Tag Archives: Chord Melody Jazz Guitar

Intros – The BEST place to explore Jazz Chords

As you know, It is a lot of fun to play Jazz chords and check out beautiful progressions, and the best place to put those chords to work is in intros for a songs! I am going to show you 7 common intro types with variations, but I will also show you some concepts that help you take them further and make them your own!

And, I’ll add some stories about how intros and beautiful harmony can get you in a lot of trouble with the singer! Let’s get nerdy with some harmony!

#1 Turnaround – It’s better than you think

The first one is the trusted old I VI II V, I am going to start by not using the VI from the key but use a secondary dominant instead because we want an intro to move forward and create energy that takes us to the song. Check out how I am relying on the top-note melody here.

As you probably noticed, the melody on top of the chords is what makes it work, and I use a motif to keep it moving along. I play the turnaround twice because a 4- or 8-bar intro feels more natural. 2 bars feel a little short, unless it’s a ballad.

Turnarounds are great intros, they set up the tonality, the time, and the mood, and as you will see, you can do a lot with them. They even work when you just use shell-voicings, like this next example where  I am also adding a passing chord. Passing chords can be simple: Just think about them as chords sliding to the target chord,

that is often easier than trying to explain them with a lot of complicated music theory, it’s about how it sounds in the end:

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The trick is to make it surprising enough without getting too vague, I still screw that up when I make intros now and again, but I have to admit that I also like taking risks it comes with the territory.

Let me show you two ways to make the turnaround a little more catchy, I’ll add some passing chords and notice how the Cmaj7 in the 2nd turnaround is reharmonized with a chord that really wants to move on and resolve. After this, I’ll show you a beautiful suspension idea that works well with turnaround intros:

Let me start with the substitution warning: Explaining everything with substitutions is not very helpful. if you substitute chords then there is supposed to be a link between the two chords, and that is not always the case. Here, the Bb7 that I use in the place of a Cmaj7 is a good example,

It does not make sense to call Bb7 a substitution of a Cmaj7, it is just a different way of letting the harmony flow, and trying to force some sort of relationship between the two gets silly. In the first turnaround,

I am also adding the Bb7 as a passing chord.

That is also a good trick to know, moving from I to VI, that works very often and sounds beautiful!

Here’s a great trick: To avoid boring repeats you can resolve after one turnaround but then suspend the resolution and the tonic chord. That is an incredibly beautiful sound. I am using a bVI and a bII or Neapolitan minor subdominant in this example, but there are other options. These two chords are something you want to remember because they are practical for a lot of things:

I love that Cmaj7(13) sound! (EX) and also this way of arpeggiating chords with a sort of string skipped arpeggiation.

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Minor subdominants are amazing and I will put them to use as a part of a modulation in a very surprising and elegant example later, but the bVI sound is already in the next example, and let’s just admit it, intros are just an excuse to mess around with some great sounding harmony!

#2 Creative Turnaround Reharmonization

You can also have turnarounds that start pretending to modulate. Here’s one that I love to use. It is sometimes referred to as the Ladybird or Tadd Dameron turnaround, but people say that referring to the “all maj7” version,

which I find a lot less appealing. This one takes a trip to the bVI which is a beautiful very Giant Steps-sounding progression:

Check out this extended version of that concept leaning heavily on Giant steps combined with minor subdominant chords. This one moves around so much that I think it works better when combined with a more standard turnaround, otherwise, it gets a bit too vague, but of course, it is a lose still a nice way to show off your skills with harmony…

But instead of adding more chords then you can also create other vamps with fewer chords that you can repeat as an intro, let’s look at some common examples of that.

#3 Fewer Chords More Color

The named turnaround already suggests movement, and if you reduce what is going on then the turnarounds you have seen until now have really just been ways to embellish a I-V progression.

But instead of having a lot of movement and a lot of different chords then you can also use fewer chords, But here, the repeated I V gets too boring, you need to make sure that the chords are interesting enough.

An obvious option is using I and a tritone substitution of V, so in this case, Db7 instead of G7. Notice that I am approaching it as a riff or groove here:

I tend to think of these as setting up a groove until the melody begins, and I also mostly use them when the first part of the melody fits over that groove, like “I’ll Remember” or “Invitation”. Not using something that is a dominant resolution often works better and avoids becoming boring, so a good option is another minor subdominant: the backdoor dominant:

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An option that is a bit more adventurous is using the Neapolitan subdominant:

Both of these are fairly common with bossanovas. But even using all this amazing harmony it quickly sounds very similar to how the song sounds, and maybe you want a different effect or sound, so that is where pedals become useful!

#4 Using Pedals in Jazz

The type of pedals that I am talking about is not the reverb, delay and overdrive kind, it is of course a pedal point. They are great for setting up tempo and tonality while also wanting the resolve which makes us want to hear the song begin. It is so strong that it really got me in trouble one time, I’ll get to that in a bit Check out this example:

Most of the time you use the dominant as a pedal note, and in this example, I was also using the dominant chord and a suspended version of that to create movement over the pedal.

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But there are a few other great options to explore. You can shift the pedal point like this which I call the TV-game show pedal, which may be a term I invented:

Borrowing from Minor is also a great sound, and when you do then you can just stick to the sus chord which is then a pedal point of a Phrygian chord:

To me, the resolution to a maj7 chord when the whole thing sounded dark and minor is satisfying, I like using that one. On a cafe gig with a singer, while I was studying, I once managed to make a mess of a song by using a pedal point intro. It was a regular gig and it was pretty long so I felt confident trying something new. Without thinking too much about it I decided to set the song up with a pedal point on the Backdoor dominant, so Bb but then for a song in C. Without any preparation and that really didn’t work, so we ended up adding a 2nd intro which was a 4-bar turnaround so the singer could find the right key and get over the shock of the first chord.

There is another way to use a pedal that is also really useful, let’s look at that:

#5 The Other Pedal

This type of intro combines Turnarounds and Pedal points. You play the 5th as a pedal note and then play a turnaround over it. Best of both worlds! Here’s a basic example:

And there are not that many variations of this but you could do a Ladybird Turnaround version as well which has a nice dark sound. After this one, I’ll talk about a different type of progression that is sort of unique and very common as an intro and a reharmonization!

ex 14 (not in the video?)

Let me know what your favorite intro or progression is in the comments, maybe I can learn some new stuff!

Before we go to a different type of progression, then leave a comment if you know a type of intro that I didn’t talk about!

#6 The #IV subdominant intro

This is a great progression to know, it is almost a complete overview of all the chord categories of tonal harmony and it is great for intros and outros, but also reharmonizing standards. First try and listen:

So you have a #IVø, a IVm, then a III, a #IVdim inversion, a subdominant and then Dbmaj7 as another minor subdominant before getting to the Cmaj7. It sort of covers the whole spectrum except the dominant.

Sometimes you will also see a variation that is turning the chords into a chain of II V’s but when you do that then you can’t really put the root in the melody which is a big part of the original.

After this then I’ll show a great harmonic trick that works on most songs, sounds great but can get you fired.

#7 Use The Song (with a twist?)

One of the most common intros is to use the ending of the song, either the last 4 or 8 bars to set up the song. It’s very safe but you also immediately really set up everything and there is a way to make it very very surprising, in fact getting into the “you’re fired” surprising territory, but first the original

That’s a great way to set it up and you don’t have to be as clear with the melody as I am here, but check out how you can use a bVI to have a great modulation in the intro, though again one that I have had to explain to “surprised” soloists on gigs sometimes because it is difficult to hear if you don’t get a warning.

The concept is surprisingly simple: you play your intro using the song but in the key where the key you want to end in is the bVI, at the end you go to bVI and continue to the song.

Even if it does get you fired then it is a great sound, and as you can tell I enjoy going into details and trying out a lot of things with chords. It is a great way to explore and learn about harmony on the guitar. You want to learn what you can do with chords by adding interesting melodies, inner voices, and suspensions and that is what I talk about in this video which is a great exercise for digging deep into chords and harmony. Check it out! Learn Jazz, Make Music!

One Of The Best Exercises For Jazz Chords (and most fun)

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Save Your Chord Melody Playing With These 3 Tactics!

Chord Melody like you hear it with Joe Pass or  Barney Kessel is a beautiful part of playing Jazz guitar, and it is a lot of fun to play a piece as a complete arrangement of a song. But is also difficult, and when you play then you are busy with the chords, extensions, and keeping the thing going.

There are a few things that can ruin your chord melody and some things that you can add to make it sound better and become easier to play,  so let’s have a look at some of my chord melody secrets (that everybody else also uses)

Getting Started With The Arrangement

The basic way to get started playing a song as a chord melody arrangement is to get the melody on the top strings, mostly the two top strings, B and E,  and occasionally you can go to the G string.

From there you can add chords under the notes and here shell-voicings are a very useful tool since they have a bass note on the low E or A strings and the chord part, 7th and 3rd on the middle strings G and D.

You basically add chords when you can, and mostly on beats 1 & 3 to make the sound of the chords and the time clear.

There is one thing that you ALWAYS need to get right otherwise your chord melody won’t make any sense, and there are a lot of things you can add. Let’s start by avoiding that pitfall!

Melody Is King!

This is something that I say to students very often if I give feedback on Chord melody arrangements: The melody is not clear enough.

It simply doesn’t work if you play the but nobody can hear what song it is…

Luckily, this is not incredibly difficult to fix. The first step is to realize that it is a problem, and there is an app for that! It’s the camera in your phone, so that you can record yourself playing, and then listen while you pay attention to whether you clearly hear the melody, and actually also how it is phrased, but in the beginning, just make sure that it is clear.

You can also practice playing chords where the top note is louder than the rest, something that is also very useful for comping., just to develop that technique.

So like this Dm7, and just try and play it slowly, maybe try to play the melody alone, and then when you play it you want to hear it as a melody note with a bit of chord under it.

Ideally, you want to really let the melody sing, and for some guitarists then that is more important than the chords, which is clear if you listen to more modern guys like Bill Frisell or John Scofield.

They are both only adding chords here and there and really focusing on getting the melody across.

And if you start using your chords like this then that can be a lot easier!

Don’t play the complete chord all the time

We call it chord melody, which almost suggests that the chord is more important than the melody but you just heard how that is not the case.

The way the basic recipe works then you will get chords on the heavy beats and especially when the chords change,

but it can actually be a lot more interesting if you open that up for a few reasons:

#1 Phrasing

Playing the chord and the melody at the same time actually makes it more difficult to really phrase the melody, so if you separate the melody and add the chord later then it is often easier to really get the melody to stand out and have the right dynamics

#2 Variation & Flow

The next situation where this is really useful is if you have a long note on that chord because this is pretty boring: Stella first note (with metronome at tempo 50? drinking coffee)

And I am playing the same chords, but this is still a lot more interesting:

 

So even without changing the notes in the chord you can still make the melody stand out, avoid long boring sustained chords and keep the time and the groove flowing.

#1 Make The Melody Stand Out

#2 Avoid Long Boring Chords

#3 Keep The Groove Flowing

Let’s look at another way to add movement to your chord melody arrangement, this time using more chords.

More Movement and More chords

The problem you saw in that first example with Stella by Starlight was that there was a long note in the melody and nothing was happening. When you harmonize Jazz Standards, that is actually pretty common:

But very often you can easily add a passing chord or two to make things flow a little easier.

If you have All The Things You Are then a basic version would sound like this, though I did add a tritone II V in there because I really like that sound in this song:

But you can also add some tritone substitutions as passing chords like a B7 to go to Bbm7 and an E7 to take us to the Em7 and A7:

And these are just dominants and tritone subs that resolve into the next part of the progression, that s a great first place to look: chords that resolve as dominants or down a half step, and still fit the melody, but there are more options like this diatonic Eø passing chord (and a dominant on Days of Wine And Roses:

Diminished chords can also be really effective and easy to work with, especially the dominant diminished chords like the C# and F# dim I am adding here on Polkadots and moonbeams:

But there are more ways to keep things moving along besides using passing chords.

More Movement and More Notes

Here’s a fairly basic example with a fill going from Eø to A7 and really ending in the A7 chord, which is always a smooth transition:

But you can also play fills that mix single notes and chords like this example on Body and Soul, and try to notice the B7 that is used as a suspension that delays the Bb7:

It is mostly a matter of really knowing the song and then taking a spot out to come up with some options using arpeggiation, passing chords, and fills.

A Beautiful Different Take On Chord Melody

One of my favorites when it comes to Chord Melody is Bill Frisell, who somehow manages to really mix traditional chord melody that you might hear with Joe Pass with a more modern approach borrowing from Bluegrass and Blues but also more modern harmony like Bill Evans, and it is magical that he can get all of that to melt together and become incredibly beautiful music. Check out this video on how he works with Days Of Wine And Roses

Amazing Chord Melody Without Any Chords? So Beautiful That Nobody Cares

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Amazing Chord Melody Without Any Chords? So Beautiful That Nobody Cares

It is not often that you come across someone who manages to re-invent a style like this into something both beautiful and unique,  but this take on Days Of Wine And Roses is a such a beautiful version of the song that uses a lot of new techniques, and actually stuff you can use in your own playing that isn’t that common in Jazz guitar.

With most Jazz guitarists when you say Chord Melody then they think of people like Joe Pass or  Barney Kessel

Both of these are of course fantastic, but they are what I would consider a more traditional approach to chord melody, and Jazz is not only a tradition, it is also a style of music that while staying true to it’s roots also (luckily) keeps changing and evolving.

When it comes to playing chord melody then usually we are already having a hard time just laying down the harmony and playing the melody at the same time with any kind of phrasing, because  that is already quite a lot to have going on. But what if you could open it up with a completely different sound an instead of trying to sound like a piano or use traditional drop voicings then you can explore  the independent sound and possibilities of the electric guitar to create something else. I think that is exactly what Bill Frisell does in this version, and he manages to have a very clear connection to both Jazz tradition and to other styles especially Bluegrass but certainly also Blues and even Pop music.

The Blues and Wine And Roses

I don’t think I had this association right away, but if I listen now then to me the intro is really Blues inspired, and borrowing a lot from what you might hear in an acoustic blues song, something like Lightnin’ Hopkins, I am curious what you think? It is all pretty much just a playing a good old campfire C chord with some sparse fills giving you a #9 and a b7 to really make it more dominant and also make it sound like blues. One phrasing technique that I really connect with Bill Frisell is sliding down to a note. He seems to do that more than most people I am aware off, within Jazz at least. I think Guthrie Govan does it really a lot as well, he sort of re-invented what could be done with using slides to me, but I don’t really consider him Jazz. Here Frisell uses a slide to get to the minor 3rd from the major 3rd, It’s the blues thing. Because C is the V of the key, which is F major, then the intro still works as a “normal” intro where I think most Blues intros would set the mood up on the I chord, but Days Of Wine And Roses is of course not exactly a 12-bar blues.

What is also really great about this is that he is starting a Jazz chord melody with something that is mostly a triad sound, so it is not exactly Bebop tradition, he is almost hiding the extensions and I think the way he does that is really inspired! I A huge difference in both the intro and really the whole performance is how the priority for Frisell ito create a beautiful mood around the melody more than a sort of clear functional harmony based intro or a groove. This is also how he gets to incorporate some of the very uncommon chord sounds and voicings that he uses, but we’ll get to those.

The Melody Can Stand Alone!

 

I might get slaughtered in the comments for this, since I am saying that he doesn’t use chords, because he is playing a chord in the first  bar of the melody, and a very basic and simple jazz chord at that. But he doesn’t harmonize the song the way you would usually work through a Jazz song. The “standard” way to create chord melody, that I have also taught in several videos, even using this song, is to put a chord under the melody on the heavy beats of the bar. For Days Of Wine And Roses that might give you an opening like this:

And that is very solid because it gives you a very clear picture of the harmony and the melody, but this approach is also very much focused on harmony and making that an important part of it, where Frisell’s take is much more about giving the melody a chance to shine, something you will see several examples along the way, and he also talks about it in his masterclass video:

This way of giving priority to the melody also sort of explains why he often prefers to just play the melody alone, and once that is there and if there is room then he adds things around it. While this is not the way we usually do things in Jazz, then I do think he has a point, and playing a complete chords under the melody also sort of takes away from the melody. If you listen to him like this then you understand what he does a lot better, at least to me it makes a lot more sense. Lets’ check it out and then also explore what he does with chords instead of playing full chords.

So you have the chords in here which are first an Fmaj7 shell voicing, so yes a very very basic Jazz chord, and this Eb7 which is really just an interval, but which does give you enough information in the context to hear what is going on, and if you listen to the melody that adds the 3rd of the chord G, that completes the picture with the Eb7.

It is Rubato!

A quick side-note about the sheet music: If you are only reading the tabs then you won’t care about this, but this entire performance is rubato, so I had to interpret it quite heavily when I was writing out the examples, and I wanted to keep the original structure of the song in there, since he is playing that song, but everything is actually out of time, so it may be difficult to follow, and I did have to make some choices to fit everything in there, but to me, it just makes more sense to relate it to the song to see it in that context.

Turning Chords into Arpeggios

On the two bars of D7 that follows he turns chords into a mix of arpeggios and smaller voicings, something you will see more great examples of as well. Here there are two voicings put together in a phrase that makes up the D7 and none of them are complete D7 chords. He is really as much playing them as a fill as he is playing them as chords. While doing that he makes the fill interesting with grace notes, open strings and sustaining minor 2nd intevals, and notice that he uses his thumb to grab a low note.

A Beautiful Gm Voicing

Another example of this is on the Gm7 chord that follows which also is an example of how he uses the volume pedal to add color to the sound, here it is sort of built around this shape

But he always splits it up also when he uses it later in the  song

When Intervals Are Chords

The song moves from Gm7 to Bbm, so subdominant to minor subdominant,  and here he fills up the long notes with shifting 3rd intervals and also adds some slides to add a different dynamic and sound to what is going on.

He sort of uses the same idea in the second half, but the he is playing it with 10th intervals

You already saw in the first bars of the song how he also just plays intervals as chords, and this is a part of the open sound that he uses.

There are also some really unusual dominant sounds and chords that are relying on interval structures, but I will get those in a bit together with an amazing ending chord for the song.

Bill Frisell

To me, Bill Frisell is one of the 3 most important Jazz guitarists of his generation with John Scofield and Pat Metheny being the other two, and I have listened really a lot to all 3 them.

I am aware that this may be a polarizing opinion, and it is certainly an opinion more than anything else, so you can always run amok in the comments with complaints about leaving out Mike Stern or John Abercrombie or maybe someone else that you like more. Frisell is probably the least famous of the 3, but like the others he has really managed to stay true to himself and keep on creating new music and new sounds, and he still does. The last year or two I have seen both his trio and a bluegrass project of his live, both concerts were fantastic,  I can only recommend that you check him out if you get the chance, his playing is truly impressive and actually a lot more technical or flashy than the example I am covering here.

In Polyphony Less Really Is More

You have already seen how Bill Frisell uses a lot of voice-leading and is very creative with that. The next part of theme shows how he will sometimes take out a single voice and leave out  almost everything else to let this voice shine next to the melody. In this case, it is very effective and he is really just using one simple melody to move from Gm7 to C7 and continue from Eø to A7

It is really just a guide tone line, and it is simple but also really used in the right place. Notice how this also means that he relies only on the melody and just leaves out most of the chords for this section.

There is another spot later where he does something similar but here the voices are really moving at the same time and there is a bit more going on also in the harmony, even if he is still just spelling out the harmony with one or two notes at a time. Beautiful minimalism using intervals and arpeggiating chords while having a top melody and a 2nd voice moving down. Playing this with full chords would not have the same effect.

Let’s look at some more of those strange dominant chord sounds.

Frisells Funny Dominants

Before the 2nd half of the theme, Bill changed the C7 into an Gb7, so a tritone substitution, fairly straight forward, but as you saw on the D7 in the beginning then chords are turned into a combination of arpeggios and intervals.

In this case he is using that a Gb7(b5) is the combination of 2 7th intervals: Gb E and C Bb, I know I am being a bit liberal with the enharmonic spelling here.

And then moves on while sustaining some notes to add a simple fill on top, and keeping it all practical and playable.

The D7 chords are, maybe except from the ending, the chords which are most surprising. This next example is first an example of a place where the melody is block harmonized (sort of) and then it disappears into a dissonant incomplete A diminished voicing that works as a D7. In this example, you also hear how the extensions and intervals within the chords are more important than a clear picture of the harmony, which is especially on the first two chords that don’t contain a 3rd and the first one is really just a Dm triad. It is actually funny that being vague is also a statement in music.

The Song and The Sound

Days Of Wine And Roses, is a Jazz standard that Bill Frisell really likes to play, since there are quite a few versions of it on YouTube and he also uses it in his masterclass video as an example for chord melody, I thought this was from there, but I am not sure about that anymore, since this is a different guitar? What is great about it is not only all the different things he is using borrowing from other styles and playing  surprising things.  It is as much how he manages to make that into a complete piece of music that doesn’t sound like things put together with copy-paste licks and gimmicks. In that respect he really reminds me of Hendrix.

This video of Days of Wine and Roses has him playing an SG, which is not the most common jazz guitar, but which I found out was his main guitar for quite a long time after he had stopped using an ES175, and in fact he was at one point playing in a band with Vinnie Colaiuta, this is a bit random but I thought it was very funny that they had been in a band together since they are so different. In the video, It sounds like the bridge pickup through a fender amp to me, but I can’t really tell for sure. Frisell often uses solid-body guitars, mostly telecasters and strats. I have also seen him play a 335 type guitar quite a few times. He also had a period where he played a Klein solid-body. In the video you hear quite a bit of reverb and delay which is probably a lexicon LXP-1 for reverb together with a digital delay. He was one of the people I saw using an LXP-1 that made me decide to get one. I had also seen Scofield, Rosenwinkel and Ben Monder using LXP-1 reverbs.  You can even see his settings for the lexicon here if you want to in this clip:

In the song, you also hear a fair amount of volume pedal, plus that and I am pretty sure he is also using a compressor of some sort.

A Suspension that more people should use

The ending of the song shows a few things that I think deserve to be highlighted, and actually we should all steal the ending chord!

First you get a C(b9) and then a typical very simple F triad melody, played largely with the left hand thumb!

And then he comes out on (yet another) strange dominant sound, in this case  a phrygian chord: Fsus2/E. He switches to playing with his right hand thumb to get the a different sound and the chord then resolves by letting it ring and playing the low F with the thumb on the left hand.

Check out another great chord melody player:

This Jazz Blues Solo is Perfect And Nobody Is Talking About It

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How Chord Melody Will Help You Master Important Skills

I think that the most beautiful way to work with Jazz harmony is to work on chord melody, the type of playing you hear from Barney Kessel and Joe Pass where the melody is used as a foundation that you can add amazing chords to,  but you do need to work on it the right way to really get all the benefits, You don’t want to just play something from paper trying to make your way from chord diagram to chord diagram. You want to explore all the amazing colors and embellishments that you can add to the music.

I sort of stumbled my way into chord melody, and weirdly enough the first song I ever made a chord melody arrangement of was actually a song that I don’t really like, and when I made it I had never heard of Barney Kessel and Joe Pass who later became my main inspirations for this.

My First Chord Melody Arrangement

I was finishing a stay at a folk high school, which is really a Danish thing, a type of boarding school for adult education.  I had spent 8 months practicing and trying to learn Jazz after getting my bachelors degree in Mathematics at the university. I wasn’t very far in learning, but having the time to practice and play with others for that long was of course incredibly useful, and it was a part of what I used to prepare for getting into a school to get a degree in Jazz performance, which I did in The Hague a few years later

It was in June and I was sitting outside in the sun practicing, something that I am sure that you can tell that I don’t do often. A few months earlier, I had bought a real book which at the time was an incredible source of information since this was before the internet and online resources, it was all books and cds, and I hardly had any when it came to Jazz, in fact, the only thing I had was the real book and 5 or 6 jazz cds, which were mostly Scofield and a little Charlie Parker.

During my stay, when we played, a friend of mine always wanted to play Misty, because he had a Dexter Gordon version of that song that he really liked. I was bored with the arpeggios and scales, so I started flipping through the real book looking at the songs when I saw Misty in there, so I decided to play that. My favorite maj7 voicing at the time was the basic root position maj7 (Cut in – Incredibly Hip and Advanced, I know….)  and when I played through the chords then I realized that the melody was the top-note of that chord in the first bar. And this really made some things click for me.

At the time, I had heard people play chord melodies, especially Scofield and Wes Montgomery, but I hadn’t thought about doing that myself, then I realized that it could be fun to try and do that with this song which I had already played the chords of many times though I didn’t know it by heart.

Getting Started

I was of course lucky, that there were two things I already had going for me:

I could read music well enough to figure out how to play the melody,

and I was aware that I needed to transpose the melody up an octave which also makes it easier to put a chord under it.

Harmonizing The Song – First Rule

Misty doesn’t really follow one of two the things that I usually tell students to do when making their own chord melody arrangement, which is: Play the melody on the two top strings.

The reason for saying this is of course that if you can play the melody there then it is a lot easier to find chords to put under it.

For the first phrase you have a pick-up and a long note:

It works great with the Ebmaj7 chord, and later in the video, I will show you some nice suspensions you can add here on that long note, because there are a lot of beautiful options. As you can see then already the next phrase has a Bb which is of course not possible to play on the B string and there are quite a few notes in the melody that are lower than B. Luckily there is a fix for that.

Harmonizing The Song – Second Rule

The other advice that I give is to only add chords on beats 1 and 3 in the beginning, just to make it easier to play and also to make the harmony clear when the chords change. This makes Misty a lot easier since the melody moves around really a lot but only adding a chord in the important spots makes it a lot simpler.

That is clear already in the next phrase:

or

or better

There are two things you want to notice here:

As I said, just playing a chord on the heavy beats sounds great, and Shell-voicings are very useful because most of the time you can easily add a shell-voicing under a melody note or even just use the shell-voicing as I do here on Bbm7 and Abmaj7.

And that is lucky because the next part has an even more busy melody with the arpeggio as a pickup.

You also want to notice that I am using an Eb7 shell-voicing, but adding an extra note on the B string to make it a complete Eb7(9,13).

You don’t have to do that, but in this case, it is an easy way to add an extension to the chord and you’ll see me do that again in the next example.

Know the Song & Understand The Harmony

What is happening in the song is pretty simple. You get a tonic chord, then a II V to IV and then it goes to IVm as a way to get back to the tonic.

This is very common in Jazz standards so recognizing that, is very useful and will make a lot of songs easier to turn into chord melody arrangements. Knowing what is happening in the chord progression also gives you a lot more options for what will work in terms of changing the chords, so that you can add passing chords, and much more. I’ll show you later in the video.

The first Abm7 is played as a bar chord, and again you could just play the shell-voicing and the melody, but adding the 5th is practical and also sounds great.

If you want to think about this in visual terms then I am seeing the melody and the shell-voicing, and I know that adding the 5th is also an option so I do that.

In general, this is about knowing how chords are constructed, and when you work on harmonizing a melody like this then you are really developing your flexibility and knowledge with Jazz chords.

Just reading an arrangement and trying to play that is nowhere nearly as useful because there you are not really getting better at working with the chords and the melody and choosing how it should sound. You are just trying to read a piece of music and a harmonization that somebody else made which is like reading a transcription vs improvising your own solo. It is really something else.

But before you start interpreting the harmony, it is useful to have a basic arrangement similar to what I made on that summer day.

Don’t Limit Yourself To Chord Systems

The next part of the melody is emphasizing the 3rd of 4 chords in a row:

To return to my original take on this song: I hadn’t learned any systems for jazz chords, I just looked at the note I played on the guitar and tried to find a voicing that would fit. I already knew (Ebmaj7 and Cm7)

so that is what I used, and together with Shell voicings for the Fm7 and Bb7 then you have:

You can see how it is still very useful to only play the Fm7 on beat 1 and then be free to skip down and play the C, without having to add a complete chord there. It would not be impossible, but this is a lot easier.

A Better Turnaround

From here the Real book suggested a Gm7 chord, and I don’t remember what I played exactly but instead you can also use a Db7 in the turnaround which sounds a lot better. (voice over ex 6)

or

With a bit more color on the other chords that is going to give you:

 

You probably already noticed that the melody has quite a few long notes and also some places where notes are repeated, and that opens up for some interesting chords, which is of course way beyond my original harmonization. So let’s make it a bit more exciting.

A Cure For Boring Chords

The first chord with the maj7 in the melody can easily be a bit boring because it stands still, but it is a great place to add some surprising sounds:

The original sounds like this:

but a common version is to turn that into a diminished suspension with a #IV dim chord, so A diminished. In this case that actually becomes a D major triad over an Eb bass note because of the melody

You could also use a #5 as a tension that resolves later in the bar to keep things moving.

Or even this Lydian augmented chord with both a #11 and a #5

Another option is the Barry Harris 6th dim suspension and that would be this Ddim over Eb:

But coming from a Bb7, I don’t find that super strong.

You can look for tricks like this using both theory, and scales and even also just experiment with moving notes in the voicing. If you start just changing the chord then it can later be worthwhile to figure out what is actually going on so that you can use it in other songs as well.

More Than One Melody

Another thing that you can start to explore is to decorate the chords with other melodies inside the chords. A very common and beautiful option is to use this line cliche:

Where the II V I almost becomes a stairway to heaven quote.

If you split up the 3rd and 7th of the Abmaj7 and insert a 9th in there then you have this more colorful voicing:

and that means that you can add this nice move on that chord where the 9th and 7th move to the root and maj76th:

And you only find stuff like this if you are really making your own harmonizations and mess around with the chords when there is room for it.

Joe Was Good At Guitar, Be Like Joe

It can be useful to keep in mind is that these arrangements should not be set in stone and never changed. Give yourself the freedom to mess with them when you play because that is also what will help you discover a lot of things and not just play something like reading a classical composition.

And this also brings me back to Barney Kessel and Joe Pass, because they both are pretty open and harmonize things on the fly when they play, and that sometimes means making it simpler to keep it flexible but it also really opens up for making the song more your own.

The Easiest Passing Chords

Another way to add movement is to add extra chords to the progression so that there is more happening. On a II V then walking up the scale in diatonic chords can work very well, and in bar 4 that gives you something like this:

Which is just filling in the chords between Abm7 and Db7.

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An Amazing Exercise For Jazz Chords (And Your Playing In General)

Jazz Chords can seem like these mysterious grips with difficult names.

They sound beautiful but you don’t really know what is going on, and even if you can play this chord then there are so many other things that you hear people do with it, and you want to learn that too!

Of course, you need to practice playing the voicings, but somehow just running up and down diatonic chords and inversions is not really helping you play like that, so you need to go beyond this:

And this:

You need to really dig into the chords and learn how to use them, and there is one thing you want to work on that can help you do that, and it will teach you a lot of other great things at the same time about Jazz, about Harmony, Theory, and the guitar.

Chord Melody – Making Music Is The Exercise

The exercise I am talking about is not one of those exercises where you sit down every day with a metronome and go through your scales. What you want to work on is:

putting the chords that you practice to use, and you want to put the theory you know to use and in that process learn to play a song as a beautiful chord melody arrangement

How do you get started with this?

A basic recipe for a chord melody arrangement is to learn your shell-voicings, and then take the song that you want to turn into a chord melody

and figure out how to play the melody on the two highest strings.

Put those two together by adding a chord under the notes that are on the 1 of the bar

or if there is no melody then just play the chord. This way it is pretty simple to make your own harmonized version of that song.

This already works and is not too difficult if you start with an easy song and not a bebop theme but you can take it a lot further and when you do that then you start to develop a lot of useful skills.

Make It Your Sound

 Already with this basic arrangement, you can start to tweak it and add in other chord voicings that you might like better. Essentially you can just experiment with adding other voicings instead of what you first had. You are just refining the first version and adding some more colors — as I am doing here with a different Fmaj7 or adding the 9th on the Eb7.

This is about looking at what note is in the melody and then just trying different options for the chord with that melody note. For example, you could use these variations for the first chord:

Optional voice-over: Melody on shell-voicing, drop2 voicing, adding a 13th to the chord, or adding a 9th to the chord by shifting it up a position.

And there are many options and interesting colors you can check out.

When you are working on this then you are getting a much better understanding of what notes are in the chords and how those chords actually sound in context, which is incredibly useful, also when you improvise You might come across a place where you only know one option, but that only means that you can explore how to create some variations of that chord and learn some new things in that way.

But as you are probably already realizing then you want to do more than just play a chord here and there, you want to also add some movement to the arrangement within the chords, to give it a flow, especially when the melody isn’t moving.

Fills & Creative Voice-Leading

In this next example, you will see how you can add some moving voices that help you get to the next chord, and there are also a few different fills that you can add to not just play the chord but also embellish it and make it more interesting:

A lot of this is about finding practical ways to move a voice so that it helps you get to the next chord or realizing that there is nothing happening in the melody so you have time to add an arpeggiated or more embellished version of the chord.

On the Eb7 I am also harmonizing each note of the melody to create a different sound, there are many options to explore and it is really just about trying things out and seeing what you like.

This is of course already giving you a ton of options that you can develop in your own arrangements, but you can go even further and start changing the song to make it surprising to the listener.

Getting Creative With The Chords

The most important thing to keep in mind when you reharmonize the song and change the chords is that you use that the listener expects to hear one thing and then you play something else. This sometimes means that it works better to introduce reharmonization as an embellishment when you have first played the “normal” changes.

But you can do a lot of fun things with this, let’s start simple:

Here the first chord basic Fmaj7 chord is turned into a more unstable and interesting Fmaj7(#5). The Aø chord is also embellished a bit with a 9th, and the D7 is played with diminished scale harmony again a different sound. These are pretty easy ways to reharmonize the song by just choosing other sounds for the chords than you might expect. On the Gm7 you can hear some added chords that work really well for keeping things moving along, so they are just there to add momentum to a long note in the melody.

A more radical version where the chords a used much more freely and just chosen to fit the melody and serve the bass movement with more or less random chords to make it fit the melody could be something like this:

Comping!

There are so many things to learn about chords and explore on the fretboard like this. The other important thing that you want to get started on for playing better Jazz is being able to turn chords into great sounding comping, and if you check out this video then you will see how that is maybe not as difficult as you might think, and what you need to pay attention to.

Comping A Jazz Standard – This Is How To Get Started

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Chord Melody – 5 Beautiful Methods You Want To Know

Chord Melody and Jazz Harmony are beautiful things to explore. In this collaboration with the incredible Rotem Sivan, he shows us how to go over 5 levels of harmonizing the Jazz standard “All The Things You Are”, from a basic beautiful 2-note approach to counterpoint and reharmonization.

 

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How To Learn Jazz Chord Melody – Study Guide

These videos will help you learn to play and create your own beautiful chord melody arrangements.

The videos cover a lot of ground with putting chords under a melody, using different Jazz chords, and even playing chord solos and improvising in a solo guitar setting.

You can check them out on YouTube here: Chord Melody – Beautiful Jazz Guitar – Learn Jazz, Make Music

Easy Autumn Leaves Chord Melody and Quick How-to-Play!

Easy Chord Melody Lesson for Autumn Leaves with transcription and tabs. A short video explaining how to play the arrangement.

Autumn Leaves is a great song to get starting playing easy chord melody arrangements on guitar.

Chord melody is the style or technique where you play the melody of the song and add chords to it. Mostly making it a complete solo guitar arrangement with both harmony and melody.

In this lesson, you will learn a chord melody arrangement of Autumn Leaves. The chords that you will use are for the biggest part simple 3-note voicings called shell-voicings and I have also included some exercises to check those out.

Get the PDF here: Easy Autumn Leaves Chord Melody

Chord Solos – How To Get Started The Easy Way

I am sure you have heard a great chord solo by Wes, George Benson or Joe Pass, and it is a great sound that seems almost impossible to get into your own playing, but if you are a little practical about how you start working on it then it may not be as difficult as you think.

In this lesson, I am going to take one area of the neck and a II V I in G major and then I will show you how to start making your own chord solo licks with a few voicings that you probably already know.

Get the PDF here: Chord Solos – How To Get Started The Easy Way

Autumn Leaves – How To Use Drop 2 For An Easy Chord Melody

This video is on a chord melody arrangement of Autumn Leaves.You will learn how it is constructed. And give you different options in terms of Jazz chords and reharmonizations that you can use in your own jazz guitar chord melody arrangements

One of the things that I learned the most from when it comes to harmony and comping was harmonizing melodies, so making chord melody arrangements. When I was starting out I harmonized everything I could. That taught me so much about how to comp with more melody and play chords under a theme.

In this video, I am going to show you an arrangement of Autumn Leaves that uses drop2 voicings and you can use this as a solo arrangement but it also works great if you are playing in a band. I am also going to add some extra tricks to give you a way to add some color to your own songs.

Get the PDF here: Autumn Leaves – Chord Melody with Drop2

3 Things You Need To Know For Chord Melody

Chord Melody is Melody with Chords, so you take a melody and then you add chords to it. This is a way to play both harmony and melody of a song and you can do a lot of different things with chord melody arrangements and really add a beautiful another dimension to the song you are playing, making it a solo performance.

This video is taking a look at some important aspects of playing and making chord melody arrangements. Focusing on some different things that most people forget to consider.

Get the PDF here: 3 Things You Need To Know For Chord Melody

Chord Solo – How To Make Melodies And Find Chords

How Do you play chord solos? It is something we hear people do all the time on our favorite Jazz Guitar records by Wes, Joe Pass or George Benson. But it seems really complicated to play a Jazz guitar Chord Solo.

In this video, I am going to give you an example of an Easy Chord solo and then I am going to talk about how you can practice making your own solos. Another thing that you don’t want to miss is how working on this type of playing is something that can really boost your single-note solos.

Get the PDF here: Chord Solo – How To Make Melodies And Find Chords

Best exercise for jazz guitar chord solos! – Brain and fingers!

Chord solos have been a part of the Jazz Guitar skill set since the ’50s and ’60s when players like Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery used it in their music. A Chord solo is a harmonized melody line, so you don’t only improvise a melody, you also harmonize it by adding chords to it.

This might seem a little scary to start working on, but if what you want to work on is harmonizing melodies. One of the simplest melodies you can harmonize is a scale, so in this lesson, I will take an F major scale and show you how you can harmonize it with both some chords and some progressions.

Get the PDF here: Best exercise for jazz guitar chord solos! – Brain and fingers!

A more structured approach to Chord Melody

Chord Melody Survival Kit

 

Autumn Leaves – How To Use Drop 2 For An Easy Chord Melody

One of the things that I learned the most from when it comes to harmony and comping was harmonizing melodies, so making chord melody arrangements. When I was starting out I harmonized everything I could and that taught me so much about how to comp with more melody and play chords under a theme.

Often when people play chord melody arrangements then they are made to be solo guitar arrangements with bass notes under all chords (b-roll chord melody arrangement) but that is not the only way you want to harmonize a song.

In this lesson, I am going to show you an arrangement of Autumn Leaves that uses drop2 voicings and you can use this as a solo arrangement but it also works great if you are playing in a band. I am also going to add some extra tricks to give you a way to add some color to your own songs.

Chord Melody Arrangement

You probably already know that I made another chord melody arrangement of this song using the lower octave for the melody and shell-voicings. You can mix these two as well to change things up, I will link to that video in the description.

The arrangement is pretty basic, but I will show you some other things you can add in along the way as well in terms of great chords for ending a song and reharmonizing a minor II V.

You can scroll down to the end of the article to download a PDF of the entire arrangement or check it out on Patreon in this post:

https://www.patreon.com/posts/autumn-leaves-to-38986576

When To Add Chords

When you harmonize the melody then the easiest way to do so is to try to put chords under long notes that are on the heavy beat.

That is what I am doing in the first 8 bars here, the chord is on the Cm7, Bbmaj7

Notice that I play the melody on the top 3 strings because that is where you will have an easier time putting a chord under it.

Having a good overview of the fretboard and being able to move around the melody so that it is easier to add chords under it is essential for making these arrangements, but making arrangements is also a great way to really get a solid overview of the neck.

On the F7 and Ebmaj7 then there is no melody so I add those on the 4& to have a little rhythm and that also makes it easier to play the pickup

Learn the Melody and be practical

I am not really talking about the Drop2 voicings, but if you want to explore that topic more since that is something that is very useful and a very powerful tool then I will link to a playlist in the video description.

Autumn Leaves is a melody with a very strong motivic structure, in fact, it is the same motif moved through the changes. This actually makes it easier to harmonize because you can just use the logic of the melody and let that help you decide when to add chords and also which notes to harmonize. Autumn Leaves is a pretty clean example of this, but it is pretty common.

That is also how I am harmonizing the Aø D7 Gm6. Just using the same principles as in the previous section. Since the chords are not moving on the Gm then I am playing with changing between the Maj7 and the 6th

2nd A and some more chord movement

The 2nd A is really just the same as the 1st in terms of melody and you can, of course, play it the same twice, but often it is good to try to change it a bit and use that the audience already knows what is supposed to happen to surprise them a little.

In this case, I am using some secondary dominants and tritone subs for that.

The melody has a long note every other bar and you can fill that up with an extra chord that pulls towards the next one.

Here I am adding Gb7 before F7, E7 before Ebmaj7 and Eb7 before D7, so I am using a tritone substitution as an extra color in the arrangement.

As you will see, I am using some of these concepts in the B-part too, but also a few other nice ways to introduce movement. I have thought about using Autumn Leaves as a way to demonstrate reharmonizations going over 4 or 5 versions, let me know in the comments if that could be an interesting video. Later in the video, I also go over some options for different interesting changes.

B-part – Problem Solving Taking the easiest solution

In the B part, there are a few places where you need to figure out how to harmonize the melody in a nice way without making it too difficult, and actually the first chord is already getting us into trouble – Aø explain the solution

the rest is similar to the first A.

Cm7 F7 Bbmaj7 Ebmaj7 – the same as in the 2nd A but with another melody note (C) – Moving from Bbmaj7 to Ebmaj7 – D using a major triad as a chromatic approach to the Ebmaj7 while keeping the D in the melody

Chromatic passing chords – (its’ actually Free Jazz!)

You can do a lot by interpreting the chords and add new sounds using harmonization. In this lesson, I will give you some suggestions for the last part of the song.

The one that is the easiest to use, and similar to what you already found earlier in the lesson.

Aø Eb7 D7 – again using Eb7

You can extend this by turning it into a complete chromatic II V example. Here I am also changing the Aø to an Am7 to get another brighter color there.

And another version that makes it an even longer parallel II V progression, quite similar to Wes’ Four on Six.

A more radical, but still beautiful harmonization is to use the bass movement of a II V, but then move in parallel using other chords. This can be a little more tricky to get to work, but when it does then it is very beautiful as shown below:

Different types of chords for the last note.

One way that I like to end the song is this below, really getting the beautiful sound of the tonic minor major sound. It does require me to change the melody.

Another option that is very common and the favorite of many bass-players is to play a C7. Essentially the C7 is just a Gm6 with a C in the bass, and also the IV in the melodic minor scale.

The Neapolitan subdominant is a great option for the final note in a song. This makes the final note (which is usually the root) the maj7th in the chord. The neapolitan is the bIImaj7, so in this case an Abmaj7.

The Jim Hall/Ron Carter solution is to end the song on a Db7, which is, in fact, turning the tonic chord into a secondary dominant to go back. This works because the first chord of the song is the IV chord: Cm7, but this is a great way to keep the form moving and take us to the next chorus. It is also a very different sound compared to the original Gm6 option.

Digging into Chord Melody

Chord Melody Survival Kit

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How To Make A Set Of Solid Jazz Chords on Autumn Leaves

You need to play the chords and you also need to improvise and play some great Riffs when you are comping. This video builds a set of Autumn Leaves Chords that connects different Jazz Chords to give you something you can use to improvise with.

A lot of the time when you practice you think you need to learn completely new things, but often it is much more efficient to make new connections and find better ways to use what you already know. And become much more flexible if you can mix the different things you know like drop2 and shell-voicings for example. So That is also the way I am going to build the material in this lesson.

I am using Autumn Leaves as an example because that is a very common standard and covers a lot of ground with chords, so it is a perfect example for teaching jazz chords in a guitar lesson.

Autumn Leaves Chords – Basic Shell-Voicings

Let’s start with a set of basic Shell-voicings for the first 8 bars of Autumn Leaves. If you want more information on Shell-voicings then check out this very old lesson (in fact my first YouTube Lesson) The basic construction of a Shell-voicing is either 1 7 3 (as on Cm7) or 1 3 7 (as on F7).

The first place to go is to take the shells and leave out the root, so the lowest note:

Rootless Shell-voicings or Guide-Tone Chords

In this lesson, you don’t need to use the root, and you also want to be more flexible to add more things on top of the voicings so let’s take away the bass note:

Adding notes to create 3-note chords

Now we have two-note voicings that are easy to add extra material to. The first step is to add the notes on the next string, so the B string.

That is shown here below:

 

Keep in mind that I am trying to be practical and I am only adding notes that I think are useful and easy to play. You should do the same and it may differ from what I do. Keep it practical!

A Comping Example using the 2 and 3-note jazz chords

An example of what you now can do already with this simple set of voicings is shown below:

From Triads to Drop 2 Voicings

Notice that the 3-note voicings are often Triads and you can add the notes on the high E string as well and that will mostly give us Drop 2 voicings (Check out the explanation of Drop voicings here)

Adding the extra notes gives you these voicings:

Combining all the voicings

Putting this to use on the song would give you an example like this:

Combining and Embellishing Chords on a Blues

If you want to check out a more in-depth application of this on a 12-bar Blues in Bb then have a look at this WebStore lesson:

https://jenslarsen.nl/product/bb-blues-comping-combining-voicings/

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You can also download the PDF of my examples here:

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics then please let me know. Leave a comment on the video or send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you are searching for.

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3 Things You Need To Know For Chord Melody

Chord Melody is Melody with Chords, so you take a melody and then you add chords to it. This is a way to play both harmony and melody of a song and you can do a lot of different things with chord melody arrangements and really add a beautiful other dimension to the song you are playing, making it a solo performance.

I am going to go over 3 things that are really important if you want to make your own chord melody arrangements and that you will also find in the arrangements and playing of people who are great at chord melody like Joe Pass and Ted Greene.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32QgdXfEs0I

#1 Play The Melody on the top strings.

If you want to harmonize a melody then you need to add harmony under the melody. For the guitar This makes it more practical to play the melody on the top strings.

I would suggest aiming for having as much of the melody as possible placed on the E and B strings. That way it is a lot easier to add a chord under it and most of the time you can even use the same voicings you usually do for comping.

In example 1 I have written out the melody for body and soul on the top strings

And if you want to add chords under it you can do so in this way:

#2 Add Chords on the heavy beats

Be practical! Go for the arrangement that is playable. It will get you further and it is important that you can perform your arrangement as a piece of music, not just a technical exercise.

As an example of a melody that moves a lot here is a harmonization of Fly Me To The Moon. Notice how I only use chords when the chords are changing.

#3 Dynamics: I need to hear the melody

In many ways this is almost the most important thing to keep in mind: You are playing a melody and adding some chords when that is possible. Not playing chords and occasionally hinting at a melody that is also there.

The main thing to practice here is to get used to emphasizing the top note in the chord, a skill that you will also find very useful for comping and chord soloing.

The way to work on this is to learn to play the chords while not so much making the top note louder but more making the chord softer. This is both easier and will sound more natural. Another thing that is important is that you want to have some dynamic range to phrase the melody.

Check out an Easy Chord Melody

If you want to explore another chord melody arrangement to work on these skills then you can check out this lesson: Easy Autumn Leaves Chord Melody and Quick How-to-Play!

And of course if you really want to work on your chord melody skills:

Chord Melody Survival Kit

https://jenslarsen.nl/product/chord-melody-survival-kit/

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If you want to download a Free E-book of 15 II Valt I licks then subscribe to my newsletter:

https://jenslarsen.nl/sign-up-for-my-newsletter/

Get the PDF!

You can also download the PDF of my examples here by signing up for my newsletter:

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics then please let me know. Leave a comment on the video or send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you are searching for.

Please subscribe to my YouTube channel and feel free to connect with me via Instagram, Twitter Google+ or Facebook to keep up to date with new lessons, concerts, and releases.