The Melody Within

This week I'd like to write a bit about my favorite subject again, The Chord Of The Moment. I must have written a dozen or so columns with the same subject, and as I say in all of them, it's really the only subject that matters when the music is playing around you in real time. It's all well and good to be able to study chord charts, notation or tablature -- to be able to lay the song out in some kind of schematic form -- but when it's all happening for real, the chord of the moment is the only one that matters. So know it inside and out.

Here's an example of what I mean: I've just been hearing Eva Cassidy's version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow. She's the singer/guitarist with that most beautiful voice who has a number one hit with that song in England right now, even though she died of cancer a few years ago. A tragic loss, and it brings a lump to your throat just hearing her. I heard her wonderful guitar arrangement and decided to learn it, or rather, do my own version of her version.

First thing I found was that it's in the key of G sharp, a horrible key for guitar, so I just slapped a cap on the first fret and figured it out in G. I imagine she had done the same, or maybe she tuned up a half tone. In any event, the song follows a fairly predictable progression with just one quirky little bit where it momentarily changes key by going to an F# chord.

The skeleton of the verse is: G Em Bm G7, C Cm G G7, C Cm G Em, Am D7 G. Straight forward enough. All the chords are from the key of G, except for Cm, and it sounds solid as a rock as a chord progression (which is no doubt why the song has lasted through the decades).

The bridge goes: G G Am D7 G (Em Am D7), G F#7 Bm Am D7.

Once I had the chord progression figured out, I started looking for the passing notes and inner melodies she'd incorporate into the part. This is where really knowing the chord of the moment is indispensable. It's only by keeping the chord going and adding the bits and pieces to it that the part comes alive. By that I mean that I look for ways of fingering the chord which allow me to add to it and keep it ringing at the same time. One bridge section, for example, keeps alternating a plain old G chord with a G major 9. This means adding the A note (second fret, third string) to the G chord, which my hand never lets go of, and reverting to G again. The same A to G note within the chord then applies to the next chord, an A minor, making it go from minor to minor 7. But it's only by holding the rest of the chord down while this movement happens within it that the effect can be felt.

Sometimes, the moving lines within the chords force you to switch to the next position for that chord. When that happens, simply do it. Find the best way for your hand to come up with the goods. Break it into bass note, chord and moving-melody-within, and piece it together in a way that suits your playing. What happens is that the part turns into a more elaborate sequence of chords without you having to think of them as extended chords. The G chord with an A note added momentarily becomes a major 9, the Am with a G note added becomes an Am 7, the D chord with the added melody note G becomes a sus 4 for the time that note is there. So rather than try to make sense of all these shifting extended chords, simply view them as simpler versions, and build the melody into them. The extensions then happen automatically.

A few play throughs later, you've got yourself a part. It can be further refined as time goes by. I always find that playing along to the cd is the best way to do this. I listen for details I can add in a simple way to the part. I avoid complication. It might be a line from another instrument, or a harmony to the main melody. Whatever it is, it's part of that chord of the moment, and it's coloring it in a very specific way. I look for the simplest way of recreating the chordal 'vibe' that I hear on the record. But the bottom line is, the chord of the moment rules all, and never take your mind off it. That's always the best way to keep on track.

PlaneTalk -- The Truly Totally Different Guitar Instruction Book continues to sell all over the globe. Israel, Malaysia, Chile, are some of the new countries I have sent to.

All the best, Kirk

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