Autumn Leaves is a great song to get starting playing an easy chord melody arrangements on guitar. This famous jazz standard is both a great melody and a fairly easy option to play an easy chord melody.
In this lesson I will go over a chord melody arrangement of Autumn Leaves that I made. arrangement. The chords I am using are for the biggest part simple 3-note voicings called shell-voicings and I have also included some exercises to check those out.
Autumn Leaves – The Song and the Chord Melody Arrangement
The key that I am using for Autumn Leaves in this arrangement is G minor. This is not the key from the real book, but it is the most common key for performing the song. The form of Autumn Leaves is AAB where A is 8 bars and B is 16 bars, so it is a 32 bar form.
The arrangement is using call-response to also allow the chords to add some groove to. This also allows for using the melody in the lower octave that often sounds a little fuller.
Learning some useful Shell-voicings for the song
To learn the chord melody we need some chords to play with the melody. The melody of Autumn Leaves is mostly a pick-up with followed by a single long note on the heavy bar. You cna think of the first phrase as an example. This makes it easy to add chords while the long note is sounding.
Most of the chords that I use here are shell voicings, so it is a good idea to check those out in G minor.
In the exercises below I have the diatonic chords of G minor first with the root on the E string and then with the root on the A string. For each exercise I start with the lowest possible chord and then move up one octave.
Chord Melody – It’s about the melody!
The first place to start with chord melody is learning the melody! In fact it would be a more appropriate name if we turned it around: Melody Chord. This is because we are playing the melody and adding the chords, not the other way around (hopefully).
In example 3, here below. I have written out the melody for the first 8 bars of the song. It is written out in the places where I want to play the melody so that I can easily fit chords under it.
Really knowing the melody well and being comfortable moving it around the neck is essential when you start making your own chord melody arrangements (which should be 20 minutes after checking out this lesson…).
Autumn Leaves Chord Melody arrangement – The A part
The A part of this song has the same structure for all phrases: a pickup and a long note. This means that the chords can be paired together and played in between the phrases.
In that way the chord pairs become: Cm7-F7, Bbmaj7-Ebmaj7, Aø-D7 and a final Gm6 chord.
When I am playing the melody I end on a note that is included in the chord and I make sure to use a fingering where I can add the chord while sustaining that note. In this case that is as much a technical as it is a musical consideration.
As you see above I use a “real” tonic minor chord so a Gm6 which is of course also what is suggested in the original composition (and the famous Miles Davis/Cannonball Adderly version as well)
The B part
The second half of the song is a bit more complicated. Of course the melody has to change a bit not to become boring so in the B part there are other melodic patterns.
In the first bar of there is no room to add a chord until the 4th beat which forces a change in the pattern and the rhythm of the chords. The next 6 bars again allows for adding the chords between phrases.
On the 9th bar of the B part the melody takes up the entire bar and I add the shell voicing under it. This first yields a complete Drop3 voicing for the Aø and then the basic shell voicing.
There is no chord under the D7 and the chord is inserted on beat 3.
The faster moving progression that follows: Gm7 C7 Fm7 Bb7 is harmonized first with a drop3 Gm7 voicing and for the rest shell voicings. This makes it impossible to sustain the melody, but it still works.
The last cadence has an Eb6 with the 6th in the melody and on the last D7 the melody is so low that I chose not to have any chords at all. Since the melody is moving all the time that is not much of a problem, and as I already said: The Melody is more important!
This is a blue print for your own chord melody arrangements
I hope you can have fun playing through my arrangement and start to make it your own with variations and changes to the chords!
For me, the most fun part of chord melody is making your own arrangements! I think you should start trying to figure out how to do so as fast as possible. You can play other peoples arrangements as well, but there is no reason why you should not be creative with your own harmonizations and voicings!
Make your own Chord melody arrangements!
If you want to see my structured approach to making a chord melody for a standard then you should consider checking out this lesson:
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