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Creating Chord-Melody Arrangements

Rich Scott (693) · [archive]
Style: Theory/Reference · Level: Intermediate · Tempo: 120
Pages: 1

Creating Chord-Melody Arrangements
By Rich Scott


Typically, guitarists either play chord accompaniment or melody (lead). Chord-melody, however, is an approach to guitar playing where both the chord and melody are played at the same time creating a complete orchestration. Although chord-melodies are usually played fingerstyle, my arrangements are designed to be played with a pick.

The first step in creating a chord-melody arrangement is to obtain a fake book lead sheet (containing melody, chord symbols, and lyrics) or sheet music for the song you want to arrange and become familiar with the melody. At this point I usually notate the melody on tab paper as I did with the eight-bar A1 section to Hoagy Carmichael's 1930 standard Georgia On My Mind as shown below. I find that the standards and particularly Christmas carols are a good sourse of songs that lend themselves to this type of chord-melody arrangement.

bullet.gifMelody tabbed from sheet music (key of F)
  
   F          A7         Dm            Gm   Bbm
e----------|----------|-------------|---------------|
B------1---|----------|------3------|---------------|
G---2------|---2--0---|---2-----2---|---0------0----|
D----------|----------|-------------|-------3-------|
A----------|----------|-------------|---------------|
E----------|----------|-------------|---------------|
 1          2          3             4

F E7 Gm G9 C7 F F#o Gm7 C7+ e--------0-----|--------------|-------|-------------| B-----1-----3--|-----3--------|-1-----|--3-3-3-3----| G--2-----------|--3-----2--0--|-------|----------1--| D--------------|--------------|-------|-------------| A--------------|--------------|-------|-------------| E--------------|--------------|-------|-------------| 5 6 7 8
The next step is to transpose the melody up an octave so that notes fall on the B (2nd) and high E strings as shown in our example below. Ideally, the melody notes should fall between the open B (2nd) and the 12th fret of the high E string.

bullet.gifMelody transposed an octave higher
  
    F         A7         Dm            Gm   Bbm
e---5--8---|---5--3---|---5--10--5--|---3---1--3----|
B----------|----------|-------------|---------------|
G----------|----------|-------------|---------------|
D----------|----------|-------------|---------------|
A----------|----------|-------------|---------------|
E----------|----------|-------------|---------------|
 1          2          3             4

F E7 Gm G9 C7 F F#o Gm7 C7+ e-5--8--12-10-|-610--5--3-|-8----|--10-10-10-10--4-| B-------------|------------|------|-----------------| G-------------|------------|------|-----------------| D-------------|------------|------|-----------------| A-------------|------------|------|-----------------| E-------------|------------|------|-----------------| 5 6 7 8
Sometimes the melody will layout on the fretboard better if changed to another key. The best guitar keys are C, A, G, E, and D. As can be seen in the above example, the melody notes occur exclusively on the high E string with the highest too far up the fretboard to be comfortably played on an acoustic guitar. By transposing the melody to the key of C as shown below, the melody is played on both the B (2nd) and high E strings with the highest melody note falling on the seventh fret which should allow for the use of more open strings.

bullet.gifMelody transposed to the key of C
  
    C         E7         Am            Dm  Fm
e---0--3---|---0------|---0--50----|---------------|
B----------|------3---|-------------|---3---1--3----|
G----------|----------|-------------|---------------|
D----------|----------|-------------|---------------|
A----------|----------|-------------|---------------|
E----------|----------|-------------|---------------|
 1          2          3             4

C B7 Dm D9 G7 C C#o Dm7 G7+ e-0--3--7-5--|-1-5--0----|-3----|--5--5--5--5----| B-------------|----------3-|------|--------------4--| G-------------|------------|------|-----------------| D-------------|------------|------|-----------------| A-------------|------------|------|-----------------| E-------------|------------|------|-----------------| 5 6 7 8
The next step is to add the lead sheet chords to the melody notes that land on the first beat of each measure. Keep in mind that the the melody is always the highest note in the chord. Harmonizing of other melody notes is a matter of personal choice and what sounds better. I also try to harmonize all melody notes where there is a chord change. I find it helpful to have my Mel Bay's Deluxe Encyclopedia of Guitar Chords handy to refer to when I have trouble finding the right chord fingerings. This chord dictionary is unique in that it shows only the best voicings and separates melody, inside, rhythm, and bottom 4 string chords. Look closely at how I harmonized our example below.

bullet.gifMelody harmonized using sheet music chord progression
  
    C         E7         Am            Dm  Fm
e---0--3---|---0------|------5-----|---------------|
B---1------|---0--3---|---5-----5---|---3---1--3----|
G---0------|---1------|---5---------|---2---1-------|
D---2------|---0------|---7---------|---0---3-------|
A---3------|---2------|---7---------|-------3-------|
E----------|---0------|---5---------|-------1-------|
 1          2          3             4

C B7 Dm D9 G7 C C#o Dm7 G7+ e-0--3--7----|---5-------|-3--3-|--5--5--5--5----| B-1-----7--10-|-6-----5--3-|-1--2-|--6-----------4--| G-0-----6-----|-5-----5--4-|-0--3-|--5-----------4--| D-2-----7-----|-7-----4--3-|-2--2-|--7-----------3--| A-3-----9-----|-5-----5--5-|-3----|--5--------------| E-------7-----|----------3-|------|--------------3--| 5 6 7 8
The last step is to add chord substitutions to your basic chord-melody arrangement. If you are not proficient in the art of chord substitution, you can borrow the substituions as I did from the [Old] Real Book lead sheet or other similar fake books. When I'm working on a chord-melody arrangement I often find it helpful to look at several other arrangements before I make my final chord substitution choices.

bullet.gifChord-melody with chord substitutions added

A1
  
   Cmaj7    Bm7b5 E7     Am  Am/G     D/F# Fm7 Bb7/F
e---0--3---|---0------|---0--5-----|---------------|
B---0------|---3--3---|---1--5-5----|---3---1--3----|
G---0------|---2--1---|---2--5------|---2---1--1----|
D---2------|---3--0---|---2---------|---0---1--3----|
A---3------|---2--2---|---0---------|-------3--1----|
E----------|------0---|------3------|---2---1--1----|
 1          2          3             4

Cmaj7/E A13 A7 Dm7 G6 Em7 A7 Dm7 G7+ e-0---3---7--5--|---5-------|-3--3-|--5-5-5-5----| B-1-------7---5--|-6-----5--3-|-3--2-|--6--------4--| G-0-------6---6--|-5-----4----|-0--0-|--5--------4--| D-2-------5---5--|-7-----3----|-0--2-|--7--------3--| A-3-----------0--|-5-----5----|-2--0-|--5-----------| E-0-------5------|-------3----|-0----|-----------3--| 5 6 7 8
I typically leave my chord-melody in this type of sketch arrangement that allows plenty of room to improvise both rhythmically and harmonically when playing a song.

bullet.gifYour Assignment

Your assignment now is to obtain the sheet music for Georgia On My Mind and try your hand at creating a chord-melody sketch arrangement for the eight-bar A2, A3, and B sections.

Here's how I did it. You will notice that the A2 and A3 sections are the same. This gives you the oppurtunity to use different substitutions on the same passage the second time through. Again I used the [Old] Real Book chord substitutions for both the A2 and B sections. I did, however, leave the "Bb9" chord in the A2 section turnaround from the original lead sheet and I substituted the "A7b9" for the "Eb7" in the B section turnaround. I also added a walking bass line to the A2 section turnaround.

A2
  
    Cmaj7   Bm7b5 E7     Am  Am/G     D/F# Fm7 Bb7/F
e---0--3---|-0--------|---0--5-----|---------------|
B---0------|-3----3---|---1--5-5----|---3---1--3----|
G---0------|-2----1---|---2--5------|---2---1--1----|
D---2------|-3----0---|---2---------|---0---1--3----|
A---3------|-2----2---|---0---------|-------3--1----|
E----------|------0---|------3------|---2---1--1----|
 9          10         11            12

Cmaj7/E A13 A7 Dm7 G7b9 C Bb9 Bm7 E7 e-0---3---7--5--|-1---------|----------|----------| B-1-------7---5--|-1-----5--5-|---1---1--|----------| G-0-------6---6--|-2--2--4----|---0---1--|---2---1--| D-2-------5---5--|-0-----3----|---2--0--|---0---0--| A-3-----------0--|------------|-0-32-1--|-1-2---2--| E-0-------5------|-------4----|----------|-----1-0--| 13 14 15 16


B
   Am    Dm6     Am7    F7   Am    Dm6     Am7   D7
e-----------0--|----------|-----------0--|--3--0--2-|
B-----1--3-----|--1-----1-|-----1--3-----|--1-----1-|
G--2-----2-----|--0--2--2-|--2-----2-----|--0-----2-|
D--2-----3-----|--2-----1-|--2-----3-----|--2-----0-|
A--0-----------|--0-----3-|--0-----------|--0-------|
E--------------|--------1-|--------------|----------|
 17             18         19             20

Am Am(M7) Am7 F#m7 B7 Em7 A7b9 Dm9 Db7 e---------0-|--3--5---7--5--|--3--0--3--3--|--------| B----1--3---|--1--5---5--4--|--3-----2-----|--5--3--| G--2----1---|--0--5---5--4--|--0-----3-----|--5--4--| D--2----2---|--2--5---4--4--|--0-----2-----|--3--3--| A--0----0---|--0------0--0--|--2-----0-----|--5--4--| E-----------|---------------|--0-----------|--------| 21 22 23 24
Although mastering this form of guitar playing is challenging, a well-rounded guitarist should have at least a basic understanding of this guitar style. You will find that the more you practice arranging in the chord-melody style, the better you will become. Also, the next time someone asks you to play something on your guitar you'll actually be able to play a song or two.

bullet.gif

Additional Resources


If you want to learn more about Chord-Melody, take a look at the following lessons:

Chord Melody (Sologuitarist Network)

Chord-Melody 101:part 1:Getting A Grip (WholeNote)

Chord Melody Workout (Maximum Musician)

Guidelines For Constructing A Chord Melody (Jodi Fisher)

Idiot's Guide to Chord-Melody (Guitar Player)

Performing in the Chord-Melody Style (GuitarPeople)

Rules of Chord Melody (Chris Grey)

Solo Guitar Arranging (Vision Music)

Solo Guitar with Chord Melodies - Part I & Part II (GuitarNoise)

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CPFScover6.gif Rich Scott, is a guitarist/songwriter with a degree in education. He is also the owner/webmaster of MoneyChords.com, a popular guitar and chord progressions lessons website. His most recent book is Chord Progressions For Songwriters available on-line from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.