Moving Lines within Chords

Moving a melodic line through an otherwise static chord voicing yields a magical sound and huge creative dividends. Whether you’re composing or accompanying a singer or soloist, you’ll find new ways to use this technique every time you pick up the guitar. And as you’ll soon discover, the basic concept is fairly easy to grasp and execute.
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Ex. 1 begins with a simple fingerpicked D chord. To establish the rhythm, repeatedly pluck beats one and two using your thumb, index, and middle fingers. (Try a thumb, index, thumb/middle, index pattern.) When you’re solid with D, move on to Dmaj7, D7, and D6. As you tackle each chord, notice the line that descends in half-steps on the second string. Though your fingers must dance to accommodate each grip, from a musical standpoint, only a single note changes from one chord to the next. As the melody (D, C#, Cn, B) drops one fret at a time, the notes on strings four, three, and one remain unchanged.

In bars 3 and 4, the descending chromatic action jumps to string three (B, Bb, A). The companion notes stay static in bar 3 (arpeggiated G and Gm chords); in bar 4, the phrase resolves to an ascending D arpeggio and concludes with a flourish on string one.

We revisit our “one line moves against static harmony” concept in Ex. 2’s first and second measures, but this time the starting chord is a fifth-position Dm triad, and the moving line is on the third string. Even when we change chords in bars 3 and 4, the line continues to snake downward on the same string. Taken as a whole, this four-bar arpeggiated figure offers melody and harmony in essentially equal proportion. Right on—a mini orchestra at your fingertips!

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