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.

Harmonizing scales to create arpeggios

When you learn a new scale it is a good idea to learn how to harmonize it creating arpeggios over it.  You may be asking what that means. This is simply building a triad or seventh chord off of each note in the scale. Using these arpeggios gives you a wide range of arpeggios to use over your playing. When you are generalizing over a song you can pick any of these arpeggios or play the harmonized scale ascending or descending. Any scale can be harmonized.

Before you start to harmonize a Scale let me quickly go over the nerd stuff. The word harmonize comes from the word harmony. Harmony is the underlying progression of notes. Notice, I did not say chords. Harmony can be chords, but it does not always use chunks of notes. Harmony can be split up into broken chords (notes from a chord played individually.) If you want to harmonize a scale you need to build intervals of thirds. You can review intervals here.  A triad is a 3 note chord (with all thirds) and a seventh chord is a 4 note chord (in all thirds.) So in brief, you need to add a couple notes to each scale tone using thirds.

A Harmonized major scale. It is a good idea to memorize the chord sequence. Major, Minor, Minor, Major, Dominant, Minor, Minor 7(b5)

A Harmonized major scale. It is a good idea to memorize the chord sequence. Major, Minor, Minor, Major, Dominant, Minor, Minor 7(b5)

Now if you are not generalizing over a chord progression you may want to approach this harmonization a little differently. Take the arpeggio and figure out which arpeggio belongs over the Third of the chord, 5th of the chord or 7th of the chord. This will allow you to focus more on important tones. You will be starting arpeggios on the root position arpeggio which is very connected to the chord. Below is an example of harmonized arpeggios.

Harmonized Arpeggios

Harmonized Arpeggios. Notice if you look at all the notes of the arpeggios in each category they complete the full major scale. However they are built in thirds rather than seconds.

Once you are comfortable with these 2 approaches you can intermix them in your playing for a unique sound and more option. The more options you have, but better you can play a wide range of music and have fresh and new ideas. Spend some time working on harmonizing scales and learning to play them. Once you are comfortable with that spend some time memorizing then harmonized arpeggios.

Using this same system you can start to imply altered tones in your playing by changing your arpeggio choices. You can learn to play extended arpeggios and just be freer with your music. These are not meant to restrict your playing; rather they give you building blocks to use to make music. It is hard to be innovative without knowledge of what came before; it is also hard to be good without the knowledge of the basic building blocks of what you want to do. Arpeggios and scales make up much of the music we hear. Learning to use them to our benefit is well worth the time.