Not everyone sings. Or likes to sing. While many take up the guitar as a way to accompany themselves while singing, some would prefer to simply play. However, just strumming chords could be fairly boring after a fashion. Worse, if you’re just strumming chords and want someone to recognize what song it is, you’re going to have to sing or whistle or hum the melody in order to give your audience a clue as to what song it might be!
Luckily, you can fall back on chord melody style guitar as a way to play recognizable songs on your guitar. As I mention in Chapter 19 in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Guitar, chord melodies are single-guitar arrangements in which the melody of the song is usually played on the high strings, accompanied by chords (that can be either strummed or played as arpeggios) on the lower strings. The term chord melody is most often associated with jazz, but chord melodies can be of songs from almost any musical genre.
More to the point, chord melody arrangements can be as simple or as complicated as whoever writes them choses. Here at Guitar Noise, you’ll find an impressive range of chord melody lessons. If you’re a total beginner and you’re worried about whether or not you can handle one, you won’t find an easier chord melody than our very easiest arrangement. It requires you to know how to play just an A, E and D chord. You’ll also find jazz style chord melody lessons and arrangements for beginners, like this one from Peter Simms.
Chords don’t have to be played with each note of a melody, although some arrangements do so. Quite often, especially with easy arrangements, the chords are played once or twice a measure, as in this easy arrangement of Jolly Old Saint Nicholas. Or an arrangement may use only a single note of harmony to accompany the melody, as in this version of O Tannenbaum! and most of this version of Blue Christmas.
As you may have noticed, Christmas and holiday songs are favorites for chord melody treatment. Old folk songs, particularly Celtic ones, are also lovely when played in this manner. You’ll find these and more on our Song Arrangements page.
Chord melody arrangements can also be created for finger style guitarists, as in this version of Amazing Grace. And you can also bring chord melody sensibility to regular song arrangements, as we do with many of our song lessons here at Guitar Noise.
But the coolest thing about chord melody arrangement is that it provides a guitarist with a great way to learn more about his or her instrument. Figuring out a melody and then working a feasible (and effective) method to provide it with harmony and bass notes requires some knowledge of the fingerboard as well as chord construction. Creating your own chord melody arrangement, As in these lessons by GN contributors Graham Merry and Hank Stupi, can be one of the most reward projects you can take on as a guitar player.
And if you get yourself a Fake Book full of songs that you really like, you’ll have a huge source of material to get you started.