bluegrass

Have you ever been told to learn a song in every key? It’s often talked about but rarely done. Few things can improve your knowledge of the fretboard more than working out all your favorite licks and tunes in as many keys as you can. For this article I’ve taken a simple melody version of “Whiskey Before Breakfast” and arranged it in literally EVERY key!

Sometimes when I play a slower song, a single-note melody can seem pretty sparse. Chord melodies are a great way to fill out a tune. Sometimes we bluegrassers might think of chord melody as a complex jazz guitar technique, but once you’ve learned the process, you’ll find that it’s not difficult to create rich-sounding chord melodies on bluegrass, country, and folk songs.

The concept of chord melody is simple: you add a chord, or sometimes just a part of the chord, to the melody of the song. In the jazz tradition, the melody is always the highest-pitched note, and I find that this practice works well for bluegrass too.

We’ll create a chord melody to the song, “The House of the Rising Sun.” This song is familiar to most, and has an interesting chord progression. You need two things: the melody under your fingertips, and knowledge of the chords. For this example, I wrote a lead sheet with both melody and chords, available here.

I’ve been attempting to play traditional jazz and bebop ideas in a bluegrass context for a long time. To me, these styles are very similar in that they both require improvising over chord changes. The differences are in the way the licks are played, the note choice, and where on the neck the ideas are played. For this article I’ve chosen to use the standard 12 bar “jazz’ blues form in the key of G to compose three jazz blues solos for you to learn. What makes these solos unique is the use of the open position on the guitar. Jazz players do not utilize the open position the way bluegrass flatpickers do.

The last few weeks have been interesting to say the least. And if you’ve had a meltdown or cried during a work meeting or angrily taken 4-5 neighborhood walks a day during quarantine, you’re not alone, my friend. I, too, have done all of these things.  But today, we’re not going to focus on all …

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