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Tom Quayle - Harmonising A Melody Note

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 10 **

In the previous few guitar lessons we've looked at using our knowledge of modal formulae to develop our knowledge of chords and create modal guitar chord progressions. We're going to change tack slightly now and look at things from another angle. This issue's lesson is certainly more complex and involved than the previous ones but will serve as a great exercise for both advanced and intermediate rhythm guitar playing & chord work and can be tailored to different ability levels as I'll explain shortly.

The idea of this guitar exercise is to take a given melody note (the highest note of a chord) and harmonise (create a chord) it using all 12 possible bass or root notes. For the purpose of the accompanying video I used the melody note G# on the B-string and harmonised it using bass notes from F at the 8th fret of the A-string, moving down an octave until I reached F at the 1st fret of the low E-string. The idea is to look at the intervallic relationship between the melody note and each of the 12 bass notes and try to come up with a viable chord that fits that relationship. So, for example, if the melody note is G# and my bass note is F, we have a relationship of a minor 3rd interval from F to G#. Therefore, I can use any chord type that contains that relationship giving me lots of scope to use anything from a minor triad to a minor 7, 9 or 11, minor 7b5, 7#9 or any other voicing that fits the bill. There are many possibilities on offer for each bass note, some being more restrictive than others. Feel free to move the melody note to higher or lower string to allow sensible left hand stretches but the melody note must stay in the same octave for the exercise to be effective.

Once you have worked out a chord that fits with each bass note, write them down and try to figure out the best scale to play over each one. Now, repeat the exercise playing first each chord, followed by its relevant scale. By doing this you'll be hearing the harmony in both a chordal and linear, scale fashion.

This exercise will give you a great ability to harmonise any given melody note with any root note or, when given a chord symbol, be able to find any scale tone as the melody note.

In the video example I end up with the following chords as I descend through each bass note combination with my G# melody note. You can find the TAB/notation for these chords in standard tuning later in the magazine.

Fm11, Emaj7#11, Eb7sus4, D9#11, Dbm7, Cm7b6, Bm13, Bbm7, Amaj7, Abm7, G7#5b9, Gb13, F7#5#9.

If you find all of this rather overwhelming then the exercise can be scaled down and used not as a fretboard visualisation one but as an ear-training exercise instead. Simply use your ears to fill-in some of the notes between the bass and melody notes. Once you find something you like, don't worry about naming it but simply write it down and remember it for future use in a song or chord progression. Many of the greatest musicians and compositions were founded on this principle of listening and not over-thinking everything, so feel free to abandon the theoretical approach and work on this exercise using your ears as a guide. If you're anything like me you'll gradually become obsessed with the puzzle-like nature of harmony on the guitar and find your fretboard and chord knowledge coming on in leaps and bounds.

I wish you luck and I'll see you in the lesson! Take care!

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