Wouldn’t it be great if you could avoid all the common mistakes people make when learning to play guitar. It really would make life so much easier. Unfortunately, this is not so realistic. You are going to make mistakes when learning to play guitar, however it’s from mistakes that you will learn.
In part 1 of this article, I pointed out 3 crucial mistakes made by guitarists when playing the melody and chords to a song on a single guitar.
My hope here is that you avoid making these mistakes altogether, mistakes I made myself in my early years of playing.
If you haven’t yet, check that article out first to get some context. You can then come back here where I will add a further 4 mistakes players make when trying to play chord/melody arrangements, and what you need to do to either stop making them, or avoid them altogether.
Before we get stuck into mistakes 4 through to 7, here is a summary of the first 3 mistakes covered in part 1 of this article:
Let’s now add to this list a further 4 mistakes guitar players make playing chord/melody arrangements. Together with part 1 of this article, you will be able to avoid much of the frustration many players encounter when playing this style of guitar.
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.
- You can create a more syncopated melody line through a fingerstyle approach known as travispicking. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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?
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 :)
- Regularly learn and analyze 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.
Really take the time to internalize 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!
Specializing in online acoustic guitar lessons, Simon Candy is based in Melbourne, Australia where he runs his own guitar school.
He has taught guitar for over 20 years to people of all ages and levels covering a variety of styles including blues, rock, jazz, and fingerpicking.
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