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.