• Pablo Embon

Guitar Chord Melody Forms


See Below a Guitar Chord Melody Cheat sheet I developed. This resource was developed with the purpose of understanding, facilitating and streamlining guitar chord melody arrangements using full chord comping (as opposed to comping using chord guide tones).

Download PDF • 277KB

Learning how to play chord melody seems to be a tough skill to develop as a guitarist. The use of chords to support the melody may require deep chords knowledge. The method to use full chord melody may involve different chord arrangements including Drop 3, Drop 2, chords substitutions and inversions. For a beginner guitarist, it can be considered quite a challenge to learn dozens of different chords with its alterations to support the specific chord melody task. I only wish I could have had this spreadsheet several years back, as it would have saved me a lot of time and effort to learn and to apply chord melody arrangements.

The approach presented in this cheat sheet is different from the typical method of memorizing the chords and its different positions in the fretboard, and it is aimed to be used as an arrangement tool which can also be adopted by beginners guitarists, as the only knowledge requirements are the basic Major, Minor and Dominant chords forms, and the diatonic degrees of each chord (i.e. I (or 1): First Degree, ..VI (or 6): Sixth Degree and so forth).

The following is a step-by-step method which can be followed to arrange for chord melody using this spreadsheet.


  • The Melody is always on top and it is always played on the first or second string (with some short exceptions may be played on the third as well).

  • The chords are to be played on strings 4, 3 and 2 (if melody played on the first string)

  • Bass note (Either root or an inversion chord tone) will be played on strings 6, 5 and 4.

  • A chord can be formed from different chord tones and/or alterations however the 3rd and the 7th (or 6th if it is a 6 Chord replacing the 7th ) of the chord will always be part of the chord played to ensure the Chord Quality – Major, Minor , Dominant ,etc) is perceived. Diminished Chords will be treated as Minor chords using b5 and bb7 (shown as “6” in the spreadsheet).

  • The sheet doesn’t include Quartal voicing chords which will be derived from the Minor 7 Chords shapes by adding the Root 4th as indicated in the sheet.

  • Augmented Chords shall be treated as alterations of Major Chords shapes by replacing the 5th with the #5th in the sheet. All chords shapes displayed in the sheet are derived from the basic chords forms shown in the first page of the cheat sheet file. You should be familiar with these basic chord forms, but if you aren’t, please review them upfront.

Step 1: Know the melody and transpose it as needed in order to make it fit by only playing it on first or second string. As a starting rule avoid notes below middle C.

Step 2: Decide where in the melody (i.e. which note of the melody) to apply the chords on. You don’t have to apply chords to each melody note. Actually I do not recommend to do that as it will affect the playability and the melody may be somehow lost hidden within the harmony. As a start rule apply chords at every chords changes, where the melody is either a 1st, b3, 3, 5, b7 or 7 of chord root, but you can experiment shifting the chords to make the playing more interesting and enhancing rhythm of the piece. Take the lead sheet and mark up the location of the chords and also note the chord degree on the melody upon which the chord is applied (See example in picture below). Also note the string which that melody note is played on, so for example:

Chord: A7 – Melody Chord is C# – [The Third Degree (3)] – String 2.

The information above will be used to grab your chord shapes from the Cheat Sheet in the next step.

Step 3: The last three pages of the cheat sheet is the compilation of melody chords shapes for Major, Minor and Dominant chords, which you would apply on top of the melody notes at the location you have selected in Step 2.

In order to identify the chord melody shape:

  • Go to the relevant chord quality (Major, Minor or Dominant) page.

  • Look for the relevant melody string section. It can be either String 1 or String 2.

  • In the melody string section identify the melody note chord degree chord shape. There are 4 options for chord shapes: 1, 3, 5 or 7, however the same shapes can be used when an alteration is used instead (such as 9th replacing the 1 (Root). You will also notice that there are variations for some of the degrees chord shape as I laid out additional options by shifting the shape in the fretboard to enhance playability.

Step 4: Once the chord shape has been identified in Step 3, add/choose the required alterations, noted in green markers. The way these alterations are mapped is so that b9th, 9th or #9th replace the Root (1) in the shape, the b6th, 6th (These would act as b13th and 13th degree respectively) replace the 5th , the 4th replacing the 3rd, and #4th (I,e, #11) replacing the 5th.

Proceed through Steps 1 to 4 for each chord to be applied to the melody and adjust as needed for playability once the selected chords are combined with the melody. Sometimes you will have to change the fingering or the notes position to improve playability, so that the chord shape may change accordingly.

Once you use this method frequently you will become more familiar with these shapes and you will have the tendency to “cheat” less, or apply your own chord arrangement which you see fit. Note that each chord shape includes a remark noting which basic chord form it is based upon, so this will make much easier for you to understand the shape and apply it faster to your playing.

Hope this will help you build this skill and save you some time, and don’t forget to leave any feedback or clarifications request in the blog comment form. Enjoy!

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