Monday, July 19, 2021

Creating your own chord melody: A simple guide to get you started

 If you are new to jazz guitar and wondering how to get started on putting together a chord melody. Then keep reading and follow this guide of simple rules of how to combine melody and harmony. By following these steps you will be on your way to creating lush, beautiful sounding chord melodies of your favorite jazz standards. The following steps are a set of rules that I use when trying to put together a chord melody for guitar. These rules are not the only way to do it and I'm sure there are others that go about it differently. In the video that will be posted at the end of this blog you can hear and see me perform my rendition of Blues Bossa. In this example, I play the melody and voicings at the same time in a self contained manner by accompanying myself. This is called solo jazz guitar.
Chord melody rules:

1. Keep the melody note of the song on top of the chord voicing. This way it stands out and the listener can hear and recognize the notes to the song.

2.  Usually the melody note most of the time is played an octave higher than what is written on the page. This is not a steadfast rule and sometimes can be voiced with the written notes if they are not too low. Sometimes you can mix it up by voicing the notes with the written melody and playing some passages of the melody up the octave. The only reason why I might do this is to fit a particular jazz chord that I like and sounds good with the written melody. You will see what I mean when you examine my rendition of Blue Bossa.

3.   You don't have to put a chord on every melody note, especially if you have some measures with a lot of eighth notes. In other words, don't make it too busy with chords and if it's a complicated rhythm it might be hard to execute. So keep it simple by just choosing one or two notes from the melody that you might try to voice with a chord. The rest of notes can be played in a single line fashion. I once read an interview with Joe Pass, where he said "a chord melody is like an illusion, It sounds like it is played all at once, but they are little separate fragments that are played independently from each other".  When you start to combine all the single notes and chords together, it sounds like one thing to the listener. Of course playing it in time and with the proper rhythm helps your chord melody come together as one whole piece.

4. What type of voicing should I use to create my chord melody?

  Well, you can use 3 note shell voicings, drop 2, 3, drop 2 and 4, rootless voicings. I use a combination of all of these voicings to create a chord melody. I will give you some examples of chords a beginner might try to useAlso, I will post all the chords that I used for Blues Bossa. In the Blues Bossa example, you will notice I circled the top note of the chord. The circled note indicates which note of the melody that I chose to voice with a chord. 

5. Experiment by using chord substitutions and changing one or two notes that are in the chord. For example, I use a rootless Cmi 6/9 chord in the first measure of Blues Bossa. My first Chord of choice was to use a Cmi 7 1st inversion drop 2 voicings. Notice in the diagrams below on how I modified the chord. I raised the root up a whole step which now gives me the 9th and lowered the b7 down a half step to the ma 6. Now I'm left with the b3, 6, 9 and 5th. As long as you try to keep the important notes that make it sound major or minor the listener should still be able to follow the chord progressionHere is an example of how you can do it with Drop 2 voicings

Basic rules for omitting notes from a chord :

Add tension notes to the chord. Example: if it's a Dorian minor sounding chord you can add the 9th, 11, and sometime a ma6 or 13.

2. omit the root and raise it a half step to get the 9th of a minor chord

3. omit the 5th and lower it a whole step to get the 11 of a minor chord

4. omit the b7 and lower it a half step to the maj 6 of a minor chord

5. Keep the important notes in the chord that make it sound major, or minor. The b3 and b7 for minor chords, the major 3rd and major 7 for major 7th chords, major 3rd and b7 for dominant 7th chords. The root is not always that important, especially when you are playing with a bass player. In fact, if you try to build chords with just 3rds and 7ths, you will find yourself coming up with some pretty unique and interesting voicingsFor example, in the diagram below you will see a perfect 5th voicing or a power chord that consists of the notes E and B. These two notes can also be viewed as Cmaj 7. Now with your pinky note add the G# on the 2nd sting 9th fret, this will become Cmaj 7 #5.  Barre your first finger across the 7th fret with your 1st finger on D and F#, now you get a rootless Cmaj 7 9 #11 chord. Who would of thought that the heavy metal power chord would give you so many jazzy options for your jazz voicings.

  Obviously, these are just a few of the possibilities, but it is up to you to study music theory and to get good at it. Once you know what tension notes can go with each chord the possibilities of beautiful sounding jazz voicings are numerous. I highly recommend The Jazz Theory Book (Amazon affiliate link) by Mark Levine, to further your knowledge in this area. By altering a few notes here and there you also might accidentally end up with a chord substitution. So if you are not good with music theory, listen to what your ears are telling you. Your ears will guide you on what sounds good or bad and if sounds good, most likely you are on the right path. In the example of the Cmi6/9 chord it also can be viewed as a Ebma7 b5 or Ebma7 #11 chord. I ended up with this by omitting the root and the b7 of Cmi7.  By raising the root a whole step and lowering the b 7 of C-7, this worked out to be the blll maj7 b5 chord in the key of C minor. The blll maj7 can be a substitute for the Tonic chord of the key. Both the  (Eb) blll ma7 and the (Ab) bVl ma7 can be used as a sub for the Tonic chord C mi. To help you with chord substitution use the following chart below.

Remember all the rules can be done with drop 2, drop 3 and drop 2 and 4 voicings. 

Once you learn all of them you can experiment with the idea of changing one or two notes to get more exotic chords. Here is a link to all of the drop 2 chords and other drop voicings: Drop voicings

                                      Blue Bossa Chord Melody Example

-Use The Chord diagrams that come after this lead sheet to learn the voicings for this chord melody.  The voicings for the first chorus of the lead sheet will be on the chord diagram chart. I also provided the voicings for the 2nd chorus of the Blue Bossa chord melody. However, on the second chorus I did not provide the lead sheet with circled notes with each voicing. As a homework assignment see if you can work out the 2nd chorus of the chord melody on your own.

To download Pdf file of the chord voicings, lead sheets, and chord melody lesson examples, please visit the following link:

To hear and see an example of the chord melody please watch the you tube video

For more lesson material on chords, scales and improv ideas please visit:

or use this link to book a lesson with me


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Friday, May 7, 2021

Featured Artist of the Month Kalya Ramu Jazz Vocalist

    In my featured artist of the month blog, I decided to start with new and local talent. I like to reiterate the fact that this guitar lesson blog is intended for my music students that I teach privately and online, but it is also open to anyone else who is willing to read my blog and hopefully learn something from the articles. We won’t go into the benefits of why listening to good music and good musicians are important for the development of the musician or guitarist. If you want to learn why and who you should be listening to you can go read my last lesson blog: Are you just getting into jazz improvisation? Who should you be listening to?

  Our featured artist of the month is Kalya Ramu jazz vocalist who resides in Canada, Toronto Ontario. She has been gigging regularly in her local scene. You can catch her performing live in any one of the local Toronto jazz & blues bars. Some of the venues she has performed in are the Rex Hotel, Old Mill Inn, The Silver Dollar Room, Hugh's Room and the list goes on. Her style is versed in the old classic jazz vocalists of the 1920’s, 30’s & 40’s. You can hear all sorts of influences in her style from Billie Holliday, Sara Vaughan Ella Fitzgerald, and Bessie Smith. I like hearing new talent paying tribute to the old, because I feel the era of Frank Sinatra & Billie Holliday is dying out and we need a revival that will keep that music alive. She is certainly doing justice to the tradition of classic jazz with adding her own unique twist and voice to that classic era. With the lack of talent in the music scene and popular culture today,  Kalya Ramu brings a wealth of exceptional talent and taste for a music industry that is much in need of it. She certainly can be a role model for young teens and can be someone to look up to and idolize. Most of the women in pop culture today can’t offer that that type of sophistication in their look or talent.
 As for her music you can’t go wrong, especially if you want to listen to good live music. If you happen to be in Toronto one night go check her out and support our local talent and future stars. She always delivers a great live performance. To buy her music or see her current list of upcoming shows you can visit this link:

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