Chapter 5:
Chord melody

Combining chord progressions, melodies, and bass lines.

What is chord melody?

Chord melody improvisation may be the richest form of expression on guitar. It involves freely interweaving chord progressions, melodies, and bass lines in a fluid and captivating way.

Chord melody makes a composition sound full and rich, like a complete solo performance rather than just a guitar part.

Find the melody in the chords

A good way to get started with chord melody is to play a song’s chord progression delicately, articulating each note, and listen for the melody in the chord tones.

Begin emphasizing the melody notes in the chords, and then gradually let the melody lead on its own, adding in non-chord tones as necessary, playing chords more sparsely.

Improvising chords

“Treble triads” can be used to improvise freely with chords, forming chords around notes from the melody. See Chapter 7. Practical CAGED grips for details.

Another little trick for filling out a melody on the high string is to play the first and second strings at the same fret, a little two-note chord called a “double stop” or “power chord”. In most cases, a power chord played on a scale tone will be “in tune” (“diatonic”).

Bass lines

Another way to fill out melodies is to add bass notes on the lower strings. Start by playing the chord root notes on their own, before (or instead of) the chord. Add more variety to the bass line by playing fifths, octaves, and approach tones. See Chapter 10. Bass lines.


For more information about what chords sound good together and how to harmonize a melody, see Chapter 6. Introduction to Western harmony.