jazz guitar chord cycles

Chord melody: when the melody’s range is very wide

Question by Pierre MARZIN
(Villevêque, FRANCE)


Trying to arrange Blues for Alice in the standard key of F, I’m having problems keeping the melody on top. What would you advise? Should I play it an octave higher, or displace the lowest sentences up an octave (which sounds a bit weird…) or …
Thanks for your answer.


Hello Pierre,

Oh! That’s a great question and a problem I believe most guitarists have to face regarding melodies on the guitar.

The very first thing to consider is that guitar is always written an octave higher than it sounds … it’s not a real transposing instrument but when, in a guitar method, you have the “C” one ledger line under the staff, they have you play it 5th string 3rd fret , right?

Well, in reality, what’s written on the page SOUNDS one octave higher than what you play on the guitar… play that same (middle) C on the piano and you’ll hear it. The ultimate reason behind this: if ‘guitar music’ was written as it sounds, we would be stuck in between bass and treble clef … or using C-clefs like cello. (-:

In general, this means that anything that is written music THAT IS NOT for guitar should transposed an octave up. For instance, if you’re reading the Parker head and solo from the omnibook for ‘Blues for Alice’, everything needs to go up! Strange, eh?!

So, generally speaking, playing any standard, it’s a good idea for guitarists to at least consider transposing everything (or part of the tune) up the octave. I believeI wouldn’t want to split a phrase in half to transpose (like you’re saying above) … only in exceptional cases should you change the way a melodic line goes … (or when you feel very creative!!!)

And lastly, the second part of my answer is: you can use chords only when you can. Because you’re dealing with a bebop tune (that is play med-up), try to come up with just ‘chord punches’ when needed. This is much more effective than puzzling out LOTS of chords everywhere; plus it’s going to be easier to play for you. (-:

What will happen with such a “minimal” chord melody arrangement? You’ll develop it into a personal rendition of that tune. NOT a note-for-note chord melody, NOT a single-note sax line … but an “in between” with chordal decorations in places where you felt it’s the most effective.

(I know it’s easier said than done, but I’d be happy if this can inspire some people to look beyond what they know!)

I hope this helps,

Marc-Andre Seguin
“Improve Your Jazz Guitar Playing with a REAL Teacher”


Old Comments for Chord melody: when the melody’s range is very wide…

Aug 31, 2012
by: Anonymous

Many thanks M-A for your help. Yeah I agree with you that All the Things You Are moves harmonically slowly e.g. it stays in Ab maj for a long time.
So I should work on creating more harmonic interest. ]]>

Aug 31, 2012
Answer to Amelia
by: Marc-Andre Seguin (admin)


In general, ‘older’ broadway tunes like All the Things You Are have melodies that are LESS active than bebop tunes… thus the possibility of harmonizing *everything* is there (depending on the intended tempos).

Often it’s a completely opposite approach that I use with broadway tunes like that! For instance, on All the Things I may want to ADD chords and passing harmonies … while for (faster) bebop tunes, I cannot afford this luxury. (-:


Aug 31, 2012
Minimising chord changes
by: Amelia

Hi Marc-Andre
I found your answer very interesting.
I’m doing a harmonisation of All the Things You Are on piano. Does your suggestion of outlining only the important chords suit a harmonisation of a broadway tune ?

Best regards from Australia

Aug 30, 2012
by: Anonymous

Thanks Marc-André for your fast answer!

I gonna try again with your wise advice in mind… Dont worry, I was not intending to ‘play chords on each note plus walking bass in between’ at Bird’s tempo;)! I’ll come back to you, say in 6 month, when I’ll have sorted it out!

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