Why doesn’t everyone play solo chord melody guitar (aka classical/fingerstyle/jazz/pop) music? Over 4 years ago a group of players (later to become the Six String Logic ‘family’) started a dialogue about what we’d do to help players learn complete songs solo – the one thing most players don’t do.
Some of us had intended to study with Ted Greene when we ‘retired,’ or were trying to find a simple consistent way to learn (and teach) solo chord melody. Existing material had some challenges.
Why Doesn’t Everyone Play Solo Chord Melody?
- The phrase “chord melody” has connotations of Jazz. Not everyone wants to learn jazz.
- It was hard to learn. Reading chord notation is considered difficult, box diagrams are incomplete. TAB is incomplete. And where do you begin? Does this music need to be difficult?
- Everything was style oriented. “Chord melody” (jazz) vs. “solo guitar” (classical) vs. “fingerstyle” (Country) vs. all the other musical styles. Why were certain methods focused on style?
- It was too difficult. This music is often taught with explanations of “WHY” you use a particular chord or voicing. Lots of people don’t want to know all that. They just want to play.
Meeting the Challenges
- FIX THE NAME – “Chord melody” is a term used by jazz guitarists for at least 2 specific styles of playing. We weren’t thinking ‘style.’Weren’t Chet Atkins and Ted Greene playing forms of chord melody when you think about it? Musical styles vary, but Ted had done everything from Bach to jazz to film scores. And what about all the classical guitarists who played solo pieces? And when you think of pianists, their solo music isn’t even called “chord melody.” Dan and Tony and I play Ted stuff and Chet stuff. It felt the same at the heart of it. It was really just fingerstyle techniques. That produced item #2.
- GET AN IDENTITY – What is this solo guitar thing we’re thinking of? What do we call it? The term “chord melody” in jazz had two distinct definitions: solo guitar, and trio or quartet guitar like Barney Kessel, Herb Ellis, and all. And it was jazz – style again. The phrase “solo guitar” was claimed by classical musicians. “Solo Pop Guitar” had the wrong emphasis – on style. I asked for suggested names in forums and social media and it was plain that the phrase “chord melody” was tied to jazz in solo or group format and there was no name in common usage. We lost the battle on a name. We’re still looking for a better name, because our arrangements include jazz, pop, country, holiday, worship, bossa-types, and even a TV show (I Love Lucy), a waltz film score (“Love Theme from Butch Cassidy” ), and a big band style block-chord arrangement with “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You.”
- INCREASE ACCESSIBILITY – Access and easy-to-learn were key. That meant pure music notation was not enough. Worse than that, it intimidates beginning students. Ted Greene’s X, O, Dot, Square, Triangle was too confusing to decode for many students.
a) We needed to keep it SIMPLE. There had to be consistency in how we taught. Students shouldn’t have to learn a new way to learn every time they pick a new arrangement.
b) Diagram size was also an issue. We needed bigger diagrams.
c) Video with multiple cameras had many answers, but created some problems.
Video quality and speed were important. Audio quality had to be good.
Running time was also important – long videos were too big on disk and too long. We needed “simpler but still accurate.”
Graded arrangements were needed so beginning solo players, especially coming from rock, blues, and pop, could start somewhere near their playing level. (A master at blues guitar could hardly be called a “beginning student.”) This meant we shouldn’t grade the players, we should grade the arrangements. (We make a big effort to use the word “beginning” and not “beginner” in our documentation, for example.)
Get the professional perspective – economy of movement, fingerings, voicings, substitutions, tempos, and performance approach. We needed to include the ideas that we found in our own videos that really were great tips for many songs, not just the one song the idea appeared in.
- GET ‘EM PLAYING – As a big proponent of harmony and theory I initially thought we’d talk about it. I soon realized the videos would be too long. We needed to focus only on playing. And for beginners and newbies that is really all that matters. If you can play the song, the interest in other things will come. That sprouted the “Don’t learn to play. Play to learn.™” idea. That also drove the recognition that “solo chord melody” (as we call it at the moment) got hung up on learning the arrangement and the chord fingerings, at the same time. We built the chord chart to show the fingerings in order and noted in our lesson that you should learn the chords FIRST. Then the arrangement would be much easier to play. Once you can make the changes smoothly, adding the melody is easier.
- PROVIDE VARIETY – Lastly we needed variety of music because our idea was to introduce “solo mainstream-chord-melody-performance” to everyone. (I told you we needed a name.) Not only did we want to attract guitarists from different styles, we wanted to expose different styles to guitarists. (A Ted Greene inspiration to be sure.)
So That’s What We Tried to Do, and Why We Did It
And on our third anniversary we thank you for your interest and support, and we hope the teachers in the audience will find value in our approach – the “Logic” in Six String Logic.
And to be clear, every guitarist should be playing complete arrangements, simple or complicated. You learn about your own sound, the subtleties of music, your skills improve, and you can finally play something when grandma Olive asks “Why don’t you ever play a song!?”