1753 Chord Melody: back to basics


Students regularly ask me about my approach to solo jazz guitar and especially the improvisational part to it. Do I learn licks, special chord runs, is the improvisation actually more like an arranged variation of the piece, can you still play single line and the list goes on. In this post I will have a look at one of the approaches I may take playing a piece and creating room for added lines. I will refer to it as the 17 53 approach.


17 53

While accompanying someone or when you are playing and improvising as a solo guitarist, it is good to remember that a lot of guitar playing in those situations is more about implying than actual playing. Chord melody does not mean that every note needs to be played using a chord. One thing that has helped me through is the so called 17 53 approach. I look at the chords of a piece and rather than playing all these fancy chords I stick with the basic seventh chords. These chords always consist of 4 tones: root, 3rd, 5th, 7th. One way of implying harmony and movement is by using the combination root (1) seventh (7) and fifth (5) and third (3) as combination double stops to imply the full chord. the great thing about playing just two notes is that you’ll free up at least two fingers to add in some melodic lines. Besides that the third and seventh of the chords are perfect guide tones for any melodic improvisation that keeps outlining the underlying harmony. You can do this fingerstyle as well as with a pick.

Below I worked out this combination for a Fmaj7, F7, Fm7, Fm7b5 and Fdim.

fmaj7 f7



Application in Bb Blues

If we use this in a Bb blues this could be one of the outcomes:




Now of course you don’t need to keep it rhythmically stale as set out above, remember that it is an illustration of how things could work out on the harmony side. Also remember that this is a great way to add a sense of movement without going overboard on fancy chords. The options only grow when you start adding in chord substitutions and chromatic passing chords. It creates a nice canvas waiting to be painted upon and leaves at least two fingers free to start painting a picture. In a next post we”ll have a look at this conceptual approach and start making real music.

All the chord examples are available as a pdf here >>>

The blues example can be downloaded as a pdf here >>>

Try it out on your favorite jazz standard. Have fun!


Lesson: Walk that bass (G blues) first chorus


This week a chorus of walking bass under a G blues. This is playable with a pick as well as fingerstyle.

The following chord changes are used as the basis:

|| G 7 | C 7| G7 | % | C7 | % | G7 | E7 | Am7 | D7 | G7 E7 | Am7 D7 ||

The chords used here are so called drop two chords, consisting of the third and the seventh of each chord. They represent the complete functionality of the chord: an approach that will be part of another lesson soon.

Here we go
G bLues chorus 1 1-4

In bar one the bass follows the major triad tones and chromatically walks back to land on the C root in the second bar. A chromatic approached is used to walk from the E note (third of C chord) via F and F# back to G. In bar four a chord sequence is applied on the bass notes. G7, Am, Bb dim,  B min. 

G bLues chorus 1 5-8

Bar 5 uses the C 7 drop two chord in position VIII, the bass consists of the chord tones. Bar 6 is a chord sequence C7, Bb6, Am7, G#7. The G#7 or Ab7 is the chromatic option that comes from replacing a  D7 dominant chord resolving to G with its so called tri-tone substitution. In bar the bass line chromatically ascends to E on the last beat. Similarly a chromatic descending last beat note is found in bar 8 which resolves to the Am7

G bLues chorus 1 9-12

In bar 9 the Eb note on beat four descends chromatically to D7, just like in bar 9 the G# (Ab) descends to G. Bar 11 and 12 are a so called turn around. Notice how the tritones are used for chromatic purposes in bar 11 and 12 on the fourth beat.

A pdf file is availble here >>>

Have fun.

Guitar tips for playing in a small worship group

Being a worship musician in a small group (just guitar and vocals or piano, guitar and vocals) is a challenging but very honorable role. If you are advanced on your instrument things may be slightly easier but what if you have but limited knowledge of and/or skills on your instrument. You may well be sort of like a beginner but, the music ministry/worship singers need you badly, not tomorrow, yesterday.

There’s a lot you can learn about music but for now there are some key skills that take priority.

1) Chords and Rhythm

If there is one thing you will need to focus on as quickly as possible, it is being proficient inn playing chords and being able to play a clear rhythm. Getting these two right will help your church community to sing out their praises with confidence.

If you are the worship leader, make sure you know your songs by heart. I firmly believe that it is better t0 have a smaller repertoire that you completely believe than forcing yourself to come up with new songs week in week out that you do not actually master yet.

As far as chords go: in small settings you want to look for ways to be able to play rich sounding chords. I believe that that boils down, at least for a guitar to not so much all the flash chords with lots of additions in which you need all your fingers and your thumb even. Less is more most often and I personally think that open string chords work great to create rhythm, atmosphere and enough body.

I can hear you think now: but my psalter hymnal says the song is in the key of F, or let’s say Db. There are two options: either transpose the song or consider the use of a capo.  Another option is to play a song with an alternate tuning. As an example, I have found that the song Everlasting God works great if you use a C tuning (CGCGCE) and transpose it to that key. There is a lot of richness in the C tuning already with the extra low. Also keep in mind when playing in an alternate tuning that many of the best worship songs are based on either I IV V type of progressions or I II IV V VI progression which are easily transferred to alternate tunings.


2) Less is more: dynamics rule

Bill Evans, the famous jazz piano player had a relatively small repertoire. But he was able to play the songs he did do with such an amazing wide range of variety that it seemed fresh every time he played it.

Now I do not expect anyone to go for that aim of trying to make the same song sound like a new one every week. What I am trying to say here is that there is value in going deep on a song so you have a range of options, perhaps from small and modest to an all out version of the same song, and internalized to such an extend that you can take the people somewhere: you can actually lead them , and the other way around where you have the option of being lead by your church. You lead and are being led: you are there to lead but serve at the same time and is it not the most beautiful thing? It reminded me of a saying of Gandhi:

“I must go now: I am their leader therefore I must follow them.”

What this all comes down to is being able to play with dynamics: from loud to quiet but also from big sounding chords to small and fragile. The dynamics come from the rhythm, the harmony and in the last place the volume at which you bang out the harmonies.

What I have learned in the is that there is considerable merit in learning to play a song really banging out loud and really quiet and everything in between but… WITHOUT LOOSING INTENSITY. Try it out for yourself, does the song you are playing carry the same intensity when you play it really soft? Practice those dynamics. Practice songs in different dynamics without touching your amp, and when you use a DI learn to play your songs so softly that the DI is wondering what happened to the signal up to a point where it wants to throw up because of all that is coming through. There again, besides technique, rhythm and chord forms are your best ally.

I practice even the simplest songs (technically) in different dynamics, trying out alternative harmonies, different grooves. Good songs to try this out with are for instance:

3. Song Choice

Depending on the instrumentation available in your worship team (if any at besides piano or guitar) you will find that some songs work better than others. In leading song choice is very important in relation to the service as such, but I am talking here about, knowing what the limitations of your team are. Make sure that you choose songs that are suitable for your team (if a team at all). Sometimes you may want to rearrange a song in order to make it suitable.

Songs that stand or fall with specific riffs, breaks or otherwise may have impossible to perform on your own sections, no matter how much you like the songs may well be found as not working. In choosing songs, do not just let your taste be the only guidance or the fact that songs are currently in the praise charts. Find songs that are relevant for the service and that can be played convincingly in a small setting. Otherwise look at how the songs may be made suitable for a smaller setting.

Chord Scale Companion for Commonly Used Keys in Worship Music

Major Scales

C C(maj7) Dm(7) Em(7) F(maj7) G(7) Am(7) Bo (min7b5)
D D(maj7) Em(7) F#m(7) G(maj7) A(7) Bm(7) Co (min7b5)
E E(maj7) F#m(7) G#m(7) A(maj7) B(7) C#m(7) Do(min7b5)
F F(maj7) Gm(7) Am(7) Bb(maj7) C(7) Dm(7) Eo(min7b5)
G G(maj7) Am(7) Bm(7) C(maj7) D(7) Em(7) F#o(min7b5)
A A(maj7) Bm(7) C#m(7) D(maj7) E(7) F#m(7) G#o(min7b5)

Minor Scales

For the minor scales the above translates to the following (parallel) minor scales:

  • C  ==> A minor
  • D ==> B minor
  • E ==> C# minor
  • F ==> D minor
  • G ==> E minor
  • A ==> F# minor