Because the guitar has six strings, it enables us to play more than one note at a time. So the idea of playing chord melody will at some point hit every budding jazz guitarist. And it does seems a little daunting. But I want to simplify it for you.
Joe Pass once said that there are only three chords we need to worry about. What he was actually saying is that he liked to reduce everything so that every chord belonged to one of three parent chords:
- The minor chord
- The dominant chord
- The major chord
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Simplifying Jazz Harmony
Joe Pass was definitely on to something and we can adopt this principle here.
- The minor parental form can include minor 6th, minor 7th, minor 9th, and minor 11 chords.
- The dominant parental form can include dominant 7th, 9th, 11th, sus4, 13, all alterations including b9, #9, b5 and #5. It can also include augmented and diminished chords too.
- The major parental form can include major 6th, major7, major9 and major7(#11) chords.
And of course, we know that the most important chord progression in jazz is the TWO-FIVE-ONE progression, which includes the three parental chord forms. TWO is minor, FIVE is dominant and ONE is major.
So if we reduce everything harmonically to just these three chords, we have instantly made everything easier and more focused.
The next step is to simply see on the fretboard where these parental forms lie and learn where their surrounding embellishments are.
Embellishments, in this case, are the notes that define the chord name.
For example, if the chord is Am6, our parent chord is A minor and the sixth of that chord is F#, so our embellishment is the note F#. So we need to know where that note lies in relation to its parent chord.
Playing melody and chords at the same time happens as a result of moving these chords around.
But instead of simply playing one chord after another as if we were accompanying a singer in a country band, we ARE the singer and accompanist at the same time. Whatever the chord is we are playing, we can focus on the top notes (top two strings as a general rule) and hear those notes as our melody notes.
So what we need to do is get into the idea that we have:
- A bass line (the 5th and 6th strings), which can simply be the root of the chord we are playing.
- Melody notes (top 2 strings).
- The middle (D string and G string) can be thought of as chord padding.
This is just a general rule as there are many situations where things will be different, but once we get our heads around the idea that we have a little orchestra, where each set has its own function, we can understand chord movement much easier.
In my Jazz Guitar Video Masterclass Volume 2 (which is focused 100% on chord melody) I will show you where all the chord forms are and their surrounding embellishments. I will show you a ton of ideas you can play on each of these three parental chords too, and I will also show you how to link each idea together.
To get your feet wet, let’s look at three TWO-FIVE-ONE chord melody ideas we can use utilizing some of the information I will show you in my program.
In these examples, we are going to think of our FIVE-chord with a b9 embellishment on top. This produces a diminished sound.
Here are my examples:
Don’t forget, in my program Jazz Guitar Video Masterclass Volume 2, I break down each chord so you see exactly where this information comes from. You will become a jazz guitar chord melody master in no time!