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Intro Chord Melody


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St. Louis Blues

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Chord Melody style guitar playing is playing a solo arrangement of a tune by playing the melody, some supporting bass notes and, or chords all at the same time.

Usually, this involves playing a jazz standard, a song from the "Great American Songbook", but it doesn't necessarily have to be. Many jazz standards are tunes original written for Broadway musicals and Vaudeville shows of the early 20th century, pop tunes, or early film favorites. They were largely tunes written by "Tin Pan Alley" composers such as George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Jerome Kern. Along with others like:

Milton Ager
Irving Caesar
Hoagy Carmichael
Buddy DeSylva
Walter Donaldson
Dorothy Fields
James P. Johnson
Isham Jones
Scott Joplin
Gus Kahn
Kay Swift
Harry von Tilzer
Fats Waller
Harry Warren
Jack Yellen
Vincent Youmans

All wonderful writers of wonderful tunes. See this link for more info:

Tin Pan Alley Link on WikiPedia

There are many other composers who wrote in a similar style, but not directly from the New York Tin Pan Alley tradition would be Cole Porter and Richard Rogers. To relate this all back to the guitar, Joe Pass was the all time master of this style of playing these types of tunes in chord melody style. Others include George Van Eps, Johnny Smith, Herb Ellis and Jim Hall.

Joe Pass's Virtuoso Series of CDs (volumes 1 - 4) are easily the most definitive set of chord melody style guitar performances ever recorded. I love this style of playing! It's fun, but not easy. It's hard enough to simply grasp the nature of the problem: playing the melody and chords all at the same time. It's even harder to actually do!

But if you are up for the challenge, and the massive rewards for accomplishing even one good arrangement of a chord melody, this is what you need to do:

1. Pick a song to arrange.

2. Know the melody. Really know it. Play it on only the top E and B strings. Be able to "swing it".

3. Know the chords. Really know them. Be able to play the chords for the song in at least three different places on the fretboard.

Here's where it gets interesting:

4. Be able to play just the bass notes for the chords along with the melody. As in a counterpoint arrangement. You can use anyone of the chord's notes for the bass part. But makes the most sense to start with the root note. The only exception to this is if the melody happens to also be the root note of the chord. In which case you should try the (major or minor) third of the chord instead, making a first inversion chord.

5. Add in more chord notes as the melody allows your fingers to based on where you are playing the melody on the top strings, the bass notes on the bottom strings. Fill in chord notes on the middle strings.

6. Add in more bass notes where the melody and your fingers allow. Try to create bass lines that walk out of the current chord and into the next chord.

Look at these tutorials for ideas on orchestration:

  • Mary Had A Little Lamb: Learning To Orchestrate
  • Twinkle Little Star: Orchestrating Mozart
  • Blues Orchestration Series 1
  • Blues Orchestration Series 2
  • Blues Orchestration Series 3
  • Blues Orchestration Series 4
  • Blues Orchestration Series 5

    Look at these for jazz guitar style:

  • Joe Pass Series 1
  • Joe Pass Series 2
  • Joe Pass Series 3
  • Intro To Jazz Style Guitar
  • After You've Gone
  • Easy Fingerstyle Jazz
  • Fingerstyle Jazz
  • Fingerstyle Chord Melody Comping

    The song "St. Louis Blues" was written by W. C. Handy, and is now in the public domain. Handy was one of the first black composers that formalized blues style music by actual composing, scoring and publishing songs in that style.

    A number of his songs are now considered classics and standards of the jazz repertoire; part of the Great American Songbook. He was not only one of the first (if not the first ever) formal, official black, blues song composer and publisher but also one of the very best!

    In this tutorial I am going to explore his tune, "St. Louis Blues", by breaking it down into a simple melody, and then building it back up into a full solo jazz guitar chord melody arrangement.

    Let's get started!

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