Simple Chord Tone Melody - Lesson 1 (Little Wing Chord Progression)
Difficulty Rating: Beginner-Intermediate
Lesson by: Kirk Lorange
Lesson 2 is here | Lesson 3 is here.
Chord tones, chord tones, chord tones! I can hear you now: "When is he going to stop with the chord tones, already?!" Well, I'm not. Chords, and the notes they consist of -- chord tones -- are to me the most important aspect to concentrate on if you want to master the guitar. Scales and modes and key signatures and cycles of fifths and all the rest of it are all very important things to know, but when it comes down to actually playing a piece of music, chords are boss.
In this lesson I demonstrate that you can create good, strong melody lines just using chord tones*. I've done this before (The Power of Chord Tones 1 and 2), but this time I'll break it all down for you using a fairly well known progression: Little Wing.
First off, let's have a look at the progression:
It's a very powerful progression. Luckily, progressions can't be copyrighted.
We're in the key of G. Some prefer to see it as Em, I think G fits the bill better, but Em and G are the same thing really. They are close relatives. So, thinking of it as being in the key of G, let's have a look at the Roman numerals for this progression:
I've made the two 'outside' chords red. They're not chord from the key of G (or Em). All the others are. In this lesson, I'm playing along to a simple midi backing track I put together in GuitarPro. I added drums, a bass, an organ and a piano sound.
A couple of things to note:
There's a bar of 2/4 in there: Bar 8 only has two beats. There's no reason for that other than that's the way it was written.
I've added a bit of detail: the C/D on beat 4 of bar 9 and the B7 on beat 4 of bar 10 are not really in the original progression. I did that to add interest, chordally and melodically. I'll tell you what I mean a bit later on.
The virtual fretboard in the video shows:
The notes I'm playing
The name of the chord in play (in yellow)
The chord tones of the chord in play. The green circle around the notes indicate which chord tone is in play.
The bar count is in red. They're the same numbers you see in the tab below.
I've kept the chords to simple triads: three tones per chord. The major chords consist of the 1-3-5 of their scale; the minors consist of the 1-b3-5 of their respective scale. Each chord you can hear in the band track consists of just the notes you can see written in the video. This is very important to realize. The bass is playing the 1 of each chord; the piano and organ are playing six note chord but they're JUST the notes you see written in the video. How can that be? Because they are doubling up on some notes in another octave. There's just that one B7 in there that indicates an extension, in this case the flat7. However, I didn't actually incorporate the flat7 into the melody line, so consider it a triad too. You may have realized that the word 'triad' doesn't necessarily mean that there are just three notes in the chord. For example, in a G chord, you can have as many Gs, Bs and Ds as you want. They will most likely be in different octaves, but even if you have 20 notes that are just Gs, Bs and Ds, the chord will still be considered a 'triad'.
As I mentioned before, there are two chords that do not belong in the key of G: they are the F and the B7. This is important to note, because if you were simply play the G major scale (or Em scale) in search of melody lines, you'd come unstuck over the F and the B7. There is no F note or chord in the key of G, it's an outsider.
There is a B chord in the key of G, but it's B minor, and you'll see one there in the progression (bar 5) but the B7 is an outsider. It's a dominant chord which means it has a major 3rd. Its role here is to herald the Em that follows.
The C/D can also be called D11th. You can think of it as a C triad with a D bass note.
Now, what you should do first of all is play the movie and watch the note names, those three circles. Those are the chord tones. You will see that I'm only using notes that are in each chord (the 'chord of the moment') to create the melody lines. I'm not thinking 'scale', I'm just thinking 'what chord is happening right now?' and using its notes to make the melody.
Melody is not one continuous barrage of notes. Melody is like language, it's made up of phrases. In this lesson, I kept it all very simple to make it clear, but you can hear each phrase leading to the next, telling the story. For example: bar 1, I start with a two note phrase, followed by a 4 note phrase which straddles bar 1 and 2. Halfway through that second phrase, the chord tones switch to the G batch, and I hop on board and use them to resolve the line. I finish bar 2 with one note from the G batch and move into the Am batch and use couple of them, so again, the complete line, simple as it is, straddles those two measures. Same with the next line. The lines are continually adapting their paths to the batch of available chord tones. There are countless possibilities, of course, and I'm doing the steering, deciding where to go, but so long as I stick to chord tones, all will be well.
You will notice -- hopefully -- that when it gets to the C/D chord, I switch to the C batch of chord tones and I also do the same for the brief B7 chord, where I play that one outside note in the melody line, the D#. This is where the power of the chord tone mindset really kicks in. I really doesn't matter how 'complex' the chord progression is. So long as you know what the chord is, and can see its tones, melody emerges easily... unlike trying to juggle scales around.
A huge component to the process is the timing, otherwise known as 'phrasing'. Where do you start a line? Where and when do you end it? This is something that will come after time if you're just starting out with the art of melodic soloing. It wasn't until I tabbed this out that I realized what an array of phrasings I used in this. I'm not sure how this can be taught, but I'll have a think about it. All I can say is that I sort of hear the line in my head just before I play it.
Now ... am I actually thinking to myself "Here comes Am, that means I can play As, Cs and Es"? The answer is NO. My brain would not be capable of that. I do know the names of notes on the fretboard, but not as well as that. No, I'm seeing something else. I'm seeing the Am -- and the G, and the D, and the B7 -- I'm seeing all those chords as a fretboard-long shape. I'm seeing the chord tones for each chord scattered across the length of the fretboard, and then I'm enjoying the process of 'joining the dots'. You can see in this short demo that I'm not confining myself to one area of the fretboard. The lines take me here there and everywhere.
Can you use other notes, as well as chord tones? Yes, of course you can, but they always play the role as 'passing tones', which, as the name implies, are notes that you pass through on the way to the chord tone you're aiming for. If you listen to the version of Little Wing I did on my Strat a while back, you'll hear all kinds of stuff going on, but it's all just an elaboration of what I did in this simple version. Once you can see those chord tones everywhere, those other notes are a piece of cake ... you'll have to trust me on that. When you can really see the chord tones, the gaps between them (where the 'other' notes are) are very manageable. I could say that I revert to thinking of the underlying scale, but that would be wrong. If anything, I'd say I think of each chord as 'extendable' and then use the imaginary extended chord's chord tones. So, for example, Am can become 'Am7 add 6 add 2", meaning I can think of the chord as 1-2-b3-5-6-b7 and use any or all of those chord tones.
And what am I looking at down there? How do I see what I'm seeing? What's the trick? You'll have to order my PlaneTalk package to find out, but I can tell you that it's so simple you already know it ... you just don't know how powerful knowing it can be. In fact, after I edited this video together, I did another version using a different overlay showing the PlaneTalk mindset. It's available through the private forum for those who have bought the Full PlaneTalk Package.
Have fun with this. I encourage you to play along with the backing track, see how many other pathways you can find through this classic progression. Just follow the one rule: Chord Tones Only.
*It wasn't until I started editing the video that I discovered that I did in fact use one non chord tone. It's a fleeting moment at the end of bar 13 where I play a B note over the Am chord. B is the 9 of Am, so it's not a chord tone in this case.
>>> Now for Lesson 2 where I show you how this mindset can be expanded into harmony lines
Download the backing track for this. I've made it loop through 10 times so you can have fun creating your own lines.
Here is the tab for the two passes through the progression shown in the video. The aim, of course, is to be able to do this on the fly with no tab or notation, and to be able play different lines each time. While that may seem an impossible task at first, I can tell you that once you can see the whole fretboard as 'the chord', it's not only quite easy but a whole lot of fun. The possibilities are endless, limited only by your imagination and dexterity, which are things you can work on for the rest of your life. In Lesson 2, I show you how this mindset can be expanded into harmony lines and chord voicings, and then we'll look at adding non chord tones to the mix.