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 on guitar can be a gripping way to captivate listeners with just one instrument.
Playing chord-melodies on guitar is not only a great way to entertain people without accompaniment, it is also an intriguing style/method for articulating musical ideas. 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. Throw in some drop-2 chord forms, splendid arrangements, and some creativity that resonates, and you have the ingredients for 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. Their ability 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 amusable, and build dignity with one’s self. Can one achieve self-actualization through the gratifying ability to play chord-melodies? I’m not sure about this, 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, just take a peek at drop-2 chord forms.
Drop Down and Give Me 2!
If you haven’t heard of or experimented with drop-2 chord forms, then you are in for a treat. These 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. Better yet, they work excellently 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 drop-2 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.
How Drop 2 Works:
A "Close Voicing" arranges the notes of a chord as closely together as possible. A typical 7th Chord in Root Position is a group of "Stacked 3rds" in Close Voicing.
To get a Drop-2 Voicing, we take the second note from the top of the chord, and drop it down by 1 Octave. Hence the name: Drop-2.
This works with all the inversions of the chord as well. Compare the inversions of C Major 7 in Close and Drop-2 Voicings:
You'll probably notice that the Drop-2 voicings are much more "Guitaristic". They're easier to play, they create simpler shapes that fit the hand, and have a richer, more widely spaced sound quality.
We can take any of the Drop-2 inversions, and play that shape up an entire scale. This gives lots of interesting possibilities for harmonization! Try this with the other inversions too:
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 some 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. And 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.
For more on crafting chord-melodies on popular tunes, check out our complete course: Chord Melody Masterclass
Get an exclusive transcription for Matt's amazing arrangement of Somewhere Over the Rainbow