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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 2

A fantastic and very rewarding, not to mention impressive way to play your guitar, is what’s known as chord/melody style. This is when one plays both the chords and melody of a tune at the same time, on a single guitar. Much like a pianist would play a piece on their instrument.

As rewarding and impressive as this style of playing is, it can be equally frustrating and feel near impossible to be able to do. Or at least that is the case if you have no idea what you are doing, or what is required to play your guitar this way, and how to avoid the common and critical mistakes many make when playing and creating chord/melody arrangements on guitar. 

Check out the first part of this article on the link above to discover the first 3 mistakes made when playing this style of guitar, and how you an either stop making them, or avoid making them altogether.

To summarise, here are the first 3 mistakes made, in a nutshell, when playing chord/melody arrangements on guitar:

  1. Trying To Put The Chords And Melody Together When You Have Not Learned Either Part In Isolation, On An Intimate Level
  2. Doing Too Much In Your Arrangement And Losing The Most Important Part, The Melody!
  3. Having A Severely Limited Knowledge Of Chords And A Small Chord Vocabulary (ie. amount of chords you know how to play on your guitar)

This is not all however. There are other common and critical mistakes players make when attempting to play chord/melody style on guitar. These are what we will cover now, in detail, and how you can avoid making the same mistakes yourself. 

So without further ado, here are mistakes 4 through to 7 that guitar players make when creating chord/melody arrangements.

4. Not Taking The Time To Learn Other Guitar Players Chord/Melody Arrangements

One of the very best things you can do to generate ideas and approaches within your own chord/melody arrangements, is to see what others have done before you. Not only this, but it will also serve as a huge source of inspiration, especially during times when you may be feeling a little down and discouraged with your own guitar playing.

Would you believe some people purposely avoid doing this because they think they will kill their own creativity!

I know, ridiculous but true.

Every great guitarist you hear play, whatever style, has been heavily influenced by other players. Not only is learning other chord/melody arrangements a lot of fun, you will also gain great insights on how to go about doing this yourself.

And no, you most certainly won’t kill your own creativity and originality. In fact, you will enhance it :)

Do The Following To Avoid This Mistake:

• Regularly learn and analyse the chord/melody arrangements of other guitar players. Look at a variety of guitarist’s, and other musicians for that matter, so you can gain all sorts of different approaches and techniques. Take the ones you like and inject them into your own arrangements.

5. Trying To Do Everything At Once, Rather Than Breaking Things Down And Starting At The Beginning

When you see the music to a chord/melody arrangement of a song for guitar, it can look very complicated. If you try to work your way through the song from bar 1 until the end, you will fail every time, unless you have a lot of experience playing this style.

However, this is how many approach trying to play chord/melody arrangements. No wonder it is perceived to be a very difficult way to play guitar. 

You must break an arrangement down. This is what I refer to as starting at the beginning. It is not just simply starting at bar 1, but more knowing how to break a chord/melody piece down into small pieces to then digest.

Do The Following To Avoid This Mistake:

• Learn the layers of a chord/melody arrangement by knowing the role of each and every note in a piece. Is the note part of the bass, the harmony, or the melody?

I’ll show you exactly how to do this by creating your own instrumental arrangements of songs on your acoustic guitar.

6. Not Considering What The Best Key Would Be For Your Chord/Melody Arrangement

If you go with whatever key for your chord/melody piece, without considering and testing what might be the best key, you will most likely end up with a problematic arrangement. 

Choosing a key because it is familiar to you, is not a good enough reason to go with it. There is always going to be a select group of keys that will work better for your arrangement than others.

For example, the melody of your arrangement needs to fall on the top 2 to 3 strings of your guitar. This is so you have room to include the bass and harmony parts on the lower strings. 

You need to be sure that the key you choose, will allow the melody to fall on these higher strings for the position that you intend to play/create the piece on your guitar.

Another thing to consider is that if you are using open chords in your arrangement, which you often will, different keys will throw up different open chord shapes. Different open chord shapes will, in turn, throw up different possibilities regarding extensions and embellishments.

These are all things to consider when choosing the key to create your arrangement in.

Do The Following To Avoid This Mistake:

• Investing just a little time into working out the best key for your arrangement, will save you a lot of unnecessary frustration and wasted time. 

Make sure the melody of your piece, for the key you choose to arrange it in, falls on the top 2 to 3 strings of your guitar. 

Find the lowest and highest note of the melody of the piece you are arranging, and see if this is the case. If there is a note or two on the 4th string, that’s ok, but the vast majority of the melody needs to fall on the higher strings.

• Check what open chords are available from the key you choose, and make sure these are compatible with what you want to be able to do with your arrangement. 

Does another key throw up more suitable/comfortable chords for you to use compared to another?

7. Lacking Ways To Express The Melody And Have It Sound Great

Often when creating a chord/melody arrangement, so much focus is put into just being able to play the melody with the chords at the same time, that how you are going to express the melody becomes an afterthought, if it’s even thought of at all.

You may have everything technically in place, however the arrangement can still sound dull, boring, and exercise like, if you don’t invest any time into how you want the melody to be expressed.

By expression I am taking about ways to convey the melody through various techniques and approaches. How do you want people to feel when they hear you play your arrangement.

You most certainly want to get the mechanics of your arrangement down first, however after that is achieved, you need to focus on how you will deliver the melody.

Do The Following To Avoid This Mistake:

• One of the coolest guitar techniques that exists is what’s known as harp harmonics. This technique can be used to express a melody in a very unique and breathtaking way. Learn all about the technique of harp harmonics for guitar and bring a whole new world of sound to the instrument!

• Another very unique sound for your guitar playing is to include the drone of open strings in your melody and solo lines. This is also a very cool sound you can bring to your arrangements.

• You can create a more syncopated melody line through a finger-style approach known as travis picking. This can also bring a cool groove to your arrangement, in contrast perhaps to other approaches you may include. Check out the fingerpicking technique of Chet Atkins to learn this great way to play guitar.

• Another approach is to vary the existing melody in some way. If you were to go and search up versions of Amazing Grace right now, I bet you would find lots of different interpretations of this famous melody, yet they would all be very recognizable to you. 

Be careful when doing this however, as you don’t want to vary your melody so much that it becomes unrecognizable.

Playing chords between the phrases of your melody lines, as oppose to playing the chord and melody at the exact same time, is a great way to add expression. You get a very cool interplay going on between your chords and melody, and it also leaves you with more room and possibilities for adding things like bends and legato to your melody.

Really take the time to internalise the mistakes I have revealed to you over the course of these 2 articles, and take the action steps I have laid out for you. 

By doing so, not only will you avoid unnecessary and painful frustration, but you will also find creating your own chord/melody arrangements of songs much easier to do, and a lot of fun!

Discover 5 steps to creating your own arrangements on guitar where you play chords and melody at the same time

About the author: Simon Candy plays and specialises in a number of musical styles including blues, rock, jazz, and fingerpicking guitar. An instructor for more than 20 years, with a wealth of experience and expertise, Simon offers the very best acoustic guitar lessons online

Joseph Lopez
@josephlopez   3 months ago
great advice Simon, I had never thought about they key playing such an important role in playing arrangements this way, but it makes a lot of sense. You can easily play parts that would be very hard to play in other keys. Thanks for sharing!
simon candy
@simon   2 months ago
You are very welcome @josephlopez! Thanks for reading :)
Joseph Lopez
@josephlopez   2 months ago
Cheers! Looking forward to see here more lessons like this one!