Understanding chord melody arrangements

Question by Michael Bradley

I’ve been trying to learn how to create chord melody arrangements for a few months now. I am a Jazz beginner, I handle chords fairly well as long as I can reach them with my short fat fingers.

For a first question, I don’t know what to do with notes and chords that do not fall within the harmonized scale for a particular song. I see chords that should be minor that aren’t, I find dim chords that are different than what the harmonized scale would call for.

Before I attempt making the song a Jazz tune, I’d like just to be able to play the standards in a capable, melodic representation.

M-A Answer:

Hello Michael,

Ah yes. I see what you mean. The problem is that we can see the notes D, F or even A on a C major chord and then don’t really know what do to with them, right?!

The first order of business is to understand the note relationship to the root (bass) note. Is this a 9th, 4th, #11th, … etc. ? Once this is done, you can see if there’s any new chord shape / inversion that may work OR if you’re choosing to simply leave it out with no chords underneath.

Often, it’s the note is a “passing scale note” (like a D note on a C major chord), it may be preferable to leave it like this, like a “passing note”. Harmonizing the important “hook” notes is a good technique.

Then, what you may want to do is find many types of “filler” for chords you already know. Passing diminished chords are an effective old-school bebop way of doing that. Check out the Barry Harris stuff (in the books sections). Also check you this video of mine:

As you’ll see in this video, one simple chord shape can yield up to TEN harmonizable notes on top!)

And lastly, get in shape! Study Ted Greene Modern chord progressions books, Leavitt’s Modern Method, learn your triads and inversions , learn new chord shapes , read in different keys, etc. etc.

I (personally) got around to learning A LOT (and I mean a lot) of what’s required to harmonize properly from my private teacher Michael Berard. See his jazz guitar elements book. Hopefully, when you get to harmonize your 25th chord melody, there will be less confusion about “UFO” notes that seem not to work!

Please, let me know if you have any questions. Post comments with specific passages in specific tunes if you need urgent help with an arrangement.

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

This is an addendum almost a year after the question was first asked and answer.

I completely missed this in my first answer: A GREAT way to improve your own chord melody playing is … learning someone else’s pre-fab chord melody. Honestly, this is probably the most time efficient way to get to YOUR OWN arrangements.

You have to “pick up” ideas from somewhere, right? So I highly recommend Barry Galbraith: Solo Guitar book… standard notation and TABS. Beautiful arrangements ranging from simple to more complex counterpoint (in order of difficulty). Check it out!

Old Comments for Understanding chord melody arrangements

Jul 30, 2012
Thank you for the next step
by: Amelia

Hi Marc-Andre
Many thanks for replying and so quickly. I appreciate your suggestion of what my next step should be. I look forward to applying what I’ve learnt. I would like to spend 20 min a day harmonising/arranging.
Having read your nice article on tritone substitutes, maybe I will spend another 10 min a day learning this tool.

Best regards

Jul 30, 2012
Answer to Amelia
by: Marc-Andre Seguin (admin)

Thank you for your comment.

I think, at that point (I mean with the amount of material you tried to get a hold of), it’d be best if you ‘arranged’ a few more tunes.

Pick up the easy ones: a few blues, All the Things You Are, Just Friends, You Stepped Out of a Dream, Summertime (etc.) and see what you can come up with!

Working on tunes like that can really shed the light on the things that need practicing … in the ‘practical’ sense!

I hope this helps,

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

Jul 26, 2012
What to practise next for arrangements ?
by: Amelia

Hi Marc-Andre
I’m a beginner in jazz piano and I’ve ever only done one arrangement. It took me too long to do this arrangement as I feel I didn’t have the tools.
I’ve spent 90 days practising drop 2 voicings and I’ve spent 45 days practising your nice quartal voicings.
What do you recommend as the next tool to practise to prepare me for arranging ?

Thanks for the way you help so many people with their jazz issues.

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