Didactic material

Chord melody

When we want to play a theme and we can play not only the melody of the theme but also the harmony, then, we need to consider some different aspects of our instrument.

There are 3 basic aspects that we need to think about:

  • Melody.

  • Harmony.

  • Bass.

All this aspects are flexible and we need to be aware that rhythm it´s going to be the main tool for combining them.

Also it´s important to learn the melody in different octaves and positions.

We can play the melody as single line but this will let an empty space for the listener.

We can play the melody using chords where the leading voice of the chord is the note of the melody.

There are a few ways of doing that:

  • Chord in root position or inversions where the melody note is the first voice of the chord.

  • Guide note chords or shell chords where we add the melody to that shell chord.

  • Intervals that represent a chord, often this intervals have to contain a note that describes the specific character of the chord, it´s important to be aware that if we play intervals we need to think in how to adapt the intervals through the harmony.

  • When we have a melody note of the theme that makes a semitone movement to another melody note that it´s in a strong beat we can play the same chord position of the target note that we have chosen but from that semitone.

Thinking About the Harmony we can also re-harmonize the theme in order of creating some harmony movement in areas where there is not or in order of creating new harmonies under the melody so the harmony is more fresh.

As explained before we can use chords as part of the melody but also we can use chords in a different way.

  • Using the rhythm of the melody as a guide we can fill the spaces that the melody let us for playing some chords that reflects the harmony of the theme. If the melody begins in a strong beat we can change even the rhythm of the melody in order of making space so we can play the chord before the melody sounds. Also we can play the chord after the melody note, keeping the sound of the melody on top.

  • Sometimes we prefer to play single note lines that reflects the harmony, this means that the most often way of doing this is going to be playing note from the arpeggio of the chord under the melody note. It is very important to think again about the rhythm, we can play the melody note first, keep it on top and play the arpeggio notes under it or in the other way around.

Bass is another important aspect for a chord melody arrangement.

The bass, as everything, it´s not isolated so we need to think about it as a parts of something bigger, this means, as a bass line, we dont need to play it the whole time but when we play a chord, an arpeggio or just a single bass line there is always going to be a

note that is lower than the other ones.

We have to remember that music is flexible, the bass line is not only guiding us through the harmony of the theme, can be used just as an answer for a melody line as well.



Upper Structures

Like our student has a basic knowledge about chord structures it´s time to add some color to our chord playing.

The student knows already what are the extensions for each kind of chord so our first tarjet is make a relation between that tensions and an upperstructure.

The upper structure chords are chords in top of other chords for to reach a more complex and colorful sound.


The first extension is the 9th so we will teach our student how to get that color.

In a major chord as Cmaj7 where the notes are C, E, G, B, needs an extra note for to have the 9th tension color, that note is D.

We can say that E- 7 that contains the notes E, G, B, D, on top of a CMaj7 is going to give that exact color, this means that when in a theme appears the chord CMaj7 If we want we can play a E-7 chord, both for comping and improvising.

In a minor chord If we want to give it a 9th color we will have to play a major chord from it´s b3 this means that on top of a D-7 we can play a FMaj7.

In the case of a Dominant chord we will play a Half Diminished chord from the 3rd, in G7 we will play a B Half diminished.


The same procedure is for the 11th color, in this case for a 7 chord we will play the chord that borns from it´s fifth, in top of a D-7, we will play a A-7, the effect that happens is that not only we have the color of the 11th but also the color of the 9th.


For the 13th color on top of a major chord we can play a minor chord from it´s 6th, on top of a CMaj7 we play an A-7.

This is also valid for a Maj6 chord that is often played when the melody note of a theme is the same than the root of the Maj7 chord under it, If it´s sounding a CMaj7 chord and the melody of the theme on top of that chord is the note C then is better to change the nature of the chord to a Maj6 for aboiding the conflict between the 7th of the chord and the melody.

On top of a dominant we play the minor chord from it´s 6th, this means than on top of a G7 we can play a E-7, gives the 13th color but loses part of the dominant character so it´sgood to be aware of it.


This color is often used on top of dominant chords. We can print this color playing a diminished chord from the b9 of the dominant, this means that on G7 we play a Ab diminished 7 chord, Normally this is done when the dominant is going to resolve into a minor chord but not always, like the diminished 7 chords are pararell structures we can play any of those diminished 7 chords that are it´s inversions.


It´s often used on dominant chords that resolve into a minor chord or on dominant chords where we have played before the 13th tension, in this case we play a half diminished 7 chord from the 7th of the dominant, this means that we play a F Half Diminished 7 on top of a G7.

Sometimes it´s also used on top of a Half Diminished chord, in this case we will play a minor chord from the 11th and we will get both colors, on top of a B Half

Diminished 7 we can play a E-7.


Normally is used on top of a dominant, in the case of a G7 we can play a G#5 triad, is a very powerful tool if we combine it with the diminished 7 chord from the b9 for having an altered dominant chord, is often played a diminished arpeggio, after the #5 one and the resolving to the 9th of the tonic chord.


Dominant chords bring us a lot of possible choices, when we want

to play an altered scale color on top of a dominant we can use upper structure triads.

We take the altered dominant and then we think in the altered scale that is going to be the melodic minor scale from the b2 of the dominant so if we are in G7 we will think in Ab melodic minor, this scale contains 3 major triads, 2 of them are major and are the fourth and fifth degrees and one is augmented, from the b3 so If we are in Ab melodic minor this means that we have Db and Eb major triads plus a C augmented triad.

If we want to combine that triads on top of G7 we need to be sure that the phrasing has direction, there are different exercises that we can use for combining the triads in groups of 2 , this means that for example if we want to connect Db with Eb we can play in eight notes half bar for each triad, of course keeping the arpeggio positions, first in the natural order, root, 3, 5, etc. After jumping and trying different combinations and then we can begin to use the approaching notes for connecting the triads so we can play for example three notes from the Eb arpeggio and the use an approaching or passing note tothe nearest note of the arpeggio of Db where we can do the same for resolving to the tonic.


If we want to give this color we can combine the arpeggios of the triads of the main major chord where we want to put this color and the major triad from it´s 2nd degree so If we want to give a #11 flavour to a C chord we can combine the C triad and the D triad, this happends because the D triad contains the note F# that is the #11 of C.