with a | symbol.):
|| Fmaj7 \\ D-7 \\ | G-7 \\ C7 \\ | Fmaj7 \\ D-7 \\ | G-7 \\ E-7 \ A7 \ |
|| D-7 \\ Bb-6/Db \\ | F/C \\ A-7 \ Ab-7 \ | G-7 \\ C7 \\ | A-7 \ D-7 \ G-7 \ C7 \ ||
The melody is notated in the sequence below.
In an effort to respect copyright laws, we will only use the first eight measures for demonstration/instructional material. Also, I will not provide you with the lyrics to this tune. You should, however, familiarize yourself with the lyrics to a song when arranging it. The lyrics can often imply a certain feeling which you may attempt to portray in your arrangement. Please remember that all examples in this lesson are for private study only.