Are you ready to enjoy the Christmas holidays by spending some time with your family and close friends? What if someone asks you to play a song? Instead of playing a pop song or Led Zeppelin riff, how about something more appropriate? Today I'll teach you an arrangement for Silent Night that I wrote. It's a chord melody arrangement, with a subtle jazzy flavor.
About Chord Melody
Before starting, I'd like to give you a brief introduction about chord melody. This technique studies the relationship between a melody and its accompaniment.
The idea is to be able to do the same thing piano players do: give harmonic support to a melody by playing the chord behind it. This is done, not by playing lots of different chords, but by using different voicings and having a good knowledge of harmony
It's worth having these two skills because a melody usually develops in the higher register, so you need to know the notes in each chord, and how to finger them so that the melody note is at the top of your chord.
Step 1: Get Ready
First, download the PDF chart for the arrangement:
It includes the the melody, and the chords to play behind it. I suggest you to go through the entire chart once just by playing the melody. If your reading skills are good enough, play the melody an octave higher than written. Otherwise, just play it as it's written. The aim is to get the vibe of the tune.
Second, download the PDF chart of each chord voicing:
It includes a separate chart for each chord used in the song. See if you can play each chord voicing.
Step 2: Learn the Song Line by Line
First of all, drop your pick—you're not going to use it. Now we'll go through the song line by line.
The first line consists of the same two measures, repeated. They consist of just Cmaj chords of some flavor.
Play the first Cmaj7 with your thumb on the 6th string, or barring the chord carefully by playing only the notes in the chart. It's important that you keep your pinky free. Why? Because the next chord (Cmaj13) is similar to this chord, but with your pinky on the 2nd string. From there, come back to the first Cmaj7 by doing a pull off with your little finger on the 2nd string.
Let's jump to the second line. Harmonically, we go from G7 to C (basically a V-I for those who are into jazz already). As I explained earlier, the key for a good chord melody is using inversions, so here you play G7 using two different voicings. Either pluck the chords with your fingers, or strum the first attack with your thumb to get a softer sound.
Lines 3 and 4
Let's get to the third and fourth lines, which are the same—a four-bar phrase. Open up with Fmaj7, then on the second bar move your index finger from the 5th string to the 1st string. In the second measure, let the Fmaj ring while you play the melody on top.
The last two measures are the same as the first two. Try to make the chord changes as smooth as possible.
On the second last line, I throw in a cool little harmonic "trick". The first measure is just a big G7 barre chord. Strum it with your thumb if you like. Then on the second measure play D°7 - B°7 - Ab°7. I don't want to go into detail about the diminished topic here—check out my tutorial on diminished scales.
Basically, I substitute the G7 with a diminished chord built from the fifth, third and minor second degrees of the G7. Why? Well, because each of these chords have the melody note on top, and it creates a cool descending move to play towards the end of the tune. The last two bars are two versions of a C chord.
Finally, we reach the last line. The first chord is another inversion of Cmaj7. (You may claim it's Fmaj6, and you'd be right.) I labeled it as a C because of its harmonic function.
In the second bar, play an open G string, and keep it ringing. Land on an open C chord, then in the last measure add the major seven, just to make it more jazzy.
Step 3: Play It!
Once you have all the parts down, try to play the tune in its entirety. Always aim for perfection and precision, and play in time, cleanly and avoiding mistakes.
Once you're comfortable with the tune, you need to play music, not make an exercise out of it. That's especially true for this kind of song. You don't have to be perfectly in time, or play all the notes at the same volume. Be aware of what you're doing, but try to feel the vibe of the tune, rather than just reproduce the written notes.
For example, you could swing the melody to make it even jazzier, or you could strum a chord instead of plucking it, or vice versa. What really matters is that your decisions are based on the flavor you want to add to the song. The key to making it sound legit is to make those decisions on purpose, and not randomly.
Here's the complete tune:
I hope this tutorial inspired you not only to have something to play at Christmas, but also to get more involved in the chord melody subject. There's nothing as satisfying as going through all those chords. They look random to begin with, but in the end, you realize you created a tune.
I wish you happy holidays, and look forward to hearing your arrangements.