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Hi. I wondered if it is possible to combine melody and chords in the same song. I am using a beginner guitar book, and for some of the songs, you play the melody, with single notes, no chords. For other songs, you strum the chord line, as you might if you were accompanying yourself or some one else singing. Is it possible to combine the chords and melody in the same song? Is there a technical term for this? Thanks.

Tags: chords, melody, songs

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Yes, chord melody is one style. Fingerstyle guitar is another style. There are a number of fingerstyle guitarist out there and on this site. Take a look at some of the posts and discussion in the Fingerstyle group.

Sometimes chord melody can be simple. I once took a holiday easy piano book (the kind with the BIG note staffs) and used the notes and chord names to create some pretty nice sounding chord melodies. Sometimes it can be easy to combine the two just by strumming the chord on the first beat, letting it ring and then playing the melody notes with the necessary fingers while leaving your other fingers on the chord notes. After a few times of doing this you start to get the hang of where everything is going and can bring the melody out at the same time as strumming the chord.

A search on on "guitar chord melody" brings up a few books on the subject.
Rosemary, if you're still not sure how this works, I wanted to clarify the essence of how to combine chords and melody. Usually the melody note is the highest pitched note of a chord. So if you play a full G chord, the top note - third fret of the first string - is a G note.

The trick is to play the required chord with the appropriate melody note on top. But you don't have to strum the chord for every melody note. For example, you might strum the chord on the first beat with the first melody note, but then play the next couple of melody notes on their own. The harmonic context the chord provides can last for a few notes before it needs to be repeated, or you move on to the next chord.

Hope that helps.


Listen to some of the old Carter Family recordings.  Mother Mabelle played a lot of the melodies on the bass strings with a thum pick, while doing fills or stums with finger picks banjo style. 

Thank you everyone for your responses to my question. The suggestions and links were really helpful, and easy to understand. There are so many ways to play guitar. It really is amazing.
In the jazz context, it's common for chord-melody players to harmonize every (or almost every) note in the melody with the appropriate chord, so that there's an interesting bass line as well as nicely-harmonized notes for each melody note.
This can get quite complex, depending on the melody, of course. There are numbers of books available on these techniques, and more than a few videos up on YouTube.

Arlie, thanks for responding to my question, and thanks for the link. It was really helpful.

Hi Rosemary,

By definition, you can't play chords and melody at the same time : to make it simple, chords are notes packed together ("vertical reading", because these notes are represented stacked one upon the other on a sheet music, same on a tablature) whereas a melody is a series of single notes ("horizontal reading"). However, on the guitar you can "cheat" in a way by playing the melody through chords : chord melody as mentioned on other comments, playing up to 3 sound patterns (sorry I don't know how you that in English, plans sonores in French) using alternately bass, melody and accompaniement etc etc. All of these techniques are to make illusion as there were more than one instrument, but you'll be playing just one guitar! ;)

It's mostly used in fingerstyle guitar, and not only classical, but also jazz, flamenco, bossa nova, country, ragtime, celtic, blues...... And you can also do similar techniques with a flatpick (and some even combine flatpick hold with index and thumb while playing with other fingers of right hand!). I guess you should begin by chord melody technique if you're beginner because it's more simple, natural on the right hand without any complex technique requiring indepedence of each right-hand fingers. The difficulty would rather be on left hand since you'll have to learn chord patterns (and sometimes harmonically unsual or complex chords in order to make the tune sound "melodic") and also rhythm (bossa nova rhythms for instance are very syncopated, not very easy to learn, but worth the work). Then, the trick here is, to alternate bass and chord, accentuate on some note etc, in order to make melody pop up through accompaniement.

Classical guitar is indeed the most complete school for fingerpicking, but it requires a lot of discipline. But most of these techniques can be learn through other styles and guitars. To my mind, one of the best examples to illustrate your topic, is Prelude n°1 by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. This fabulous piece combines melody and chords in a bewitching way. Maybe not of your level (yet), but maybe it'd give you the will to study techniques!

Good luck and happy playing :)

Here is my couple examples of playing melody and chords together :-)


Sad Gingle Bells. Post-Christmas story

Farewell Song from Russian Movie “An Ordinary Miracle”: Acoustic Gu...


I've been playing chords only (aka accompaniment) for many years. When I became more or less fluent with chords, I started adding melody notes and accents to the chords. I would say that playing melody and chords simultaneously means the same as playing "advanced" chords, unless you start playing melodies very fast - much faster than the chords changes.


Enjoy :-)



VB, I enjoyed the songs.  Your "Jingle Bells" variation sounded a little like Spanish guitar. A "Flamenco Jingle Bells" maybe? It certainly sounds better in a minor key.

Thanks Rosemary! it's a good idea to play it a little bit like Spanish guitar and in some different styles. Probably, I'll try it next Christmas :-)

BTW, good step forward after becoming more or less fluent with chord changes would be to start playing notes from the simple major-minor chords as arpeggios and adding missing 1st, 3rd and/or 5th notes from the chord into those arpeggios. It will help to develop your ear and link the sounds with the chord patterns and fingerboard.

After that, it might be useful to start adding alterations - 4th, 6th, 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th, playing diminished arpeggios etc.

I was surprised to see this 'form' of playing called so many different things; I have always known it as "chord soloing" and thought that was a fairly standardized name. As was stated before, the melody is usually played as the highest note in the chord, so our ears can pick it up easily.

This is a golden age for anyone looking to learn to play an instrument- many great players from around the world can be gathered right  in your home to help you. Us old dogs had to gather around coffee houses and wine and cheese places to see players (and most of the time they were 'box bangers' no more gifted than ourselves). So watch, listen, and play as much as you can, as often as you can.

I will now vacate my soap box.


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