Playing solo jazz guitar is incredibly enjoyable. Instead of relying on a band to back you up, you can make beautiful music all by yourself playing both the chords and melody at the same time. Plus with all the chord substitutions and reharmonizations, you will have a lifetime of fun making up your own arrangements.
With all the jazz chord melody material that’s out there on the Internet, in books and DVDs you think we’d have solved the problem of playing easy chord melodies on guitar by now. Unfortunately most chord melodies are way too complicated for the beginner, leading to frustration and giving up of many students.
Some arrangements available for purchase or on the Internet are way too difficult to play for a beginner. Some arrangements had really difficult chords that are sometimes almost impossible to play.
Some arrangements had really big stretches or cramped chords that hurt the fretting hand after a while. Even with a lot of effort it can be near impossible to play some of the chords. So this leads us to get frustrated and when we move to another song we often find the same problems. So months and years go by and we still can’t play one full solo jazz guitar song by ourselves from beginning to end!
Another problem with some arrangements is that the songs are highly reharmonized, without any reference to the original chords. While this is great for more advanced students who can reuse the ideas, it can be overly complicated for more beginner to intermediate students. The large amount of chords (one per melody note) is also much harder to memorize and relate to the original chords.
Many chord melodies on the Internet today are written out in full in standard notation which is very hard to read for most of us. Sometimes fingerings are given which helps. Other arrangements are written out in tab which can help us figure out where to play the chords, but it’s actually harder to decipher a chord in tab than to just look at a chord diagram.
There are also some books out there that are essentially a huge library of chords. This can be quite useful to find interesting sounding voicings but they often are overwhelming and end up sitting on the shelf collecting dust.
Okay so how can we solve these problems? For one try to find chord melody arrangements that use the original chords of the song along with the melody (using the jazz real/fake books) to create a simple arrangement. Secondly, the arrangements should have voicings for those chords on the guitar that allow the next melody notes to also be played while the chord rings, so the arrangement sounds smooth and pleasing, without too many chords. Thirdly, make sure they use easy, common chord jazz voicings so there are no huge stretches or cramped chords that hurt your hands. Fourth, find chord melody arrangements that use a simple melody notation (no complex rhythmic notation) and chord grids above the staff. That way you are automatically playing the melody as well which is the top note of the chord!
The first phase of your jazz chord melody studies should be in being able to play many jazz songs by yourself from beginning to end. Learn the melody of the song, learn the original chords, play a simple chord melody (both melody and chords together), then add embellishments once you can do that (chord additions, reharmonization, inner lines, etc).
Make sure arrangements are also laid out in a highly effective manner. Every chord should be displayed as a chord grid above the melody line. To reduce complexity the melody line should also have TAB written out on the staff, so that there is no confusion as to where the music should be played on the fretboard.
Good luck and don’t give up on your goal to learn jazz chord melodies on the guitar!