Chord Melody for Beginners – Guide Tones

I think you’ll agree that chord melody on guitar is fun and exciting to listen to. 

In the hands of an experienced player, chord melody can sound like magic, like something channeled from the heavens onto the fretboard. 

Joe Pass, Lenny Breau, Johnny Smith, and many other jazz guitarists were masters of chord melody who inspired generations of players to play in this style. 


While you enjoy listening to chord melody, learning how to play chord melody seems like the mount Everest of jazz guitar to climb in the practice room. 

I felt this way when I was starting out with jazz guitar. I loved chord melody on records but had no idea where to start. 

So, I did what had always helped me in the practice room, I learned chord melody arrangements and broke them down into small, easy to understand chunks

I quickly learned that there wasn’t one way of playing chord melody, and in fact, I could get started writing my own chord melodies with just two-note chord shapes

It’s this approach to chord melody, call and response with the melody and guide tones, that you learn how to play in this lesson. 

Chord melody is always fun, but it doesn’t have to be complicated to sound good. 

Have fun as you explore this exciting, easy to play, and cool-sounding approach to chord melody on guitar. 

Lesson Goals

To begin, you learn what guide tones are, different guide tone positions for each chord in the Summertime based tune I composed for this lesson. 

Then, you learn a chord melody arrangement where I chose specific guide tones to play between each phrase in the melody. 

Lastly, you take the creative challenge where you alter, replace, and spice up the chord melody arrangement to make it your own in the practice room. 

To recap:

Learn about guide tones. 

Explore the guide tone options for this progression. 

Play the guide tone chord melody arrangement. 

Experiment and make this chord melody your own. 

This two-hands of a piano style of chord melody is not only the best first step when learning how to play chord melody, it stands on its own in a performance. 

Don’t think of this as something you only do in the practice room to learn chord melody basics. 

Think of this style of chord melody arranging as something you can use on a gig or jam session. 

I’ve played solo, duo, and trio performances with chord melodies in this style and brought the house down

They’re easier to play than other versions of chord melodies, add variety to your set list, and sound good. 

Have fun as you learn about guide tones and play a full chord melody arrangement in this lesson. 

What Are Guide Tones

Guide tones are the 3rd and 7th of any chord. 

They tell you, and the listener, whether the chord is major or minor and if it’s a maj7, 7, m7, etc. 

And, you convey all of that information with just two notes, making guide tones the most powerful chord shapes you can learn on guitar.

Oh, and because they’re only 2 notes, this makes guide tones compact and easy to play on the fretboard. 

You can’t help but love these small and powerful chord shapes.  

Now, there is one downside to guide tones, the lack of a root note

This means that you can’t just place the lowest note of any guide tone chord shape on the root and it’ll work out. 

Instead, you have to visualize the root note, 1 or 2 strings below any guide tone shape and use it to show you where to play the chord shape. 

Because of this hiccup, any time you learn guide tones, visualize the root note for the chord you’re on close to that shape. 

For example, if you learn the guide tones for Dm7, the first chord in the next section, the closest D root note is the 5th fret of the 5th string. 

You don’t play that note, but you can use it to quickly find these guide tones and transpose these shapes to other keys when needed. 

And, if that’s a lot to handle right now, finding root notes, not to worry. I provide you every guide tone you need and more for this tune in the next section. 

Now that you know what guide tones are, time to take them to the fretboard!

How to Play Guide Tones on Guitar

Now that you know what guide tones are, time to take them to the guitar as you learn them for each chord in the Summertime based progression below. 

Here’s a chart featuring a bunch of possible guide tones for each chord in the Summertime based tune. 

Play through these chords and visualize the closest root note to each guide tone to build that skill in your practicing

After you work these shapes, head to the chord melody below where I take one guide tone per chord and play it between the melody line phrases. 

Playing and building chord melodies in a two-hands of a piano style is easier than harmonizing every note. 

But the challenge comes with knowing where the guide tones are for each chord, and that takes time to learn. 

For now, use the given guide tones below. 

Then, with time and practice, you can learn how to find and play guide tones for any chord on your own. 

In the meantime, have fun digging into these guide tones in your studies as you build up to playing a full piano style chord melody in this lesson. 

Backing Track

Chord Melody Arrangement – Guide Tones

Here’s the chord melody arrangement with the melody line plus added guide tones between the phrases. 

Go slow as you start this chord melody arrangement. 

It might seem easy, especially when you see me do it in the video, but it takes time to get used to switching from single notes to chords in your playing

Work the chord melody without any tempo or time, then add in a metronome when comfortable. 

From there, build up to playing the arrangement over the backing track as you dig into this chord melody in your studies. 

Backing Track

Creative Challenge

It’s now time for the creative challenge where you experiment with different rhythms for the added guide tones in the arrangement you just learned. 

Keep the melody line rhythm and placement as is for now, so as written. 

Then, experiment with different rhythms for the guide tones as you get used to playing the chord melody different each time. 

You can also pick each guide tone separately and add in approach chords, sliding into a guide tone from above or below, to expand this challenge further. 

Lastly, feel free to play different guide tones from the chart earlier in this lesson to come up with your own chord melody arrangement in this style. 

Have fun as you bring a new level of creativity to this chord melody in your studies.