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What are chord-melody fingerstyle arrangements? And why are they amazing?

What are chord-melody fingerstyle arrangements? And why are they amazing?

Casey Saulpaugh and  Steve Newbrough


3/1/2021

What is a chord-melody arrangement? That's when a guitarist plays both the chords or harmonies of a song while also playing the melody. The reason people bother to say chord/melody rather than just "arrangement" is because it is so blasted difficult to play chords and melody simultaneously on the guitar! 

 

There aren’t many greater feelings than hearing one of your favorite guitarists play an awe-inspiring, soul-stirring solo that gives you goosebumps down to the bones. Add a killer band with rhythms that groove and tones that please, and the music is undeniably powerful.

 

Any guitarist or listener knows this power that music can have: lifting spirits, conveying deep emotions, and bringing people together with harmony. But this electrifying sensation isn’t just limited to groups or bands communicating what they feel through their instruments, it can happen through solo performances too...and playing chord-melodies, that is to say a complete arrangement, on guitar can be a gripping way to captivate listeners with just one instrument.

 

Chord-melody, an intriguing style/method for articulating musical ideas!

 

Playing chord-melodies on guitar is a great way to entertain people without accompaniment. The ability to convey harmony and melodic ideas at once, while staying true to the prestige of rhythm, makes playing chord-melodies enlightening and very enjoyable.

 

Unlike keyboard instruments that allow a performer to play harmony with one hand and a melody with another. The guitarist must have several skills in place in order to  attempt this challenge.

 

First, the guitarist needs to know how to play the melody.

 

Second, the guitarist must know enough chord voicings up the neck that are reasonably close to the melodic notes.

 

Third, the guitarist must have the knowledge and dexterity to be able to play those chords and the melody at the same time.

When we refer to dexterity we're thinking about reaching the melodic notes while also holding the chord tones below them.

When we refer to knowledge we're talking about the guitarist having the taste to know when to play chord tones, what chord tones to play, and how to seamlessly transition to each new harmony.

 

Fourth, the most important element of all... Rhythm!!!!!!! Rhythm is always the most important element of any musical composition! The name of this style, Chord-Melody, doesn't mention rhythm but if the musician doesn't keep time the piece will sound like a broken record. A guitarist can choose the tastiest chord voicings with most well placed extensions... none of that matters if they don't have rhythm.  

 

Synthesize the above ingredients and let that creativity that resonate! Magically you have a whole new art form on guitar. Let’s check out what makes chord-melodies so delectable.

 

Look Ma, I Don’t Need a Band to Play Great Music!

Every guitar player has the urge to wow audiences with their heartfelt, invigorative playing, but how many can actually do so just by themselves...with no band, backing tracks, or singer needed?

How many can do so for an hour or two, and keep it entertaining with varied song selections and enthralling expressiveness? Well, these players are out there, but they may be harder to find unless you search practice rooms and upscale performance venues; YouTube is sure to display some as well.

The ability solo guitarists to entertain listeners with just the guitar makes them a rare, respectable, and revered species. Luckily, players interested in learning chord-melodies are adding to the pack, and keeping them off the endangered list.

Playing chord-melodies is a great way to delight people at family get-togethers, woo that romantic interest that had no idea you were so musically inclined, and show other musicians that you have a deep respect for harmony, melody, and rhythm.

Better yet, it can make playing or practicing more amusing, and build one's confidence. Can you achieve self-actualization through the gratifying ability to play chord-melodies? I’m not sure about that, but it will help a player gain a deeper understanding of the importance of harmony, melody, and rhythm, and how they tie together in music.

The Trifecta: A Balance of Harmony, Melody, and Rhythm

Undoubtedly, one of the main benefits of learning how to play chord-melodies is that you will become more insightful as to how the different elements of music relate to each other.

A bass player knows the importance of a drummer who’s in-the-pocket.

A lead guitar player knows the importance of a singer’s melody within the song.

A keyboard player knows the importance of staying true to chord progressions with their left hand, and not straying too far from harmonic unity.

A guitarist playing chord-melodies knows the importance of these various facets, but also how they relate to the big-picture of playing guitar as a whole!

The guitar is a very percussive instrument, and has a great ability to emanate full sounding chords and play single-note passages that “sing.” It has great capabilities; using it to play chord-melodies is a beautiful way for the instrument to express itself.

Not only this, but a player will gain more understanding of the potentials for expression through guitar if they take a closer look at chord-melodies. But there’s no magnifying glass needed to see the magnificence of chord-melodies.

 

If you haven’t experimented with jazz chord voicings, then you are in for a treat. There are great chord voicings to not only spice up your playing within the jazz idiom, but also to add more sizzle to stale versions of chords that you may be sick of playing.

Jazz voicings work well within the context of chord-melodies, and have inversions that are usable up and down the neck, among many string groups. Keep an eye out for jazz chords, and learn and experiment with them whenever you can...and remember that they work brilliantly for creating arrangements of popular melodies and tunes for chord-melodies.

Masterful Arrangements That Drip With Creativity

One of the most fun aspects of learning chord-melodies is that there is a lot of room for creativity and personal arrangements. Start with a melody or a tune, and the world is your oyster (or at least the guitar is for now). Sure, there is a framework to stick within: staying true to the harmonic form and the melodic themes, but since there is no band or accompaniment, a player has more wiggle room to express their musical ideas.

It’s nice to have a harmonic/melodic foundation to build off of, but what you build on top of it is totally up to you. If there is a rule to chord-melodies (or music too) it’s that: if it sounds good, then it probably works. With chord-melodies, there is freedom in many ways. A player can choose what register of the guitar to play from; one doesn’t have to play chords at every part of the song; a player can play a chord with extensions and brilliant sounds, even if they have no idea what the theory is behind it.

Best of all, the arrangement is totally yours: a unique perspective that you created based on your interpretation of a tune that resonates with you. If they ask about the song, you can tell folks: “this is my arrangement or interpretation of the classic tune _______________(insert awesome, timeless song here).” That’s right, you are one creative guru.

 

So whether it’s to entertain folks, gain more facility on this hip instrument, learn some extraordinary chord voicings, or unleash your inner artist, learning chord-melodies is a wholehearted way to channel your musical energy. Just remember: if people become mesmerized by your arrangement and playing, you might have to snap them out of it.

Video Guitar Glossary will be posting a course about beginning chord-melody arrangements very soon. Join our email list and stay posted!

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