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Chord Melody Workout, part I by Darrin Koltow

This lesson is a set of exercises for intermediate level guitarists to improve their chord melody playing. Specifically, these exercises help you:

  • Play chord melody arrangements
  • Flow a melody line over the crucial ii-V7-I progression
  • Play basic chord substitutions
  • Train your dog to bake brownies
  • Teach your fingers to "see" the chords connected to arpeggios and the arpeggios connected to chords
  • Find that drill bit that fell behind the workbench last July
  • Learn how chords work together

Okay, pause, take a deep breath. Now, continue. The Chord Melody Workout, or CMW, can also help you:

  • Create solos
  • Apply intervals as chord substitutions
  • Read a newspaper upside down
  • Improvise
  • Learn chord voicings
  • Navigate the fretboard better
  • Tell Aunt Sophie what you *really* think about her
  • Much, much more. Batteries not included.

Let's listen to an example of chord melody playing. Click here to hear me playing one of the exercises in this article.

How to build chord melody skills?

What exactly do you have to know to play chord melody arrangements? Let's try this list on for size:

  • A melody to play
  • Chords to play. This means
    • chord quality or type, from notated/written charts, memory, what your ear hears, or a message from God
    • the voicing of that chord that will put the melody note on top
  • How to see, hear and play the melody connected to the chord, and the chord connected to the melody.

Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it? Let's expand on some of these points.

Where are we getting our melody? To create CMW, I chose a super simple but instructive melody: one based on a continuous arpeggio that runs over a ii-V-I progression. A melody like this is ideal for writing exercises for a number of reasons: it's musical, the patterns it uses make it easy to see the underlying chords; it's easily changeable: you can vary the rhythm, the starting notes, and lots of other elements.

As for what chords to play, this is explained above. What about the voicing, though? What does it mean to know the voicing of a chord that puts the melody on top? That means you can play a chord shape that fits the harmony, *and* that has the melody as its top note. At the least, this means, for example, that I can play four different C7 chords in each CAGED position: a C7 with the C on top, a C7 with the E on top, and C7s with the G and Bb on top.

Now, how do you see, hear and play the melody connected to the chord, and the chord connected to the melody? As I mentioned, when you're working with a melody that's a simple arpeggio, getting to the chord shapes from the melody shapes, and back again, is pretty straightforward. In general, an arpeggio shape outlines its associated chord shape and vice versa.

Did I lose you? I hope not, because there's some serious, skill building, finger licking, toe-tappin', knee-slappin' fun coming, as we present the CMW workout itself.

The CMW Exercises

The CMW workout contains 40 exercises that build the skills mentioned a little while ago. This breaks down to 8 for each CAGED position. The first eight of those 40 are presented here. These 8 focus on the C major CAGED form. The actual key is F major.

In each of these exercises you'll be mixing chords and arpeggios over a I-ii-V-I phrase, developing a strong sense of the connection between chords and melody, and having a grand time doing it. You'll no doubt develop your own ideas for more exercises as you work through CMW.

Are you ready now for the first 8 exercises? Here's the tab.

CAGED C (F major)

Degree 1, ascending
Degree 1, descending
Degree 3, ascending
Degree 3, descending
Degree 5, ascending
Degree 5, descending
Degree 6, ascending
Degree 6, descending

How did it go? Before you move ahead, make sure you can play this smoothly with a metronome, and that it *feels* right to you.

Once you've mastered the first 8 exercises, take a look at a summary of the remaining exercises. Use this table as a checklist.

Progression No. CAGED Form Starting note (from chord tones 1, 3, 5, and 6) Direction (ascending or descending)
1 C 1 Ascending
2 C 1 Descending
3 C 3 Ascending
4 C 3 Descending
5 C 5 Ascending
6 C 5 Descending
7 C 6 Ascending
8 C 6 Descending
9 A 1 Ascending
10 A 1 Descending
11 A 3 Ascending
12 A 3 Descending
13 A 5 Ascending
14 A 5 Descending
15 A 6 Ascending
16 A 6 Descending
17 G 1 Ascending
18 G 1 Descending
19 G 3 Ascending
20 G 3 Descending
21 G 5 Ascending
22 G 5 Descending
23 G 6 Ascending
24 G 6 Descending
25 E 1 Ascending
26 E 1 Descending
27 E 3 Ascending
28 E 3 Descending
29 E 5 Ascending
30 E 5 Descending
31 E 6 Ascending
32 E 6 Descending
33 D 1 Ascending
34 D 1 Descending
35 D 3 Ascending
36 D 3 Descending
37 D 5 Ascending
38 D 5 Descending
39 D 6 Ascending
40 D 6 Descending

You can find the tab for the remaining exercises on The price is only one dollar. Click here to check it out. Before you take off, remember you can contact me with *any* questions you have, unless the topic is the Physics of Flan or something like that. Have fun!

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