Using intervals to build chords for your chord melody

We just covered some interesting ways you can use intervals to add harmony to your melody. You can review that lessons here. In this lesson we are going to learn how to build chords by using intervals. This may sound hard, but don’t worry, this is easier than it sounds. Let’s jump in and get started.

To refresh our memories of previously covered material that is important on this topic, the most stable interval for harmony is the third. Chords are built in thirds, this makes this interval a good candidate for making chords. This does not mean that you cannot experiment with other intervals as well. For the sake of this lesson I am going to use thirds, however you can do the same process with other intervals.

You have your melody note that you want to add harmony to. Now you added a third below it. What if you add a third note to this? If you add another third below the harmony note you get a triad. A triad is a 3 note chord. You can continue to add as many harmony notes as you desire. Once you get comfortable creating chords using thirds, you can build chords using other intervals.

The cool thing about building chords under the melody note is that often they build the same chord that is originally written in the tune. If the chord is not the same, it can most likely be labeled as an extended chord, rootless chord or substitution.

One more cool trick that can be done with this style of creating harmony is creating varied intervallic chords. If you take different intervals and apply them to the same chord you can make some interesting sounding chords. Some may be a challenge to play, some may not. It is worth experimenting with them to see what works for you. Also you can take these chords and try to harmonize the whole major scale with the same intervals. I will cover this soon in another lesson. You may be asking how you create these chords. It is easy, take different intervals and create a chord with it on the melody note. For example You can play a 6th below the melody note, second below that, then a 4th below that. (These numbers were created at random as an example.) You may find some combinations sound better to you than others. Experiment to find your sound.

Good luck on your path to chord melody playing!

Chord Melody – using intervals to harmonize your melody

Mentioned previously in the last post, there are a couple of ways to add harmony to your chord melody. One of the easiest most effective ways to do this is to use intervals to build harmony. Last lesson we discussed putting thirds below the melody note. In this lesson we are going to take this technique a little bit further.

Once you are comfortable adding a third below the melody note, you can extend this interval for different sounds. Now you can experiment with putting fourths, fifths, sixths, or sevenths under your melody note. This adds more interest to the melody and can give you more options to work with. The more tools you have in your tool box, the more options you have to do something great. This isn’t a hard step to accomplish. Once you understand the concept of adding a note below the melody note, with a certain interval, this is easy to accomplish. Now here are a few ways you can use different intervals to build interesting harmony.

1)      You can use a simple scheme of just a certain interval to harmonize your melody. For example you could use the interval of a 6th exclusively. Keep in mind that chords are typically built in thirds and the third is typically one of the strongest notes to use for harmonizing. Ultimately, use your ear to decide what sounds good.

2)      Buildings your intervals through a period of time. For example for 2 measures use the interval of thirds exclusively. The next 2 measures use the interval of fourths exclusively. The next 2 measures use the interval of fifths exclusively. This could build an interesting sound.

3)      Last, but not least. Contrary motion! This is one of the most important things for good voice leading in classical music. You may be asking how you do this, it is easy. If your melody note is going higher in pitch, harmony goes lower. If the melody is going lower, harmony is going higher.  The easiest way of thinking of this is while a melody is walking up the scale, the harmony is walking down the same scale.

This is just a few things you can do to get your toes wet with this technique. With this information you will be able to create more interesting chord melodies that have movement in them. Try playing with these ideas and see what works for your own personal style. Chord melodies are very personal and can be played many different ways, so find what you like and go with it.

Chord Melody basic techniques

If you are unfamiliar with what a chord melody is you can review the previous post about it here.

We have a good song picked out, and we have learned the melody on the top 4 strings of the guitar. You may be wondering what the next step is. The next step is what we call harmonizing the melody. This implies we will add more notes under the melody note of choice. Another word for harmonizing is called “Adding Chord”. This is where specific techniques come in for chord melody playing.

Before we jump right into playing music with lots of thick chords under the melody, I want to mention that the melody is the foundation for chord melody playing. We do not need to add harmony (or chords) to every melody note. Actually the opposite can be true. Sometimes it is better to not play any harmony on a melody note. You can think of chords as embellishments. Let me give you an example of what a chord melody is like. If you go to a burger joint and ask for a hamburger. They bring one out and you can go to the bar where they have all the condiments put out for you to choose which extra flavors you want to eat with your meat. If you decide to leave off the pickles, is it still a hamburger? If you take off the bread is it still a hamburger? Yes! If you take the meat away, but have all the bread, pickles, ketchup and onions on it, is it a hamburger? No, how do you know it’s not a chicken sandwich? A chord melody is very similar. The melody is the meat and everything else just adds flavor.

Suggestions on when to leave the melody plain:

1)      Fast melody passages.

2)      Whenever you want that particular effect

So let’s take a melody note of choice and put harmony to it. There many ways to do this. In this lesson we will cover the 2 most basic approaches to chord melody. The first approach is to harmonize the melody note by adding a third below the melody note. The second approach is to play the given chord in the tune and add the melody note to that.

 

TECHNIQUE ONE:

This is the easiest approach to learning to play chord melody. This approach makes it easy to sight-read a melody and to add harmony to it. How we do this is take the key center that the melody note is in. In the same scale, add a third lower to the melody note. In other words, skip a note in the scale and there is the note you need to add below the melody note.

It is a good idea to practice playing scales with the third below. These 2 notes together give the sound of a chord, and it will make your harmonizing faster to practice scales like this. When you come across a note in a melody you will already know which harmonized note goes with it.

Warning:

1)      Accidentals should be harmonized with a note in the diatonic key. So find a third below that is in the key. Accidentals don’t mean you can play anything.

2)      Jazz tunes often change key centers for part of the song. When this happens the scale you harmonize with will change.

 

TECHNIQUE TWO:

Approach 2 is a little different. This approach is centered around the chords of the original tune rather than the melody. How you go about doing this is you play the chords of the song and figure out how the melody can fit into it. You will need to build a good chord vocabulary for this. For convenience you will need to know how to add all the extensions on to chords, including altered note (Notes not in the scale). You will also want to know these chords in multiple areas of the fret board. When you come across a melody note you will ask yourself what chord tone it is, then play that chord with that note in the highest part of the chord.

Warning: This approach by itself can be limiting and can take a lot of practice. It is a valid approach that many people use, but it will require a lot of chord shapes under your fingers. You may not want to use the same chord shape multiple times, which means you will need variations of the same chord as well.

 

Eventually you will combine these 2 techniques and have many options to make a great chord melody. There are many ways that one can expand upon these and make them more interesting. There are also other valid approaches to playing chord melodies. Check back for up coming lessons on chord melodies.

Chord Melody Basics and Introduction

 

A chord melody is exactly what the name describes. The Chords of a song and the melody of a song played at the same time. This is a style of music all on its own, but often times it is used for jazz tunes. Almost any song can be played as a chord melody, but some make for a better arrangement than others. Let’s take a look at some things that make a song worthy of playing as a chord melody.

 

1)      Easy melodies. This typically means a slower melody with fewer notes. If a song has a melody with lots of long fast lines in it, it may not be the most friendly to this style of playing.

2)      Longer songs. I am not suggesting that a blues cannot be turned into a chord melody, but why? If a song is short, the essence of the style is missed. A lot of the beauty of a chord melody is that it doesn’t end too soon.

3)      Chord changes. Chord changes make songs typically more interesting. I am not saying that you cannot harmonize a song that is modal (1 chord), rather It is easier to start out with a song with built in interest.

4)      Any style. Any song in any style of music can be made into a chord melody.

 

Now we know what type of songs make good chord melodies. You may be wondering what rules go into making a chord melody. This is very simple. Let’s look at the rules.

1)      Play the Melody. Preferably an octave higher than written. This means that you will need to work out (or sight read) the melody on the top 4 strings. As a rule of thumb, melodies sound bad on the lowest 2 strings. (There are exceptions)

2)      Harmonize certain notes in your chord melody. Without any kind of harmony in the background, it is just called a “melody”.

 

We have covered the essence of what a chord melody is. We have talked about picking a good chord melody song, and we discussed the rules of a chord melody. If you follow on to the next lessons on chord melodies you will find specific techniques that you can use to create chord melodies. Next Lesson. Good luck!