I've heard the term "chord melody" used by a jazz player acquaintance of mine, but I'm not really certain what he is describing or how it works. Would someone please give me a definition in easy to understand language and describe how it works?


2 Answers 2


Songs have a melody that's harmonized with chords. A chord melody is an arrangement that places the melody note in the soprano of each chord (and plays individual non-harmonic melody notes above the chord of the harmony).

On the guitar, that means choosing specific chord voicings that have the melody note as the highest tone.

Take this simple melody (Happy Birthday):enter image description here

A simple chord melody arrangement might look like this:enter image description here

In some spots it can mean reharmonizing (I used a G chord on beat 2 of the sixth measure instead of the F) and in spots it can look like a reharmonization (in measure 1, beat 2 you can view the soprano A as a non-harmonic tone over the C chord, or you can think of it as a substitution of C6 for C)

I did this off the top of my head, so I kept all chords playable within the first four strings. If I was writing an arrangement that I'd actually play, I'd put more thought into the voicings, use more of the guitar's range, and perhaps have a counterpoint in the bass line... but it should give you the basic idea.

EDIT: It occurred to me that you might wonder why the arrangment has the melody an octave higher...

The guitar is a transposing instrument, sounding an octave lower than written. As I was writing it out as a guitar part, I move the notes without even thinking about it - the third space C in the chord melody will sound as middle C, so the melody/soprano is actually identical in both examples.

  • 3
    Happy Birthday starts with a one beat anacrucis!
    – Tim
    Apr 21, 2019 at 6:35
  • I dv this due to the badly written example of Happy Birthday.
    – Tim
    Apr 26, 2019 at 8:43

Chord melody consists of both melody and harmony playing together at the same time.

  • Melody = Solo (Horizontal)
  • Harmony = Chord (Vertical)

Doing the arrangement by creating harmony around the melody line. Here is a good example:

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