I practice songs from The Real Book, and I am quite new to the chord-melody concept. I have knowledge of scales and chords, and I can play melodically these standards. Now I want to play them as chord-melody (that is, both chords and melody together), and I wonder: what other stuff should I know?

Are chords as written in The Real Book enough to construct a chord-melody, or should I use scales to construct them? I am a bit confused.

  • Are you asking how to play both the chords and the melody at the same time?
    – Aaron
    Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 18:15
  • Yes this is one part of the question but the main question is that if chords written on the real book are just ok to do that?
    – kuti
    Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 18:16

2 Answers 2


The chords in The Real Book (or any fake book) only tell you the general outline of the harmony. Playing them as given will not include the melody (except by occasional coincidence).

To realize the music means to arrange the notes of the chords and melody so that they can be played together. The chord voicings you choose -- that is, the specific way you play the notes -- will facilitate playing the chords and melody together.

To get started, a good general rule is to play the chord's letter name as the lowest note, and the melody as the highest. Other chord notes can be fit in between in whatever arrangement is convenient. For example, for a C7 chord with an E in the melody, you would make C the lowest pitch, the E the highest pitch, and fit the G and Bb in where you can.

Keep in mind that sometimes the melody will include notes that are not part of the chord. The above rule can still apply — keep the melody on top.


what other stuff should I know?

You need a general knowledge of harmony. In particular:

  1. What notes are in chords
  2. What upper structures can you add to a given chord in given context (this is closely related to scales)
  3. Which notes of the chords are the most important for their harmonic function (on guitar chords played with 3–4 notes often sound the best, so you often need to drop some notes)
  4. Reharmonization techniques – what chords you can play instead of the others
  5. Voice leading – how to connect one chord with another so that it sounds smooth.

While learning theory, try also learning arrangements made by the others. An obvious recommendation is Joe Pass, but if his work turns out too difficult for you, there are other resources available.

Playing chord melodies might be quite difficult at the beginning. A very first step I would recommend is to arrange a good chordal accompaniment for the tune, e.g. while singing the melody, or letting another instrument to play it.

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