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Chord Melody Workout

Darrin Koltow (383) · [archive]
Style: Theory/Reference · Level: Intermediate · Tempo: 60
Pages: 1 2



Chord Melody Workout, part I



by Darrin Koltow

This article represents the viewpoint of the author. As with anything read on the Web, it would be wise to verify all information with a reliable source, such as a music teacher or music textbook.

This lesson is a set of exercises for intermediate level guitarists to improve their chord melody playing. Specifically, these exercises help you:

  • Play chord melody arrangements
  • Flow a melody line over the crucial ii-V7-I progression
  • Play basic chord substitutions
  • Train your dog to bake brownies
  • Teach your fingers to "see" the chords connected to arpeggios and the arpeggios connected to chords
  • Find that drill bit that fell behind the workbench last July
  • Learn how chords work together
  • Create solos
  • Apply intervals as chord substitutions
  • Read a newspaper upside down
  • Improvise
  • Learn chord voicings
  • Navigate the fretboard better
  • Tell Aunt Sophie what you *really* think about her
  • Much, much more. Batteries not included.


Play the tab attached to this article to hear an example of chord melody playing.



How to build chord melody skills?


What exactly do you have to know to play chord melody arrangements? Let's try this list on for size:

  • A melody to play
  • Chords to play. This means
    • chord quality or type, from notated/written charts, memory, what your ear hears, or a message from God
    • the voicing of that chord that will put the melody note on top
  • How to see, hear and play the melody connected to the chord, and the chord connected to the melody.


Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it? Let's expand on some of these points.

Where are we getting our melody? To create CMW, I chose a super simple but instructive melody: one based on a continuous arpeggio that runs over a ii-V-I progression. A melody like this is ideal for writing exercises for a number of reasons: it's musical, the patterns it uses make it easy to see the underlying chords; it's easily changeable: you can vary the rhythm, the starting notes, and lots of other elements.

As for what chords to play, this is explained above. What about the voicing, though? What does it mean to know the voicing of a chord that puts the melody on top? That means you can play a chord shape that fits the harmony, *and* that has the melody as its top note. At the least, this means, for example, that I can play four different C7 chords in each CAGED position: a C7 with the C on top, a C7 with the E on top, and C7s with the G and Bb on top.

Now, how do you see, hear and play the melody connected to the chord, and the chord connected to the melody? As I mentioned, when you're working with a melody that's a simple arpeggio, getting to the chord shapes from the melody shapes, and back again, is pretty straightforward. In general, an arpeggio shape outlines its associated chord shape and vice versa.

Did I lose you? I hope not, because there's some serious, skill building, finger licking, toe-tappin', knee-slappin' fun coming, as we present the CMW workout itself.



The CMW Exercises


The CMW workout contains 40 exercises that build the skills mentioned a little while ago. This breaks down to 8 for each CAGED position. The first eight of those 40 are presented here. These 8 focus on the C major CAGED form. The actual key is F major.

In each of these exercises you'll be mixing chords and arpeggios over a I-ii-V-I phrase, developing a strong sense of the connection between chords and melody, and having a grand time doing it. You'll no doubt develop your own ideas for more exercises as you work through CMW.

Are you ready now for the first 8 exercises? Here's the tab.



CAGED C (F major)


|-----------------|-----------------|-----------------|---------5--------|
|---------6-------|-------6-8-6-----|-------5-8-5-----|-------6-6-6------|
|-----5-7-5-7-5---|-----7---7---7---|-----5---5---5---|---5-7---5---7-5--|
|---7-----7-----7-|-5-8-----8-----8-|-5-8-----8-----8-|-7----------------|
|-8-------8-------|-5---------------|-7-------7-------|-8----------------|
|-8---------------|-6---------------|-6---------------|-8----------------|
Degree 1, ascending

|-----------------|-----------------|-----------------|------------------|
|-6---------------|-6---------------|-5---------------|------------------|
|-5-7-5-------5-7-|-7-7-----------7-|-5-5-----------5-|-7-5-----------5--|
|-7-----7---7-----|-8---8-5---5-8---|-5---8-5---5-8---|-7---7-------7----|
|---------8-------|---------8-------|---------7-------|-8-----8-5-8------|
|---------5-------|-6-------6-------|---------6-------|---------5--------|
Degree 1, descending

|---------5-------|---------6-------|-------6-8-6-----|-----5-8----------|
|-------6-6-6-----|-----6-8-6-8-6---|---5-8---8---8-5-|---6--------------|
|---5-7---5---7-5-|---7-----7-----7-|-5-------9-------|-7-------7-5------|
|-7---------------|-8---------------|-8-------8-------|-7-------7---7----|
|-8---------------|-5---------------|-7---------------|-8-------8-----8--|
|-8---------------|-----------------|-----------------|------------------|
Degree 3, ascending

|-5---------------|-----------------|-----------------|------------------|
|-6-6-----------6-|-8-6-----------6-|-8-5-----------5-|-6----------------|
|-5---7-5---5-7---|-7---7-------7---|-5---5-------5---|-5-7-5-------5-7--|
|---------7-------|-8-----8-5-8-----|-8-----8-5-8-----|-7-----7---7------|
|---------8-------|---------5-------|-7-------7-------|---------8--------|
|---------8-------|---------6-------|---------6-------|---------5--------|
Degree 3, descending

|-------5-8-5-----|---------6-------|-------6-8-6-----|-----5-8----------|
|-----6---6---6---|-----6-8-6-8-6---|---5-8---8---8-5-|---6--------------|
|-5-7-----7-----7-|---7-----7-----7-|-5-------9-------|-7-------7-5------|
|-7-------7-------|-8---------------|-8-------8-------|-7-------7---7----|
|-8---------------|-5---------------|-7---------------|-8-------8-----8--|
|-----------------|-----------------|-----------------|------------------|
Degree 5, ascending

|-8-5-----------5-|-6---------------|-6---------------|-5----------------|
|-6---6-------6---|-6-8-6-------6-8-|-5-8-5-------5-8-|-6-6-----------6--|
|-7-----7-5-7-----|-7-----7---7-----|-5-----5---5-----|-5---7-5---5-7----|
|-7-------7-------|---------8-------|-5-------8-------|---------7--------|
|---------8-------|---------5-------|---------7-------|---------8--------|
|-----------------|-----------------|-----------------|---------8--------|
Degree 5, descending

|-----5-8---------|-----------------|-----------------|------------------|
|---6-------------|-----------------|---------5-------|---------6--------|
|-7-------7-5-----|---------7-------|-------5-5-5-----|-----5-7-5-7-5----|
|-7-------7---7---|-----5-8-8-8-5---|---5-8---8---8-5-|---7-----7-----7--|
|-8-------8-----8-|-5-8-----------8-|-7---------------|-8-------8--------|
|-----------------|-6-------6-------|-6---------------|-5----------------|
Degree 6, ascending

|-----------------|---------------6-|-8-6-----------6-|-8-5-----------5--|
|-----------------|-----------6-8---|-8---8-5---5-8---|-6---6-------6----|
|-7-5-----------5-|-7-------7-------|-9-------5-------|-7-----7-5-7------|
|-7---7-------7---|-8-8-5---8-------|-8-------8-------|-7-------7--------|
|-8-----8-5-8-----|-------8---------|---------7-------|---------8--------|
|---------5-------|-6-------6-------|-----------------|------------------|
Degree 6, descending



How did it go? Before you move ahead, make sure you can play this smoothly with a metronome, and that it *feels* right to you.

Once you've mastered the first 8 exercises, take a look at a summary of the remaining exercises. Use this table as a checklist.
Chord Melody Workout