Playing Chords and Melody Simultaneously

Over the course of the next few months I will discuss how to play melody and chords simultaneously:

Stringed instruments such as the banjo and guitar have many strings. However, a lot of attention is placed on “single-note” lines that don’t take advantage of the multiphonic capabilities of the instruments. We’re talking about techniques such as double stops, harmonizing melody notes with chords, etc. As one advances, polyphony or playing multiple parts at once, is even possible.

I believe that teaching chords and melody at the same time will lead to quicker comprehension of the instrument. Think of the piano, one plays the chords with their left hand and the melody with their right. Very often they are playing both of these parts at once.
Let’s start with the G Major Chord and some background before we get into a song:

The notes that make up a G Major Chord are G-B-D.
Any arrangement of these notes yields a G Chord.
For example- G B D, B D G, and D G B are all G major chords.

The only thing that changes between them is which note is on “top”. To Clarify, I mean which note is highest in pitch.
In G B D, the D note is on “top.” In B D G, the G note is on “top.”

One should know each chord so well that one can play it with ANY of the chord tones on top.  This different versions are called INVersions, I prefer the word ROTATIONS because all you are doing is rotating the notes.

This will help us to create chord arrangements of songs. One of the “rules” for playing a song in chords is to make sure the melody note is the highest in pitch. This enables the melody note to stand out above the rest of the supporting notes within the chord.

To gain flexibility with chords so you’ll be able to use them to outline a melody I suggest practicing each chord you learn as follows:
1)Play the chord with the 1 on top… this case B-D-G
2)Play the chord with the 3rd on top D-G-B
3)Play the chord with the 5th on top G-B-D

For example:
(The names of the notes are below the Tabulature)


Notice how the “top” line moves through the chord tones G-B-D. In the second example we play through B-D-G. You should commit all of these to memory.
There are many more possibilities for a G major chord and of course there are those that are an octave higher than the ones shown here, but this will suffice for now.

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Jody Written by:

Professional Musician of 27 years. I've performed on the stages of Carnegie Hall, The Grand Ole Opry, and The Ryman Auditorium. I've also played in 6 different countries. All things Banjo and Acoustic Guitar.

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