The vast majority of times you pick up your guitar to play, it’s just you there, no one else. Sure you jam with other players, and might play in a band, but it still stands that most your playing/practicing is done alone. Wouldn’t you like a way of playing your guitar where you can sound full and complete without necessarily needing someone else to play with you, or a recording to play along with.
The answer is chord/melody.
This is a style of guitar where you play both the chords and melody of a song at the same time.
This way of playing guitar is as equally impressive as it is considered to be difficult. However it really doesn’t have to be if you have a strategy in place that allows you to approach chord melody playing in a methodical and logical manner.
Most players who attempt chord/melody playing however, don’t, and simply try to force arrangements into their fingers, giving up in frustration when they realise this does not work.
Today, I am going to walk you through 3 crippling mistakes made when attempting to play the style of chord/melody on guitar. A further 4 mistakes will follow in part 2 of this article.
With each mistake I will give you specific action steps to take so you can avoid making them yourself. In doing so, the style of chord/melody in both playing arrangements and creating your own, will become easy for you to do, even if you only have basic guitar playing skills right now.
Ever heard the saying "can’t see the forest for the trees?"
In this case the forest is the arrangement itself as a whole, and the trees are the details of the arrangement. Often, players get caught up in the detail (the trees) and as a result lose sight of the arrangement (the forest).
Your ears believe it or not, have the ability to fill in the missing parts of a chord/melody arrangement.
So for example, if you have a bass part that is prominent throughout the piece, however is not being played 100% of the time, meaning you might leave it for a few beats or a bar or whatever, your ears will fill in the missing bass line. This is what you might refer to as an aural illusion.
What does this mean?
It means you don't need to play every possible part of a tune, all the time, throughout the entire arrangement. It’s often what you don’t play that makes what you do play sound great!
Trying to do all parts, all the time, sounds clunky and leaves you know depth or dynamic to work with in your arrangement.
- Begin at the beginning, and not the end.
What does this mean exactly?
Too many people try to do everything at once and come out with a complete arrangement without first providing the framework. Trying to do so is a little like trying to build a house without a frame, or building the house, the walls, roof, windows etc, at the same time as building the frame.
It just doesn’t work.
You’d be amazed how full and complete just the melody and root notes of the chords sound as an arrangement of a song in itself, as well as providing a great foundation/framework from which to develop the rest of the chord/melody piece.
You can learn more about this with the how to build instrumental arrangements of songs on acoustic guitar ebook/audio.
Only knowing open chords and bar chords on your guitar is extremely limiting. You have all but only touched on the possibilities of harmony on the instrument, as a result.
Developing your chord vocabulary (ie. the number of chords you can use in your guitar playing), will enable you to play any single chord in a variety of ways and a variety of positions on the fretboard. This will give you far greater scope from which to create and develop your chord/melody arrangements.
Knowing how chords are constructed will help greatly too. You will be able to create much more sophisticated arrangements as far as harmonising a melody, and generally speaking, will just make life a whole lot easier as far as chord/melody creating and playing is concerned.
- Expand your chord vocabulary. When doing so don’t simply memorise a whole bunch of chords in isolation. Always see how chord shapes relate to each other on the fretboard. This will help both in remembering the chord as well as having it on hand to use in real life playing.
To see exactly what I am talking about here, check out these easy to play, advanced sounding chord shapes for your guitar playing.
- Invest time into learning how music works on a fundamental level (ie chords, keys etc). However, be aware of filling your head with knowledge but having no idea how to apply any of it to your guitar playing.
A little bit of applied theory knowledge will go a long way!
- Commit to learning more than the stock standard open and bar chords on your guitar. You don’t know what you are missing if this is all you know as far as harmony is concerned on your instrument.
There is so much more!
To be able to create a chord/melody arrangement of a song, you must have memorised and internalised both the chords and the melody on an intimate level, and in isolation. Without doing so, you will struggle with your arrangement, yet many players fail to do this very important and vital step.
Instead, the focus is taking away from the melody, the most important part, and gets caught up in the detail. When this happens, the melody can often get lost, and the arrangement falls apart as a result.
You must know both the chords and the melody to the tune you are arranging, both in isolation, as well as how they relate to each other. After all, you are going to be playing the two parts together, simultaneously on the one guitar.
- Aim to be able to play the chords and melody of your arrangement in more than one position on the guitar. This will of course be limited to your fretboard knowledge, however as this develops you should have the ability to play the melody and chords of a song in different positions on the guitar.
Doing so will give you more scope to work with when creating your arrangements.
- Play the chords to your song and whilst doing so, hum the melody in time. This is a great way to hear and feel how the melody relates to the chords. You may also play around with the phrasing of the melody, but before doing that, be sure to get the basic structure of the melody with the chords down as a foundation from which to work.
- If there are lyrics to the tune you are arranging, learn them, as this helps in memorising and internalising the melody too.
- Always memorise what it is you want to be able to play. A lot of memorising can be done as you learn a tune, rather than learn the tune and then memorise it. A lot of memorising can also be done away from the guitar, by visualising your arrangement, the chords, the melody, the sound etc.
Take the time to absorb what it is we have covered in todays article, and start taking action towards creating awesome chord/melody arrangements of your own on the guitar.
Also, look out for part 2 of this article where I will be addressing a further 4 critical mistakes guitar players make when trying to create chord/melody arrangements on guitar.
Apply the concepts and approaches you’ve learned in todays lesson by creating your own arrangements playing the chords and melody of a song on one guitar.
Specializing in online acoustic guitar lessons, Simon Candy is based in Melbourne, Australia where he runs his own guitar school.
He has taught guitar for over 20 years to people of all ages and levels covering a variety of styles including blues, rock, jazz, and fingerpicking.
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