Darren Dutson Bromley

I’ve always been attracted to the sound of chords and harmony.

My guitar playing began initially by trying to emulate the Shadows. This progressed to Deep Purple, discovered through my parent’s record collection and was followed by Jimi Hendrix and Black Sabbath. Around the age of 12, I discovered Steely Dan and was fascinated by the sounds they produced, it was the chords, they were so unusual. I tried copying them but my playing just wasn’t up to it, I just didn’t have the knowledge. I was also fascinated by the guitarists Barney Kessel and Joe Pass who I discovered around that time also, they could seemingly play a different cinterhord on each melody note. From then on I was hooked on the guitar. I collected early blues records from record fairs, listened to every jazz guitarist I could and I enjoyed fusion, particularly bands like Return to Forever and Weather Report.

I studied classical guitar and did all the grades. I went to rock gigs and still copied Hendrix as well as Van Halen and Richie Blackmore. In fact the only music I didn’t really care for was the pop music of my day, this was now the early 80s and the charts were dominated with either ska bands or watered down disco. There were exceptions of course, I particularly liked the Police and Joe Jackson, both demonstrated superior musicianship and the harmony was a bit more unique than the other bands my mates listened to. Even now 30 years down the line I’m still a collector, massive music fan and guitar obsessive and my tastes are still quite varied too, as long as it is skillfully played.

Book cover

It’s taken me a long time to truly come to grips with the chord melody style in a way that I really wanted. Even now, though the mystery has gone, I can put on a Barney Kessel or a Joe Pass album and know exactly what they are doing. I still love the style, the sophisticated chords and the beautiful way in which the harmony works, to me it is still mesmerising.

In this book I hope to give you an insight into how chords are constructed and how to use them more effectively. Through video tutorials and written examples, all the main chord substitutions are explained. The theory as to why the substitutions work is discussed as well as practical applications of the substitutions in familiar songs. Each chapter concludes with a chord melody arrangement of a popular song incorporating all the techniques discussed in the chapter. These are fully notated and include a backing track to play along with. They are also supported with a video tutorial explaining how the arrangement was created.

Whilst all players from all standards would benefit from working through this book, it is ideally suited for players of an intermediate to advanced level.

It has been a lot of fun writing this book. Hopefully you can use the techniques discussed and take them somewhere exciting and unique. You never know, some kid might just listen to your music and develop a fascination and obsession with it enough to pursue a life long quest to master what you are playing.


Chapter 1
Chord Melody Style Playing

How to Create an Effective Chord Melody Arrangement on the Guitar

I often think, particularly in music, the best way of learning is by doing, I’m going to save some of the explanations on chord construction and substitutions for the following chapters. The aim of this chapter is to be able play an effective arrangement of a piece on the guitar, playing chords and melody lines simultaneously and to gain a skill which can be built on.

Finding the most effective pitch for the melody.

Possibly one of the most important factors in creating an arrangement is finding the most effective pitch for the melody. Too high and the melody sounds weak and the chords can be difficult to form, too low and the chords sound muddy and unclear.

Movie 1.1: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star – v1

Movie 1.1 is an example of a chord melody arrangement of the simple tune Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

This is not a jazz standard but a simple, familiar piece which demonstrates the concept quite beautifully. The melody sits in a nice place on the guitar and the chords played underneath are familiar shapes. The melody is created by adding additional notes to the chord shapes.

Compare the arrangement in Movie 1.1 to the one in Movie 1.2.

This arrangement doesn’t work quite as well. The melody is much lower, and as a result the chords need to be formed on the lower strings, sitting in the bottom register of the guitar they sound muddy and unclear. As a guide, where possible try to pitch the melody so it can be played mostly on the top two strings of the guitar.

Movie 1.2: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star – v2

Finding the most effective place to play a melody is one of the most important considerations in creating a successful chord melody arrangement.

Figure 1.1 shows an excerpt of a tune which will be familiar to many ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’.

Fig 1.1: Ain’t Misbehavin

Honeysuckle Rose

This is how it will usually be written in a Real Book or on a lead sheet.

Playing this piece at the notated pitch on the guitar finds the melody in a lower register of the instrument. The low pitch will make it very difficult to add chords effectively behind the melody, any chords we can add will be so low in pitch that they will be largely ineffective.

Figure 1.2 shows an excerpt that will work much better, by transposing the melody up an octave it can now be played on the first and second strings and it will now be much easier to form chord shapes behind it to help create an effective arrangement.

Fig 1.2: Ain’t Misbehavin better pitch

Another example of finding the most appropriate placement of a melody is with the bluesy standard ‘Black Coffee’ in Figure 1.3.

Fig 1.3: Black Coffee original key

Fly me to the moon

The piece Fly Me To The Moon is a familiar and popular piece and is a good place to start for learning how to create an effective chord melody arrangement.

Fly me to the moon

Here is a lead sheet for Fly Me To The Moon. As you can see the melody is too low to create an effective arrangement and needs amending. In this case just raising it an octave works just fine and the melody is now in an ideal register to create an effective arrangement.

Fly me to the moon lead sheet.

What more to expect…

Chapter One is an introduction to chord melody playing.
The chapter begins with finding the most effective pitch for the melody before looking at an example arrangement of Fly Me To The Moon. This is discussed in detail in the video tutorial and is fully notated and has a backing track to play along to.

  • Finding the most effective pitch for a melody.
  • Adding chords behind a melody.
  • Fly Me To The Moon as a chord melody arrangement.
  • Video tutorial on how to play Fly Me To The Moon.
  • Score and play along backing track for Fly Me To The Moon.


Chapter 2
Understanding Chord Construction – How to play all the chords

“To successfully harmonise a melody there are times when regular, common or garden chord shapes just won’t do and new inversions need to be created. To do this it’s important to have a good understanding of how chords are constructed.”

The subtitle of this chapter – ‘How to play all the chords’ is making a bold claim, especially when you consider that potentially there are literally hundreds of chords, never mind all the possible inversions for each.

Surprisingly, when you explore how chords are constructed and find that they can all be built using a few simple rules and formula then this becomes a relatively simple claim to substantiate. This is a skill all guitarists should possess, regardless of what styles are favoured, as its implications are found in every aspect of guitar playing.

A simple way of understanding the construction of chords is to look at how their notes can be found using major scales.

Major scales crop up in many situations and it is invaluable to have a thorough knowledge of them in all keys.

Omitting Chord Tones and Essential Notes

It’s possible to omit notes to make the chord more manageable. The two most important notes in any chord are the 3rd and the 7th. The 3rd defines the tonality of the chord (whether it is major or minor) and the 7th defines function, whether the chord needs to resolve on to another chord or not. The root note names the chord and isn’t as important as you might think and the 5th is there to add a bit of padding, unless it is altered.

When we were constructing major, minor, major 7th, dominant 7th and minor 7th chords previously, it was only the 3rd and 7th which were being altered to create the differences between the chords.

Movie 2.1: Video Lesson on 3rds and 7ths

It is possible to play a recognisable and fully functioning chord sequence using only the 3rd and the 7th notes of each chord as in the Bb Blues progression shown in Figure 2.7.

Figure 2.7: Bb Blues using 3rds and 7ths

The only problem with using only the 3rd and the 7th to dictate the harmony is with the musical equivalent of a homonym, the same spelling but a different meaning.

B and F for example are the 3rd and the 7th of a G7 chord but are also the 3rd and 7th of a Db7 chord (technically the 7th in Db7 is Cb but that is the enharmonic equivalent of B). In a blues the chord function is clear, but in other sequences it may be less so. It would therefore be wise to include the root.

What more to expect…

Chapter Two is all about chord construction.
In this chapter a method of working out chord tones and voicings is discussed. There are lots of practical examples with references to familiar tunes. Various interactive features such as a quiz are included to help you before finishing with an arrangement of On a Clear Day, demonstrating many of the techniques discussed throughout the chapter.

  • Construction of the major scale.
  • Chord inversions.
  • Chord construction.
  • Harmonising a simple melody.
  • Extending chords.
  • Omitting chord notes and essential chord tones.
  • Satin Doll video lesson.
  • Satin Doll scores and play along backing track.
  • On a Clear Day.
  • On a Clear Day video tutorial.
  • On a Clear Day score and play along backing track.


Chapter 3
Chord substitution


“Something synonymous to jazz but also found in lots of other contemporary styles of music, chord substitution, is literally replacing one chord with another.

This is a means of creating different sounds and textures in a chord sequence whilst still maintaining harmonic intention of the original progression, or if you like, there are rules as to what and how you substitute chords.”

Playing a major scale along one string as discussed in the previous chapter is fine, it demonstrates brilliantly how the scale can be constructed and why some keys have sharps or flats, but it’s not the most practical way of doing things. Here is a major scale played across a number of strings.

Playing a major scale along one string as discussed in the previous chapter is fine, it demonstrates brilliantly how the scale can be constructed and why some keys have sharps or flats, but it’s not the most practical way of doing things. Here is a major scale played across a number of strings.

One of the strengths of the guitar and similarly and rather ironically one of its weaknesses, is that the scale shape can be moved chromatically up and down the fingerboard and played at any fret. This means all the major scales can be accessed using one shape.

In one way this is really good, scales can be learned quickly and efficiently, however on a down side, it is very easy to play ‘shapes’ without being aware of any of the notes. A saxophonist, pianist or trumpet player for example, would have to know every single note as they play it. A guitar player could potentially play every scale with no consideration of any notes whatsoever.

Looking at the scale in a little more depth, we can give the individual scale tones names, relating to where they can be found within the scale as shown in Interactive 3.1.

The first note is the root note, this is followed by the major second, the major third, perfect fourth, perfect fifth, major sixth, major seventh and perfect octave.

Interactive 3.1

It would be beneficial to learn these names as they will be referred to throughout this chapter. You will find them in countless other situations too.

Figure 3.4

The note a perfect 5th above G is D giving us the option of playing a Dm7 chord as well as G7. Figure 3.5 shows the run alternating between Dm7 and G7 giving the opportunity to play an effective harmonised scale run, while the underlying harmony still remains as G7.

Figure 3.5

Movie 3.1: m7 sub over G7

This is an example of how this technique can be used to play a chord melody run over a G7 chord, by using a mixture of Dm7 and G7 chords. It is possible to move quite freely between the two chords to create really interesting results as shown in Figure 3.6.

Figure 3.6

The following example of this technique, shown in Figure 3.7 has quite a bluesy feel to it, possibly because it resolves on to a dominant 7th chord rather than the more usual major 7th. It can however be used in many different musical situations, and can easily be adapted to fit the more common resolution.

Figure 3.7

What more to expect…

Chapter Three is all about chord substitution.
All the main substitutions are discussed in detail with video examples demonstrating how to use the substitutions effectively. A number of familiar tunes are used as examples to apply the substitutions. The chapter closes with two versions of These Foolish Things. The first harmonised with the original chords whilst the second uses many of the substitutions discussed throughout the chapter.

  • Replacing a dominant chord with a minor chord.
  • ii-V and ii-V-I progressions.
  • Mediant substitution
  • Submediant substitution
  • All The Things You Are
  • Tritone substitution
  • Dominant approach chords
  • Diminished chords
  • Georgia on My Mind
  • Chord Quality Substitutions
  • These Foolish Things.