Play a Jazz Chord Melody using a Guitar Pick

This an intermediate level lesson for those of you who use only a guitar pick and would rather not work on finger-style playing, but would still like to play a complete song arrangement on your instrument.

These arrangements are also known as chord melodies. You can still create wonderful chord melodies with just a pick. The idea is to add chords to the melody of a song. Jazz guys love to use this term instead of solo guitar playing (which the classical guys like to call it). Either way, the concept is similar and sometimes exactly the same.

I’m presenting to you the classic jazz standard Autumn Leaves to demonstrate this technique. I’m assuming that you know what repeat signs and 1st and 2nd ending signs are. If not, please check out Tom Serb’s lesson on these at: Standard Notation – Part 2.

There are 3 documents and 2 audio samples to this lesson:

#1 Lead Sheet (this is just the melody with chord symbols to indicate the harmony to be used with the melody)

Download Lead Sheet

#2 Chord Diagram (these are the fingerings for the chords that I decided to use with the melody)

Download Chord Diagram

#3 Chord Melody (this is the arrangement I came up with in order to be able to use just a guitar pick)

Download Chord Melody

#4 Audio Sample – 1 (the chord melody played slowly by me)

#5 Audio Sample – 2 (the chord melody played with embellishments by me)

* you can e-mail me and ask for the videos to both audio samples (these audio samples were taken directly from the videos).

My initial approach is simple. I first learn the melody, I look for chords that can be used to play with the melody, and I make adjustments to those areas that don’t fit easily. Always remember to “think out of the box” when you hit these areas; they always come up. If you don’t panic, try to think of alternative ways to solve the problem, and remember there are times when “just the melody” works, you will get through 99% of you songs. Whatever you try, don’t worry about rules! The only thing you need to know is “if it sounds good – keep it and if it sounds bad – change it”.

Your “To Do” List:

  • Learn the melody I presented.
  • Take a look at the chord chart. There are countless chord fingerings. I recommend that you learn how chords are constructed. Eventually it is not that difficult to create and manipulate chord fingerings. It’s by far the best path to creating these nice little arrangements.
  • Try playing the arrangement – listen to audio sample -1 on this webpage first.
  • Try and examine “how” I put it together. If you try to put a chord melody together, keep it simple. As you create more chord melodies, you will gain new techniques, and the more difficult ones will be attainable.

Ballads are always good to start with. After you have half a dozen or so of them, you will probably want to play something that has a “groove” to it. That is another ball game and I’m not going to cover that in this lesson.

There “is” another step farther you can take the ballads to. After you have a ballad under belt and can play it fairly well, you can add little riffs (motifs -musical lines from scales) to it. When you end a phrase, that’s the time to add you stuff! I did this and added an audio sample -2 for you to listen to. This will give you an idea of what I’m talking about. I will cover improvisation within a chord melody in another lesson, that is, if you guys/gals e-mail and request it.

Ok…. Good Luck and if you would like a video of me playing this arrangement, e-mail me at [email protected] . I will be more than happy to send it your way.

Have Fun! … Peter Simms