• Followers 8
  • Following 1
  • Updates 11

Common, Yet Critical Mistakes You MUST Avoid When Attempting To Play The Chords And Melody Of A Song, On One Guitar, At The Same Time - Part 1

Having the ability to play both the chords and melody of a song at the same time, on one guitar, is a great feeling! There is nothing like being able to sound full and complete on your instrument without needing anyone else to play along with you, much like a pianist.

This style of guitar is a very impressive way to play, however it is also considered to be one of the more challenging things to do on the instrument. 

Most people who attempt chord/melody playing go at it without any real method or strategy in place. They have no idea how a chord/melody piece is constructed, the various moving parts, the intricacies of the style, and give up in frustration believing they lack the skill to play guitar this way.

The great news is, it doesn’t have to be like this. If you have at least basic guitar playing skills, you too can play chord/melody arrangements on your guitar.

In today’s article, the first of a 2 part series, I am going to reveal to you crippling mistakes guitar players make when attempting to play the chords and melody of a song at the same time. In doing so, I will provide you with specific action steps to take so you can either stop making these mistakes yourself, or avoid them altogether.

Let’s start by looking at the first 3 of 7 crippling mistakes made when playing and creating chord/melody arrangements on your guitar.

1. Having A Very Limited Chord Knowledge And Vocabulary On The Guitar

Only knowing open chords and bar chords on your guitar is extremely limiting. You have all but only touched on the possibilities of harmony on the instrument, as a result.

Developing your chord vocabulary (ie. the number of chords you can use in your guitar playing), will enable you to play any single chord in a variety of ways and a variety of positions on the fretboard. This will give you far greater scope from which to create and develop your chord/melody arrangements.

Knowing how chords are constructed will help greatly too. You will be able to create much more sophisticated arrangements as far as harmonising a melody, and generally speaking, will just make life a whole lot easier as far as chord/melody creating and playing is concerned.

How To Prevent Yourself Making This Mistake:

  • Commit to learning more than the stock standard open and bar chords on your guitar. You don’t know what you are missing if this is all you know as far as harmony is concerned on your instrument. There is so much more!
  • Invest time into learning how music works on a fundamental level (ie chords, keys etc). However, be aware of filling your head with knowledge but having no idea how to apply any of it to your guitar playing. A little bit of applied theory knowledge will go a long way!
  • When expanding your chord vocabulary, don’t simply memorise a whole bunch of chords in isolation. Always see how chord shapes relate to each other on the fretboard. This will help both in remembering the chord as well as having it on hand to use in real life playing.

To see exactly what I am talking about here, check out these easy to play, advanced sounding chord shapes for your guitar playing

2. The Chords And Melody Are Not Memorised And Internalised To The Very Core Of Your Being

To be able to create a chord/melody arrangement of a song, you must have memorised and internalised both the chords and the melody on an intimate level, and in isolation. Without doing so, you will struggle with your arrangement, yet many players fail to do this very important and vital step.

Instead, the focus is taking away from the melody, the most important part, and gets caught up in the detail. When this happens, the melody can often get lost, and the arrangement falls apart as a result.

You must know both the chords and the melody to the tune you are arranging, both in isolation, as well as how they relate to each other. After all, you are going to be playing the two parts together, simultaneously on one guitar.

How To Prevent Yourself Making This Mistake:

  • Play the chords to your song and whilst doing so, hum the melody in time. This is a great way to hear and feel how the melody relates to the chords. You may also play around with the phrasing of the melody, but before doing that, be sure to get the basic structure of the melody with the chords down as a foundation from which to work. If there are lyrics to the tune you are arranging, learn them, as this helps in memorising and internalising the melody too.
  • Aim to be able to play the chords and melody of your arrangement in more than one position on the guitar. This will of course be limited to your fretboard knowledge, however as this develops you should have the ability to play the melody and chords of a song in different positions on the guitar. Doing so will give you more scope to work with when creating your arrangements.
  • Always memorise what it is you want to be able to play. A lot of memorising can be done as you learn a tune, rather than learn the tune and then memorise it. A lot of memorising can also be done away from the guitar, by visualising your arrangement, the chords, the melody, the sound etc.

3. Taking On Too Much And Overplaying In Your Arrangements

Ever heard the saying “can’t see the forest for the trees?” 

In this case the forest is the arrangement itself as a whole, and the trees are the details of the arrangement. Often, players get caught up in the detail (the trees) and as a result lose sight of the arrangement (the forest).

Your ears believe it or not, have the ability to fill in the missing parts of a chord/melody arrangement. 

So for example, if you have a bass part that is prominent throughout the piece, however is not being played 100% of the time, meaning you might leave it for a few beats or a bar or whatever, your ears will fill in the missing bass line. This is what you might refer to as an aural illusion.

What does this mean? 

It means you don't need to play every possible part of a tune, all the time, throughout the entire arrangement. It’s often what you don’t play that makes what you do play sound great!

Trying to do all parts, all the time, sounds clunky and leaves you know depth or dynamic to work with in your arrangement.

How To Prevent Yourself Making This Mistake:

• Begin at the beginning, and not the end. What does this mean exactly?

Too many people try to do everything at once and come out with a complete arrangement without first providing the framework. Trying to do so is a little like trying to build a house without a frame, or building the house, the walls, roof, windows etc, at the same time as building the frame. 

It just doesn’t work.

You’d be amazed how full and complete just the melody and root notes of the chords sound as an arrangement of a song in itself, as well as providing a great foundation/framework from which to develop the rest of the chord/melody piece.

You can learn more about this with the how to build instrumental arrangements of songs on acoustic guitar ebook/audio.

Take the time to absorb what it is we have covered in todays article, and start taking action towards creating awesome chord/melody arrangements of your own on the guitar.

Also, look out for part 2 of this article where I will be addressing a further 4 critical mistakes guitar players make when trying to create chord/melody arrangements on guitar.

Take the concepts and approaches learned in todays article and apply them to an actual song with these 5 easy steps to creating your own chord melody arrangements on guitar

About the author: Simon Candy originates from Melbourne, Australia where he runs his own guitar school. With over 20 years of teaching experience and expertise, Simon specialises in the acoustic guitar and styles including blues, jazz, rock, and fingerstyle. Simon also helps many people from around the world learn to play acoustic guitar online

@pauljones   3 years ago
Fantastic article Simon! The issues you address here are spot on, especially what you say about overplaying and wanting to play all parts all the time. Also, learning how to play the melody and chords in different positions is a great tip. If I may ask, how do you approach voicings and voice leading when practicing this way, or what would be a good way to learn how make great voicings that accompany the melody well?
simon candy
@simon   3 years ago
Thanks @pauljones! Glad you liked the article :)

Regarding your question, start learning all the possible ways to play major and minor triads all over the fretboard. This way there will always be a chord corresponding with the position you are playing the melody. You will also always have nice options available to you when voice leading from one chord to another.

I studied a lot of jazz many years back and this was great for increasing my chord vocabulary. I love the style too, so it wasn't a chore at all :)
@pauljones   3 years ago
Thanks for the advice, Simon! I'll do that. I'm also studying jazz a lot these days, and it has also helped me expand my vocabulary in all senses. It's not easy, but it really pays off in the long term.
@makko   3 years ago
I totally agree with this article! I've studying classical guitar for many years and that's how it actually works. If you try to see some arrangment for classical guitar, that's pretty it. Thank you, you've inspired me. I actually forgot whole theory behind this.
simon candy
@simon   3 years ago
You are very welcome @makko :) Glad you enjoyed the article!