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Solo fingerstyle – play melody notes over any chord

Melody notes over chords

Solo fingerstyle guitar seems like one of those impossible tasks… being able to play melody notes over any chord seems to be a real challenge? How do musicians like Sungha Jung, Adam Rafferty and Tommy Emmanuel manage the play the melody, bass and harmony all at the same time?  Firstly, they practice … a lot! Secondly, it takes a solid technique.  Thirdly, they all use capos.

Guitars are tuned to EADGBE, which lends itself to specific sounds and keys.  If a song is in an unfriendly guitar key (such a Ab) or the melody notes are higher up the fretboard, those legends of fingerstyle guitar will use a capo, just like the rest of us.  Sure, they may suddenly fly up the fretboard for a few bars, but most of the time they are using a capo with open chords.  From the open chords, they can pick out the melody notes to play the tune we all recognize.

How to play the melody notes over any chord?

Within all the basic chord shapes, it is quite easy to play an octave.  It took me a long time to realize this.  Once I grasped it, my fingerstyle playing improved significantly.  So save yourself some time and learn where the easy to reach melody notes are:

C Chord

C Major Chord

The melody notes from G (open, 3rd string) to G (3rd fret, 1st string) are all available within reach of a C Major chord.  Due to the shape of a C chord, the fingers are slightly bunched up, which can make it a little tricker than some of the other shapes.

A Chord

The A chord has two options (1) the open version of the chord or (2) the partial bar version of the chord.

Open A chord shapes

There are two common fingerings for the open A chord shape.

A Major Chord
A Major Chord type 2

The Open A version has an octave from G (open, 3rd string) to G (3rd fret, 1st string).

A type 1 Fingerstyle Melody

Depending on which version of the chord you play the fingers will be slightly different.

1/2 = 1st or 2nd finger
3/4 = 3rd or 4th finger

Partial barre A chord shape

A Major Chord type 3

The partial barre frees the fingers to play an entire octave of notes from A (2nd fret, 3rd string) to A (5th fret, 1st string), which is one tone higher than the open A chord version.

G Chord

The G chord has two options (1) using the 3rd finger for the bass note or (2) using the 2nd finger for the bass note.

Open G chord – 3rd finger bass note version

G Major Chord Type 1

This version of the standard G shape provides an easy to play Octave from G (open, 3rd string) to G (3rd fret, 1st string)

G type 1 Fingerstyle Melody

Open G chord – 2nd finger bass note version

G Major Chord type 2

The second version of the standard G shape provides an easy to play Octave from G (open, 3rd string) to G (3rd fret, 1st string) and could even play the top A on the 5th fret, 1st string at a stretch.

G type 2 Fingerstyle Melody

E Chord

E Major Chord

The E chord provides an easy to play Octave from G# (1st fret, 3rd string) to G# (4th fret, 1st string).

E type 1 Fingerstyle Melody

D Chord

The D chord is one of the trickiest in fingerstyle guitar.  The bass note is normally found on the 4th string, which does not leave much room to play the melody and harmony at the same time.

Much like the A Chord, there are two options (1) the open version of the chord or (2) the partial bar version of the chord.

Open D chord shape

D Major Chord

The open D chord also provides the notes from G (open, 3rd string) to G (3rd fret, 1st string). 

D type 1 Fingerstyle Melody

Partial barre D chord shape

D Major Chord type 1

The partial barre version of the D chord provides access to an octave of notes from A (2nd fret, 3rd string) to A (5h fret, 1st string).

D type 2 Fingerstyle Melody

Download the cheat sheet

All of this can be a little bit too much to remember.  So download my helpful cheat sheet.

Download

Conclusion

Fingerstyle guitar relies heavily on a good understanding of where the melody notes are.  By following this post you know how to reach the most accessible notes.

Melodies are often wider than one octave, so this is just the start point.  But getting a good quality capo will certainly help to put more songs within reach of your fingers.