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Chord-Melody 101:part 1:Getting A Grip

Robert Strait (6660) · [archive]
Style: Theory/Reference · Level: Advanced · Tempo: 60
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

So far in this lesson we have: learned about the harmonized major scale; learned different chord voicings; and talked a bit about voice-leading. We have also experienced some analysis while discussing the harmony and melody for the first 8 bars of this song we are arranging. We have arranged those first 8 bars into a simple chord-melody which strictly adheres to the composer's original chord changes.

Are you still with me? Good!

Let's focus now on the first phrase of the song, which is a 2-measure phrase. The next few pages will explore some variations that utilize various devices for extending the harmony and reharmonizing the melody.

When arranging a chord-melody, voice-leading is an important consideration (IMO). For me, the ultimate goal is to create many melodic lines which can stand alone, and more importantly, can combine to form the harmony, all while keeping the piece playable. If you try to focus on creating coherent bass lines, inner-moving lines, and a melody line that can all co-exist in a playable, musical statement, your arrangements will be more sophisticated, musical, and rewarding. Also remember that the fanciest arrangement in the world will fall flat if it is not realistically playable. This is an important point. Obviously, the better you can play a piece, the better it will sound. This may mean keeping it simple at times. Also, the mood or the speed of the piece can suggest how simple or complex to make your arrangement. If you are arranging a ballad, the tempo is slow, which would allow you the space to make things more complex, but at the same time, a simple harmonization may suit the "mood" or "feel" of the piece. Let your personal preferences guide you, and ultimately your ears will be the final judge. Of course, both of those will evolve and change as you learn and grow as a musician and guitarist.

In this lesson, I will try to demonstrate various ideas and techniques you can experiment with while arranging, but in the end only you can decide what sounds you like and dislike.

With that said, take a look at our first variation on the opening 2-bar phrase.

In the interest of creating various moving lines in the bass and the inner voices, I have inserted another voicing for Fmaj7 on beat 2 of measure one. Using different voicings for the same chord quality can create motion in the voices while maintaining the current harmony. Chord Inversions (voicings which use a chord tone other than the root in the bass) can be very handy for this. The second two melody notes over the Fmaj7 harmony are now harmonized with this second-inversion Fmaj7 shape:


This accomplishes two things:

1) Motion. The bass voice moves from F (the root) to C (the fifth).

2) Better playablity for extending the harmony. Because the D note in the melody can more easily be sustained for the duration of the following melody note (E which is played on the open 1st string) with this fingering. The harmony is temporarily colored, going from an Fmaj7 to an Fmaj13 (over a C bass note).

In measure two, we have a reharmonization using three different harmonic devices. The first is a device called "Dominant Approach". This concept states that you can precede any chord with it's related V7 chord, provided that the harmonic rhythm is a quarter-note or less in duration. Measure two indicates a Gm7 for the first two beats, and a C7 for beats 3 and 4. Using dominant approach, I have changed the harmony from Gm7 to a G7, which is the V7 of C. This occurs on the "and" of beat two, just prior to the C7. What this accomplishes is a stronger feeling of tension and release, due to a leading tone which is created by raising the b3 of Gm7 (Bb) to the natural 3rd of G7 (B). B, the 3rd of G7, leads by a half-step to C, which creates a sense of tension on the G7 and release to the C7. Earlier in the lesson I mentioned that half-step movement between the voices will always create a stronger sense of resolution.

Notice also that the G7 is preceded with another change to the harmony. Dm7 has been inserted on beat two. Remember, a V7 chord can always be preceded with it's related ii-7 chord to generate a ii-7 / V7 / I progression. Dm7 is the related ii-7 of G7. Also note that the entire reharmonization occurs over the duration of a quarter-note (a rult of dominant approach). Each chord reharmonizes one of the 1/8 notes in the melody on beat two.
Chord-Melody 101:part 1:Getting A Grip - Page 7