Chords don't always have to be played as static blocks of harmony. You
movement - melody - through the chord to give it more intricacy and
The most logical place to begin is with the open position chords we
learn as beginners,
as they can accomodate a lot of movement due to
their economical fingering and use of open strings. In this lesson I'll
show you how to economize your fingering further to incorporate melodic
(vocal) lines through your chords.
Watch the presentation below for an introduction to this chord melody
technique and then scroll down for exercises to help you practice and
get the most out of it...
Economize Your Fingering
As mentioned in the video, the more economical your fingering, the more
freedom you'll have to work a melody around the chord shape. Using
a barre can help with this, such as with A major...
And D major...
So in both chords, your index finger becomes the "base" of the chord
structure and you are free to build a melody on proceeding frets using
your 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers.
chords with a 6th string bass, some players find using their thumb to
fret the bass is an effective way of freeing up an extra finger.
However, depending on how you're built, you may find this even more
restrictive as the leverage in your fingers can be compromised from
curling your thumb over the neck. The thumb should really be positioned
around the back of the neck for maximum fret-hand leverage.
should also be aware of how each chord you play can be reduced to its
most important notes/strings. For example, E minor can be played
without fretting any strings. Just leave out the 4th and 5th strings.
E major can be played with two fingers instead of the standard three - leave out the 5th string...
C major can also be played using just two fingers by leaving out the 4th string...
A lot of the experimentation around this technique will involve
economizing your chord fingering to accomodate these melodic movements.
In short, don't be afraid to change your fingering, even switch
fingerings as you play, to allow you to reach new places on the
Tips for Building Chord Melodies
Every chord has the potential to be melodically embellished. The key
thing to listen out for when trying out your ideas is how the melody
flows into the proceeding chord.
For example, take this simple movement between G major and A minor. As
you play it, can
you hear how the melody
falls naturally into one of A minor's
notes when it changes?
You could even start by playing a melody on its own and then, looking
at where one of the notes lands, use that to link up a chord change
that uses the same note.
For example, here I've picked out a simple melody around the open
Looking at where the notes fall on the fretboard, I can try
superimposing some chords over the melody as follows...
can always find alternative positions for the melody notes to economize
the fingering. Let's try some different chords with the same melody...
same melody, wrapped around different chords. But it still works
because of how these notes harmonize with the chords. And of course you
can tweak the melody to accomodate any new chords you add.
Not only is this great exercise for your fingers, it gets you thinking
about bringing harmony and melody together into a unified musical
Developing the skill of wrapping a melody around chord changes also
helps you figure out vocal lines and soloing ideas.
Chord Melody Exercises
Use these exercises as warm ups and/or for ideas to get you started
writing your own songs. I personally like to use them to work on my
Note that you can strum or pick these exercises however you wish - the
melody notes are tabbed in red.
Start by strumming the sequences from the lowest note to the melody
note on each chord and then start to introduce your own picking or
play the melody line first so you internalize it for when you add in
the chords. This will train your ear to hear the melody through chord
Finger Picking Melody
If you're particularly interested in
developing your finger picking skills, take a look at the video below
for some tips on co-ordinating bass and melody changes through your
Melodic Chord Phrasing
Of course, just like with lead playing, you can add in phrasing
techniques such as slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs and bends. For more on
this, see my lesson
on chord phrasing.
The process is exactly the same as I recommend with lead playing. Start
with the basic melodic line and then add in your embellishments in
layers. But keep in mind you don't always have to use these techniques
- sometimes a straight melody, or even just a casually strummed chord
is all that's needed to say what you want to say.