View Full Version : Chord melody soloing.

05-13-2002, 08:38 AM
Hey guys!

I realised that this style of soloing is what I have been unconciously writing most of my songs in, except without any degree of sophistication.

Can anyone give me tips on how to learn this style properly?

05-13-2002, 06:47 PM
Hi nick,

Could you please be a bit more precise in describing how you use a chord solo or what excactly you are trying to learn? I mean classical guitar music can be a chord solo, or are you talking about a Jazz style (Joe Pass) solo or.... it's a huge topic .....

If you like you could also post an mp3 for us to check out.

One thing I can recommend (again, yeah i know:D ) is the book by William G. Leavitt "A Modern Method for Guitar". A huge part of the book deals with playing chord solos. The examples are great, very musical and range from easy to pretty advanced.


05-13-2002, 10:23 PM
Hi, sure I can describe.

When I say unconciously using...I mean the BASIC theory, of harmonising the higest note with at least one interval.

I'm trying to learn it in a jazz style, the subtle kinda shifting type of Joe Pass thing.

I'm igorant :P

I'll check out this book, it sounds like the Bible or something!

05-13-2002, 10:53 PM
Hi nick,

Way back, when I first heard Joe Pass playing chord solos I thought 'wow, this is pretty damn cool - I wanna learn that now' and I didn't have a better idea than to just go out and buy a little booklet called 'Joe Pass Chord Solos'. Now this was probably the worst thing that I could do: it was way out of my league at that time.

But I was determined and put all tunes into my old Atari (man, weren't they great!!!) so that I was able to at least listen to how that stuff should sound. I soon discovered that I had no idea what was going on there. I think at this time I realised that for chord solos I really needed to know more about arranging, reharmonisation, counter point and harmony, ........... What i just wanna say is that chord solos can be highly complex and combine many different areas of theory and techniques. Probably that's why it's such an interesting field.

I'll check out this book, it sounds like the Bible or something!

hehe, yeah it looks like - especially the chord solos in there are just bloddy nice. I go through them from time to time and I always discover something new.



05-14-2002, 07:52 AM

Thanks for your help Guni!

05-14-2002, 07:52 AM
You are very welcome :D


05-14-2002, 10:43 AM
Itīs interesting that this topic popped up now... I just went through things like that, and we also went through an exercise that Scott Henderson showed us at the GIT...
Itīs kind of related, and works like that: Pick a certain note on the high E-String ( in the following example: A, 5th fret ) and create all kinds of chords with that note on top, using all possible bass notes ( moving those up chromatically, from F to E ).
Youīll get some really nice and interesting chords... I think itīs a nice exercise for everyone who wants to get into chord-soloing, too...
Here is the TAB, examples for the exercise I explained above:



And here is a MIDI file of that TAB (http://www.ericvandenberg.com/ibreathe/harmonizing.mid)

Have fun, try it with different "top notes" and all kinds of different chords...
Warm regards

05-14-2002, 03:31 PM
Yeah, this is a very useful approach.

I'd like you to show you a similar approach. Different is that the chord is constant instead of the top melody note. On top of the chord we 'superimpose' the corresponding scale.

A very basic example: C chord with C major scale:

Listen to the Midi file (http://www.ibreathemusic.com/forums/posts/chordscale/cchordscale.mid)


Now you can experiment with this by e.g. adding chromatic approach notes:

Listen to the midi file (http://www.ibreathemusic.com/forums/posts/chordscale/cchordscale2.mid)



05-14-2002, 06:59 PM

thatīs a cool easy approach to get into the whole thing. Based on your example, here is a TAB of a guitar intro that, to me, seems slightly related to your examples...
It is the intro of "Sailing Ships" by Whitesnake, from the "Slip Of The Tongue" intro.
Itīs a beautiful little passage, and there is an IMHO even nicer version on their farewell-unplugged-album "Starkers in Tokyo"

Hereīs how it goes:


Note that at least in the first two bars, the melody is played on top of the underlying chords by Guitar 1. I like that, and itīs fun to play on an acoustic guitar.
Well, I thought I should just add that one...

Warm regards

05-15-2002, 01:00 PM

Thanks for the examples guys!

Bongo Boy
05-31-2002, 06:01 AM
I'm wondering why you guys post sound files for this stuff that's keyboard rather than guitar--is it just a matter of convenience, is there no real reason at all, or what?

I've purchased the JazClass material from Michael Furstner in NT Australia, and all his material is keyboard too, and I've seen the recommendation that anyone learning music theory should have a keyboard handy. I'm just curious.

05-31-2002, 06:30 AM

those are MIDI Files. The program I create those TABs with has an option to play back the TAB as a MIDI-File, and thatīs why I am putting them here.
It would take way longer for me to hook up everything to record stuff ( especially since all the recording gear is currently at another location cuz Iīm recording with my band ).
And I think the MIDI-thing is fine. Everyone can hear what the melodies / chords are supposed to sound like, and if he / she likes it, he/she might just go ahead and try it on guitar to see how that sounds...
MIDI sounds a bit... well, corny at times, but itīs a nice addition to the TABs and itīs quick, too...

Bongo Boy
05-31-2002, 02:03 PM
Thanks..I really exposed my ignorance on THAT one. I never learned what MIDI is all about--just read my first material on it only a few weeks ago, and don't quite 'get it' yet.

I actually thought these were recordings of a human at the (electronic) keyboard. So...with the right software I can use these files to produce the sound of just about any instrument I want (if I wanted to do such a thing)?

05-31-2002, 05:59 PM
Hi Bongo,

pretty much yes. Like, if you have a MIDI-Output on your computer, you can hook up a synth to it and it will play back what you programmed, because the MIDI-data kinda "tells the synth what to do".
You can also hook up a sampler or something and use really weird sounds.

I program the synth tracks for my songs on a hardware sequencer. It has a synth-module build in, which I only use to hear the finished program.
Once we get to the studio, I hook up that sequencer to a good synth module, and it plays back the program with a better sound.

When you use Powertab, you can tell it which sound to use when playing back the Tab you typed in. Like, you TAB out a melody, and you change the sound to a koto ( just as an example ). So youīll hear what it will actually sound like when played on such a instrument ( take away the "human element", though, and it also depends on your soundcard.

I use the sequencer plus programs like TablEdit and POowertab to create arrangements for my songs, and it really is cool to be able to write a song and arrange like 8 voices of strings, playing harmonies and counterpoint stuff. YOu can then jam to it and to me, it makes it easier to finish or enhance the original composition.

Iīd say that that MIDI-sequencer has become one the most important tools for me.
Hope this helps

05-31-2002, 10:13 PM
Midi files are small just a few Kbytes for a large sequence.
So the upload and download FAST.
Even if everyone had a DSL or Cable Modem the actual MP3 files would take some time to load and take up unnecessary space on the server.

06-01-2002, 04:50 PM
It's interesting that this thread started out talking about Jazz Chord Melody playing a la Joe Pass and no example that's been posted in reply looks like anything Joe Pass would play...

There's really only one way to get a working knowledge of chords at a level that will enable you to "read" charts in a chord-melody style, and that is to systematically develop your chord vocabulary. The important thing in chord-melody is that you always have 2 factors at hand that have to be addressed at all times: 1. The Melody note; 2. The prevailing harmony. With just the melody note and no harmony, you're playing single-string lines, and with just harmony and no melody note, well, you're comping.

So, get a decent book on jazz chords and concentrate on the voicing's top note (i.e., Root, third, fifth, seventh, etc.). There is effectively one open and one closed voicing per string for each melody note. Naturally, there are many more, but you need to begin by limiting the voicings you are using. Then, go read through some standards slowly. Repeat over and over and you're a jazz chord-melody player.

Some good voicings to start with are 1-5-7-3, 3-7-1-5, 5-1-3-7, and 7-3-5-1 on the middle 4 and top 4 strings, and the 1-7-3-5, 3-1-5-7, 5-3-7-1, 7-5-1-3 on the 2-4-5-6 and 1-3-4-5 string sets. They'll give you good-sounding voicings with little fuss.

06-04-2002, 08:03 AM
Hi C...,

Great reply.

I think we got away from Joe Pass as it seemed that nick needed some more general information for now. Jazz style chord solos do require some knowledge in arranging and harmony. That's where your Drop 2 chords do come in that work so well on the guitar.



06-04-2002, 05:51 PM
Point well taken...ultimately, I think learning any style requires that you dig directly into the materials headlong. If you want to play a style that requires 7ths and 9ths, I'd say just go learn those. After all, if you can take triads and try to move voicings around to find extended chords, you can take 7th chords and reduce them to triads!!!

Luckally there are plenty of resources on drop-2 voicings; I know Mel Bay has a new book titled Drop-2 Voicing Method or something along those lines. Bret Wilmott's great series for Mel Bay is a Berzerkelee standard, and Jody Fisher's series covers the materials well too.

One method that's difficult to find information on is close block-chord voicings a la Johnny Smith. His book for Mel Bay is appalling, and the only real resource I've found is in Band-in-a-Box's "create chord-melody solo" option! Does anyone have or know of any materials that address this concept?

Thanks for the input....

06-04-2002, 06:32 PM

This thread sure got everyone's input.

Just one question, what are drop two chords?

06-04-2002, 07:29 PM
Hi nickwellings,

I did write some articles for guitar4u which I will move over to iBreatheMusic at some point.

One article was called 'seventh chords'. It includes the Drop 2 technique.

Have a look at this thread to download the article in pdf:

Hope that helps.


Originally posted by C13b9b11
HAHA - never heard this one b4 - :D

06-04-2002, 08:27 PM
Take a chord (usually a four note 7th or 9th chord ).
Take the second note from the highest and move into the Bass.
This creates an inversion with the same note on top.

06-04-2002, 09:31 PM
Just one addition to szulc's post...To form a "drop-2" voicing, the original chord should be a "block-chord" voicing before alterations are made. Obviously this is easier to explore on paper than on the fingerboard......

06-05-2002, 01:18 AM
Close Voiced Chords with the "Melody" in the highest voice.

Take some song and harmonize every note with close voice seventh chords all underneath the melody.
Close voice means all of the chord tones lie within the span of 1 octave ( in the case of close voice triads within a major sixth span).

This is my interpretation of "Block Chords" in this context.

Drop two means drop the second tone from the highest down (At least) one octave (maybe more than one octave), now you no longer have a close voiced seventh chord (quartad?).

Drop three mean drop the third voice from the top at least one octave.

Drop 4 means drop the fourth from the top down an octave.

Drop 2 3 second and third from the top down an octave.

Drop 2 4 second and fourth from the top down an octave.

06-05-2002, 01:44 AM
These days almost all my gigs are solo guitar, so I play "chord melody" solos all the time.

Here are a few ideas that helped me when I was getting started.

1. Find a standard with a simple melody. Lots of long notes. Like "All the Things You Are", or repeated notes like "Watch What Happens."

2. Take the melody up an octave.

3. Harmonize the notes on beats one and three. Don't try to apply theory -- just find a chord that has that note in the lead. For example, for "All the Things You Are", you can play a good old barre Fm7 in the VIII position and there's the melody note on the second string.

4. Don't try to harmonize every note. You can play a chord with a melody note, then some melody. For example. in "Watch What Happens", you can play chords in just measures one and three.

5. Work out an accompaniement part to the tune, complete with bass line. Then try to add the melody to that. For an example, you can go to my website and listen to an excerpt from "Gentle Rain", from my solo CD. That began as an accompaniment, and I added the melody. (I'm sure Gunharth played the rhythm guitar part when he was in my lab at Berklee.) Other cuts on my CD grew the same way. "Skating in Central Park" is a good example.

Hope that helps.
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06-05-2002, 01:30 PM
Originally posted by S.Carter
For example, for "All the Things You Are", you can play a good old barre Fm7 in the VIII position and there's the melody note on the second string.
Thx Steve - great reply.

I think that 'All the Things Your Are' is a great tune to get into chord soloing.

Lemme just expand upon your Fm7 example and show the first 4 bars of the tune.

The top notes in the example below are the main melody notes, which btw are always the 3rds of the chords. Then the melody notes are harmonised with Drop 2 chords.



06-05-2002, 03:15 PM
I love you guys.

Thanks, seriously...there's some amazing info you've given me.

06-22-2002, 03:49 AM
One nice thing about the ibreathemusic forum software is that you can sort by number of views. It's interesting that this thread has the most views, and the "where do I begin" thread has the next most. Chord melody is advanced, and, well, beginning isn't, so we have quite a mix of readers here.

On the subject of chord-melody:
You need fewer chords than you think.

Let me digress for a minute and then I'll explain.

Today I walked in to my local computer book store, which I visit often, and my solo CD was playing. Now there's a story behind this. I had noticed that whenever I went in to the store, I'd hear Joe Pass, or Lenny Breau, or something. I gathered that someone in the store was a jazz guitar fan. After asking around, I learned that it was the manager. One day I walked in and hear the Johnny Hartman/Coltrane cut "My One and Only Love". I've always loved that cut, and I had worked out a guitar duo arrangement that I'd performed many times in my guitar/vocal duo. I'd even performed the tune as a solo piece.

Anyway, I took it as a sign, and, to make a long story short, talked to the manager about doing a solo gig there. I gave him my PR package, including my CD. Before he listened to it, we discussed maybe setting up a date.

I was in there today to pick up a computer book, and heard my CD playing. Just happenstance. But I took the opportunity to talk to the manager, and it turned out he was excited about getting me in there, and we set a date.

Now the point is this: it's hard to listen to yourself objectively. I made that CD 5 years ago and I've heard it hundreds of times, often in bookstores and cafes in my area, where I've performed, and it's on sale. But for some reason, it took me by surprise today. I end the CD with a "hidden track": a fragment of "Chega de Saudade". It's mostly single-line, and when I recorded it, it sounded too empty to me, after all the chord-melody and bass-line work I'd done on the other cuts. But today it sounded just right.

And as my CD was ending, I chatted with the manager. As luchk would have it, he'd cued up Jim Hall's "All Across the City" CD next. What struck me was that, on reflection, my "Chega" cut sounded well-rounded, full, even when back-to-back with Jim Hall's cut.

Now I don't mean to say that I'm in the same ball park with Jim Hall. Not by a long shot. He's long been one of my idols. But what I've learned from listening to him is to *suggest*. To get the listener to hear what's not there.

Sometimes it works.
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06-22-2002, 02:06 PM
One approach to chord-melody is to use three-note voicings. This works well in a duo setting. Just the melody and a couple of chord tones.

Below is an example.

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06-24-2002, 06:42 AM
S. Carter's reply is poignant because it points out how often we look for secret "techniques" that will make us "good," not realizing that it is only by applying any technique that music is accomplished.

As an example, it seems that most guitarists (myself included) go through a period after they have gone through the "chord-melody" technique, wherein the focus goes into sustaining a walking-bass line underneath the chord-melody materials. This is ultimately a very frustrating endeavour, and the result is usually not particularly musical.

My own solution to the problem was redistribution. Rather than trying to cram a "third" voice into the chord-melody lines that I had, I added a bass line where the melody rests, which is no more difficult than adding a melody to begin with. Even when you don't play a walking bass line during the melody, the implication is still there from the previous measures. In fact, the texture often has to be thinned in the melodic sections to maintain continuity.

One possible solution to the "chord-melody" question is to not play chords at all, but rather spell them out underneath the melody "melodically." In other words, try to play an improvised line that both makes clear the melodic materials and presents the harmonic structure simultaneously. It's actually much easier than you would think...

The benefit of this approach is not only that you have a new way of playing (which, I suppose, cannot be understated!) but when you do play a traditional chord-melody passage, your understanding of the counterpoint is improved.

And of course, this can be applied any number of ways. Using 3-note voicings usually means to play the melody with "shell-voicings" underneath. Try to get across the harmony with just 2 notes. Or a walking bass part under the melody. Or play the accompaniment part under the melody, but with a different rhythm, a la Count Basie's alternation between the sections in the orchestra. I don't think of any of these things as "traditional" chord-melody, but they are all useful and can't help but improve your playing.

06-24-2002, 12:17 PM
In response to C13b9b11:
Excellent post. You've summed up a lot of the same things that I've discovered.

There's a soundfile on my site that demonstrates a lot of these things (www.frogstoryrecords.com). It's "Softly As a Morning Sunrise" from my solo CD. I start with walking bass and chords, but once the melody comes in, I keep some bass notes under it, but only move the bass line while the melody rests. I think you make an important point that the walking bass is then implied. In fact, I've found that the most important "technique" in solo playing is to make the listener hear things I didn't play.

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