Jazz guitarists use the term "chord melody" to describe the way they play a certain song. It is in fact the harmonization of a melody (aka playing chords AND melody at the same time).
Personally, I like to see chord melodies (and chord-melody type of playing the guitar) as if I'm arranging for an orchestra that has six strings!
You can take a look and get general advice from this page or go directly to the jazz standards page to get my own chord melody arrangements.
Essentials to get you started :
Most of all : Have Fun !!! (-:
The first step is to play and memorize the melody of piece you are working on. Learn it inside out and, of course, by memory. And I really mean it!
Sing it, play it, shake it... (whatever it takes!)
until it becomes part of you.
The theme (aka "head" or melody) is always leading the way. This is often overlooked on guitar. I usually think of it like this : I'm playing in a car and the melody is driving. I go where it wants to go! (and the rest of of the music follows too...)
If I played the first couple of notes of the tune you're currently learning for you, could you sing, whistle or hum the rest of the song?
Pefectly? (whitout hesitation)
In time? (strict tempo)
(Be honest with yourself)
Good! Now you know the melody.
Aim to play the melody mostly on the highest strings (1st and 2nd preferably). It will help later on when we harmonize with chords on the lower strings.
You may have to play the melody an octave higher than it is written on the lead sheet.
If it's an old american standard (broadway) song, you can certainly phrase the melody as you please.
Listen to your favorite recording(s) of this tune. How is the player phrasing the melody? (The head in might sound different from the head out, listen to both closely.)
For instance, if you're learning Autum Leaves or All the Things You Are, you don't have to play the theme exactly as it is written every time. (This does not apply to jazz/bebop tunes)
In short, you're allowed to play around with the rhythms a little, as long as the melody is recognizable... This phrasing concept can add some interest and contrast once chords are added in step 3.
The next step is to learn, play and memorize the chords you wish to use under the theme for your chord melody arrangement.
Yes that's right : melody is on top and chords underneath!
Memorize the chords and the sequence in which they appear in the song. It's best to know and understand what notes are contained in each chord. A little music theory is recommended here :
Sometimes, I also suggest students to sing the melody out loud while they play the chords. (*his is the preambule to making a decent chord melody arrangement for a jazz standard*)
For all the "raw material", see the "chords" section of JazzGuitarLessons.net (and elsewhere on the WWW) for inspiration :
You may also use these great references :
Also : look for some useful chord shapes I use in my own jazz standards arrangements. Some might feel akward at first, see what works for you.
Finally, jazz guitarists beware!
Chords are important but not as important as the melody. Please do not fall in the trap of simply playing "chord grips" all of the time! Learn the tune you are working on, not just shapes.
To continue on the analogy I made earlier :
The melody is driving the car, the chords are the streets. The car goes wherever it needs to (even off-road sometimes!)
So harmony may suggest or guide the melody, that's all.
Which leads us to...
Play the melody and use appropriate chord shapes underneath. The melody will end up being the "top note" of the chord shape. That is the "big picture" of chord melody playing...
...on a smaller scale : make sure you don't sound like a "formula". Play good rhythms and vary your approach to keep things interesting! Music is all about contrast.
For instance, you may use simple 2 or 3 notes "rhythmic splashes" to color around the melody. Or sometimes, a single note underneath the theme is all you need (another interesting texture.)Can you play two different melodic lines at the same
In short, as I said in the video : don't simply go "chunk chunk chunk" for each new melody note. Play the melody well, with good time and phrasing and then add interesting chords and couterpoint lines (studying harmony in step 2 definitely helps here).
There's a ton of good sounding counterpuntal lines and harmonic ideas "hidden" inside of jazz standards chord progressions... they're waiting for you to discover them!
This is a great opportunity for you to learn new
material. You can always find a new voicing or another inversion of a
well known chord. Check out this chord
melody drop 2 reference (PDF)
for some ideas.
This task of finding your way through tunes and inventing new chord melody arrangements is tremendously rewarding. By learning new ways of playing in the context of a tune, you are in fact practicing technique to serve musical needs (and not the other way around).
Exactly what the music is all about!