Autumn Leaves Guitar Hacks – Easy Fingerstyle Lesson + TAB

Autumn Leaves Guitar Hacks – Easy Fingerstyle Lesson + TAB

Autumn Leaves Guitar Hacks – Easy Fingerstyle Lesson + TAB

Recently I’ve been on a mission – to make the easiest Autumn Leaves guitar arrangement ever created.

Hey, presto:

After weeks of experimentation and hours upon hours of blood, sweat, and tears, here is the easiest Autumn Leaves chord melody in the known universe.

(Well…there may be easier ones out there, but this version is very playable while still sounding like you’re playing jazz chord melody at a pro level 🙂)

I’ve tried every arranging trick in the book to keep this fingerstyle arrangement as simple as possible.

In this guitar lesson, I’ll show you how to play this Autumn Leaves chord melody, including notation + TAB, so you have everything you need to get this beautiful song under your fingers.

Speaking of the PDF…

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Autumn Leaves Guitar Lesson – Video Table Of Contents:

00:00 Introduction
00:55 Autumn Leaves Full Speed Demonstration
02:08 Slow Trainer (With On-Screen Notation + TAB)
04:02 Tip #1: Use Fingerstyle Guitar Technique
04:46 Tip #2: Jazz Barre Chord Techniques
07:47 Tip #3: How To Practice Guitar Chord Melody Arrangements
09:25 Tip #4: Phrasing & Melody Tips
12:16 Latin Version (Advanced)

Hint: Go to section 2:08 of the video to play along with me at a slow tempo with the sheet music on screen – nifty!

Autumn Leaves: The Most Famous Jazz Standard Of All?

Autumn Leaves was composed by Joseph Kosma, with original lyrics by Jacques Prever (English lyrics by Johnny Mercer).

Interestingly, although this is one of the most famous jazz standards of all time popularized by US artists, Joseph Kosma was a Frenchman.

Many jazz musicians, such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane, have recorded instrumental versions of this song countless times. Here’s an example:

Although it’s a cliched song now to play in a jazz lineup, I’ve never gotten tired of hearing this exquisite, haunting melody.

For a jazz guitarist, the chord changes are uncomplicated. Still, the genius of this song is its simplicity – from the use of relative major and minor ii – V – I progressions to the repetition of the same kind of melodic and rhythmic phrases over each chord change.

The English lyrics by Mercer are the icing on the cake that brings a whole new level of meaning to this song.

Best of all:

The way the melody is structured and the key of E Minor is perfectly suited to the guitar’s tuning – with the availability of all those handy open strings.

How To Play Autumn Leaves – Chord Melody Style

Sometimes the tiniest tweaks to a chord melody arrangement can yield enormous dividends to its playability and sound.

Although I’m using largely basic chord shapes and shell voicings, you may need to learn a few tricks to get these working well.

See below for some tips to make this arrangement easy on your fingers and to make it sound great.

Jazz Barre Technique

With jazz guitar chords, you’ll often need to do barres with fingers 2 and 3 – not just finger 1.

This ‘jazz barre’ technique might feel odd if you play classical guitar or other guitar styles – but it’s an essential skill for jazz chords.

Look at the sheet music of the arrangement, and you’ll see several places where you need to use these kinds of barres (specific instances are outlined later in this lesson).

Remember: everything becomes easier with familiarity.

If you practice these kinds of jazz barres for a short time daily, it won’t take you long before they feel second nature. See this post on jazz barres for some useful tips.

How To Play Chord Melody With Fingerstyle Guitar Technique

To play this arrangement effectively, you’ll need to have some solid fingerstyle guitar skills under your belt.

Fingerstyle allows you to simultaneously play independent bass lines, melody notes, and inner harmony, similar to Joe Pass’ chord melody guitar style.

The good news:

You only need to learn a few basic patterns to pull this off. See this post on a handy set of exercises to quickly develop fingerstyle technique:

Fingerstyle Tutorial: The Six Essential Fingerpicking Patterns You Need To Know

Autumn Leaves Guitar Arrangement: Bar By Bar Tips:

Let’s look at some tips for a few passages to help you get this arrangement up and running.

Autumn Leaves Chords – Bar 4:

Autumn Leaves Tablature

Here’s where you need to use one of those 3rd finger jazz barres I mentioned earlier.

Although this can feel initially like an unusual technique (especially if you play classical guitar), don’t get into the mindset of thinking it’s ‘difficult’ – it just feels ‘different’ and ‘new’ to flatten your 3rd finger like this.

Once you get used to it, it’s a natural technique that can be very useful for many jazz guitar chords.

Autumn Leaves Chords – Bar 6:

Autumn Leaves chords guitar

Here’s another jazz barre – this time with the 2nd finger. The ‘½BV’ means ‘use a half barre on the 5th fret’ (V is the roman numeral for 5).

Once again, practice with some jazz barre warmups to work out the correct technique to do this with your second finger – after a while, it will open you up to many more jazz guitar voicings, such as the chords in these 2-5-1 progressions.

Bar 12 – Alternative Fingering:

Autumn Leaves for guitar

Don’t be caught off guard by this tweak on the repeat of the A section. I used a slightly different pattern in the accompaniment this time around.

Here, I use an alternative fingering using open strings to facilitate a better sound and easier transition to the next chord. You’ll often find that these little tweaks can make an arrangement sound drastically better – and be much easier to play.

Bars 26 – 27: Common Chord Shape Down The Neck

Autumn Leaves chords jazz

It makes sense to look for patterns in chord shapes and common fingers in solo jazz guitar arrangements – especially when changing positions on the neck.

Notice how you can keep the same chord grip in bar 26 (in the red boxes) and slide that shape down the neck for bar 27. Noticing little hacks like this makes seemingly tricky passages much easier to play.

Bar 33 (Final Bar): Harmonics

Autumn Leaves solo harmonics

I often finish my jazz chord melody arrangements with harmonics, a neat effect that is easy to execute.

To play them, lightly touch the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd fingers with your 3rd finger in a barre, directly above the 12th fret.


Don’t push the strings down as if you would play them normally; simply touch them lightly. For an added flourish, you can ‘roll’ the fingers to rapidly arpeggiate them (you can hear me do this in the recording) – indicated by the squiggly arrow symbol in the notation. But if you find that difficult, just pluck the notes simultaneously (or strum them with your thumb).

Make sure you check out the full lesson video at the top of this page for more tips and a slow practice video with guided onscreen notation + TAB.

Play Autumn Leaves – Further Resources

  • If you’re interested in discovering more about this fascinating tune’s history, check out this great Wikipedia article on Autumn Leaves here.




  • And finally, if you want to learn how to arrange your own chord melody arrangements, look no further than my Chord Melody Foundations course here.

Reminder: Get your Handy PDF Download:

Click here to subscribe to get a print friendly version of Autumn Leaves sheet music and tab for your practice.

Guitar Lesson Wrap-Up – Leave a Comment:

I hope you have as much fun playing this chord melody as much as I enjoyed putting it together.

Over to you – what did YOU think of this Autumn Leaves chord melody arrangement? Leave your comments below – let’s get the conversation started….

About The Author: Greg O’Rourke

BMus (Hons), ANU
Professional Guitarist & Founder of

Greg O'Rourke - Jazz Guitar LessonsAward-winning Australian guitarist Greg O’Rourke received his Bachelor Of Music Honours degree in 2006 and was a scholarship holder at the Australian National University School Of Music.
Originally a trained classical guitarist, Greg has developed a high level of expertise in jazz guitar and other styles. Greg’s versatile guitar ability is a credit to several teachers he has studied with over the years, including Mike Price and Don Andrews, well-known performers and teachers in the Australian jazz guitar scene. Greg also studied extensively with Tim Kain, one of Australia’s leading classical guitar performers and teachers.

Greg has given prizewinning performances at the Australian National University Chamber Music Competition and was awarded 1st prize in the Chamber Music division of the 2004 Australian International Guitar Competition.

Greg has many thousands of subscribers to his website and Youtube channel from all across the world. He is also an established author, with his book on jazz chord melody, The Easy Guide To Chord Melody Guitar becoming an international bestseller.

Greg has been featured on several high-profile jazz guitar websites, including Jazz Guitar Online, Fundamental Changes, and Takelessons.

Chord Melody Guitar: Best Starter Guide For 2021

Chord Melody Guitar: Best Starter Guide For 2021

chord melody guitar course

Chord Melody Guitar Hub on FretDojo:

Welcome to the Chord Melody Guitar lessons area on FretDojo 

If you’re like most guitarists, you’re in wonder of players like Lenny Breau, Joe Pass, and Ted Greene in the way they can combine melody and chords on a single guitar. 

This skill doesn’t need to be a mystery… 

Developing the ability of a chord melody guitarist can be done step-by-step if you have the right resources. 

On this page, you’ll find a variety of lessons, chord melody courses, and useful information to help you on your journey into the incredible world of chord melody. 

Read on for all the info 

jazz guitar books
jazz guitar books mobile

Quick Start Guide: How To Learn Chord Melody Guitar In A Nutshell:

best chord melody guitar lesson

There’s an old saying that goes “If you can read, you can cook”.


If you can play chords and single lines, you can play chord melody.

Chord melody is a bit like baking a cake. You need to have all your ingredients in order, namely:

  • Chord Voicings
  • Single lines – i.e. scales, melodies, and licks
  • Adequate technique to play chords and melody at the same time.

If any of the above ingredients are missing, then you are going to find chord melody a struggle.


Let’s look at each of these areas in turn:

chord melody guitar ingredient 1Chord Melody Guitar Ingredient #1 – Chord Voicings

Goes without saying:

You need a good stock of chord voicings available to you if you are going to harmonize a melody with chords.

This is where a student can become quickly overwhelmed though…

If you read something like Ted Greene’s Chord Chemistry, you would be forgiven for thinking you need to know at least 200 million chord shapes before you qualify to play a jazz guitar chord melody.


Nothing could be further than the truth. In fact, less is more.

Here’s the thing:

Many jazz guitar chord voicings sound very similar to each other.

You can save a lot of time when starting out to be selective in the chord voicings in your ‘playbook’ – it makes the topic of chord melody far more manageable.

I tend to pick a voicing that is the most playable out of the available options – even if it’s missing some of the chord tones to represent the chord. Playability is the key.

For example, here are some chord shapes I enjoy using for chord melody that could be used for a C Major chord:


Takeaway: Develop a chord dictionary of voicings that will work over all the main chord types (major, minor, and dominant). Once you have that, apply voicings that have the melody as the highest note.

As you can hear: 

All these voicings tend to have a similar ‘major-ish’ sound about them.  

Also, notice how I’ve harmonized every note of the C Major scale – that gives me the ability to harmonize any note in the key. 

Ok, so that’s chords – which is a major part of chord melody. But it isn’t everything. 

Let’s have a look at ingredient #2…

Hint: My Chord Melody Foundations course comes with a complete dictionary of the most useful chord voicings I’ve found for this style of chord melody. 

Ingredient #2 – Single Line Melodies and Licks

Goes without sayin’…

If you don’t have a melody, you can’t have a chord melody.

Pretty simple right?


For chord melody on guitar, it’s important to be able to play melodies horizontally on the fretboard.

An example:

Let’s take a look at a short melody that I came up with below.

It’s going to be hard to fit chords underneath some of those notes.

So, let’s now play the melody horizontally on the fretboard like this:

This will enable me to fit the chord voicings we covered earlier underneath the melody line on the guitar.

Let’s now mix Ingredient #1 (chord voicings) with Ingredient #2 (single lines).

Applying the above voicings from my ‘chord dictionary’ to my melody, we get the following:

Hey presto! We have a little chord melody right there.

Notice though how I don’t necessarily need to harmonize every melody note. That can actually be detrimental to the music as the line becomes too ‘clogged up’ with chords.

I prefer to follow Joe Pass’s style: harmonizing the occasional melody note with chords.

After all…

If the music is easier on your hands, it will likely sound better too!

But there’s one more thing we need to really make our chord melody fly…


Takeaway: Develop your guitar technique so you can change chords and play melodies effortlessly – this will be one of the critical factors in your success as a chord melody player.


Ingredient #3 – Technique

Only half of a chord melody performance is in its arrangement.

Getting it to a stage where you can execute it requires a solid level of technique.

Ask yourself:

Are you playing the chords fluently?

Are you holding the melody notes for a suitable duration?

You could also use fingerstyle techniques to create interesting textures in the chords, like this:

Having solid left hand and right hand technique is indispensable for a chord melody guitarist, so it’s important that you spend time in your practice session working on exercises to shore up your techniques where you notice weaknesses.

For example:

If you are struggling to change chords in your arrangement, I would spend some time strumming the chord changes back and forth until it becomes natural.

Hint: Check out the FretDojo Guitar Exercises lessons hub for great free lessons and fully-fledged courses on developing your guitar technique and fingerstyle approaches.

Online Course – Chord Melody Foundations:


Learn More & Book Now Here >>

The above guide was a little snapshot of what’s in store if you enroll in my Chord Melody Foundations course.

It’s a 4 module deep dive program, comprising a complete A-Z guide of developing your skill as a chord melody guitarist.

The course includes a complete chord dictionary of the most useful voicings, and step-by-step video lessons on how to make great-sounding chord melody arrangements that can be played along with bass and drums, or on your own as a solo guitarist.

For more information, or if you would like to enroll in this popular course click here >>

This course not only teaches you to play an arrangement of a song, but the course covers a number of techniques where you can add your own individuality and your own personality to each song.

The whole course is a winner and I recommend it highly.

Angelo Fio, USA

Before I took this course I thought it was going to be way over my head. But Greg’s course is so so helpful. He’s been able to get you up and running with all the chords that you need.

He enables you to arrange a song of your choice, which is really exciting!

Colin Gardiner, AUS

FretDojo Academy VIP Club Membership:

Learn More & Book Now Here >>

With FretDojo Academy VIP Membership, you get access on a monthly subscription basis to 40+ courses where you’ll learn some of the most well-loved jazz standards – and develop all your guitar skills along the way.

Most of the jazz standard courses in the membership include example chord melody arrangements you can learn as well as detailed lessons on how to further develop this side of your playing.

Every month includes brand new lessons on well-loved tunes to broaden your repertoire and so you can continue to build your skills.

I’ve participated in TWO 12 week courses with an internationally famous music university…

I can safely say the investment in lessons with Greg has been worth more than 95% of all the other formal and informal education I’ve managed to derive for myself.

Gordon Hooper, South Africa

Greg O’Rourke has a wonderful teaching style – it’s straightforward, it makes sense.

I’ve been playing for so long by sound and feel, and I really needed a good, strong solid foundation for how to understand the fretboard and know where to navigate on the fretboard. FretDojo has been super-helpful to me in getting that done.

Mike Haas, USA

The Academy Membership is my most popular program with hundreds of students worldwide. It’s a great way to get access to a large part of the FretDojo lesson curriculum for an affordable monthly subscription. 

Find out more about the FretDojo Academy Membership here >> 

Bonus: Free Sample Lessons On Chord Melody Guitar

Over the years, I’ve released some handy sample lessons on to help get you started on this amazing style of guitar playing. See below for some of my most popular posts on the topic of chord melody: 


  • Chord Melody Guitar Basics – demonstrates yours truly transforming an original composition into a cool chord melody arrangement.
jazz guitar instruction

Any questions about our offerings? Click here to get in touch and we’ll be happy to help you out.

How about YOU – what did you think of this article on chord melody guitar? Any other ideas you would like to share? Leave a comment below to get the conversation started…

~ Greg O’Rourke

BMus, Hons (ANU)

Founder, Fret Dojo


4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists Part 4: Joe Pass

4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists Part 4: Joe Pass

4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists Part 4: Joe Pass

“Joe Pass looks like somebody’s uncle and plays guitar like nobody’s business. He’s called ‘the world’s greatest’ and often compared to Paganini for his virtuosity. There is a certain purity to his sound that makes him stand out easily from other first-rate jazz guitarists.” ~ New York Magazine, 1979

Last but certainly not the least, we now reach the last part of this 4 part series on the great chord melody players.

This guitarist impacted the jazz guitar world in a way no other player has.

Joe Pass is probably the most famous jazz chord melody player and one of the greatest and most prolific jazz guitarists of the 20th century. He was the most well-known mainstream jazz guitarist since Wes Montgomery.

Whether it was single note soloing, chord melody, solo guitar, or comping in the rhythm section, Joe was a master of all.

If you’re going to study only one chord melody guitarist in detail, choose Joe Pass – as his approaches to chord melody pretty much defined the style.

Read on to learn about his career as well as 3 classic Joe Pass chord melody licks to add to your chord melody toolkit.

Interested in arranging your own chord melodies? Check out my free eBook: Get a free copy of my how-to guide on creating cool chord melody arrangements on guitar by clicking this link now >>

Joe Pass’ Life & Career

Joe was the son of Mariano Passalacqua, a Sicilian-born steel mill worker.

On his 9th birthday, Joe received his very first guitar, a factory model bought for $17.

As early as 14, Joe was getting gigs and playing with people well beyond his years.

A few years later he unfortunately developed a heroin addiction and spent much of the 1950s in prison. Thankfully, he subsequently overcame his addiction and returned to his guitar playing in a big way.

Joe Pass ended up having a very high profile career, including long-term collaborations with Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson, as well as being a sideman to Louis Bellson, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan and others.

Joe Pass’ Journey to Solo Jazz Guitar

Joe’s career took some interesting twists and turns along the way.

First, check out this rare video of a young Joe Pass, early on in his career:

As you can see in this video, Joe is playing mainly single lines only. His single line solos are classic bebop at it’s finest, principally inspired by Charlie Parker and Django Reinhardt.

However, as his career matured Joe Pass gradually made a transition into focusing on solo chord melody guitar. He abandoned his guitar pick altogether, favouring a fingerstyle technique instead.

The landmark Virtuoso series of recordings signified this turning point in Joe’s career. Listen to these recordings as they are a good representation of his approach to chord melody.

Here’s the thing:

Some players get put off by Joe’s guitar tone in the Virtuoso recordings, and I agree that it’s a bit rough at times.

But if you look past that and listen to his ideas, you will really hear some truly groundbreaking stuff – Joe Pass took solo jazz guitar to a whole new level on these albums.

The challenge with an entirely solo jazz guitar concert is keeping the audience engaged and interested.

Joe Pass achieved this by using a potpourri of approaches in his arrangements: walking bass lines, extended virtuosic single note runs, surprising key changes, tasty chord phrases, and more.

His playing synthesized all of this into an exciting and expressive musical form.

The Jazz Guitarist Everyone Wants To Be

Joe Pass was a trailblazer when it came to solo guitar playing, and defined the style that has been emulated by countless players since.

Some may think that Joe Pass’ ideas are cliched – but remember that he came up with many of these cliches in the first place.

Joe had such a strong sense of melody. The melodic lines in his solos are incredibly sophisticated but are always accessible to the listener – the mark of a great jazz player.

He was very adept at using simple ideas and standard chord voicings, but using them in highly creative ways.

The feeling you get from listening to Joe Pass is that you don’t need to have a lot of ideas in your playing to make it sound convincing, you just need to use a few ideas very creatively.

3 Joe Pass Licks

Joe Pass’ chord melodies always put the melody line at the forefront. The main purpose of the chords is to support this.

Joe’s typical chord melody technique was to harmonize the melody with drop 2 and drop 3 chords.

I find Joe Pass’ style to be more technically demanding than that of Ed Bickert or Lenny Breau, but it’s essential to study in order to learn how to apply more stock standard chord voicings to a chord melody context.


Joe Pass Lick 1

In this first lick, you’ll see pretty standard voicings, but listen out for the skillful voice leading to and from each chord.

Mmm…that voice leading is as tasty as chocolate…

Listen & Play:




Joe Pass Lick 2

This next chord phrase is one that Joe Pass would typically use when accompanying a singer during a vocal break.

Note the use of the chromatic approach chord in bar 1 and the movement from natural tensions to altered tensions in bar 2.

And I’m sure you’ll recognize a typical Joe Pass cliché in the final bar:

Listen & Play:




Joe Pass Lick 3

The melodic figure on the first two beats of the next lick is a classic Joe Pass arpeggio phrase.

Once again you can see the chromatic approaches in this lick, movement from natural to altered tensions, and a heavy use of drop 2 chords:

Listen & Play:




Classic Joe Pass Recordings and Resources

Joe Pass left a huge legacy of recordings. Below is a selection of some of my favorite examples of Joe Pass’ chord melody style:

There’s also several Joe Pass books available covering many aspects of his wonderful guitar style – standard textbooks for any jazz guitarist:

I hope this article has got you interested to learn more about Joe Pass’ chord melody playing, whose ideas and approaches has inspired countless guitarists – and will continue to inspire many more in the future.

*Stop Press* New Chord Melody eBook Out Now!


I’m pleased to announce that Matt Warnock of Jazz Guitar Online and myself have spent this year co-writing a comprehensive guide on arranging chord melodies and how to master the art of chord soloing, entitled The Easy Guide To Chord Melody Guitar.

This brand new eBook is a complete A-Z guide on creating your own great sounding chord melody arrangements for trio and solo guitar situations, and you’ll also learn how to chord solo (i.e., improvise with chords) like a pro.

To find out more about the book and to get your copy, click here>>


Chord melody is one of the most satisfying ways to play jazz guitar.

Not only does it make your soloing more interesting, but you have the ability to play all on your own without a band – an essential skill for any jazz guitarist.

As you can see, each of these four jazz guitarist’s styles give you an idea of the multitude of directions you can take with your own chord melody adventure.

So, check out the players and the resources mentioned in this series of posts, and give chord melody a try if you haven’t already!

I hope you enjoyed these articles, let me know what you think by leaving a comment below…

Greg O’Rourke, BMus (Hons), ANU

4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists Part 3: Lenny Breau

4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists Part 3: Lenny Breau

4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists Part 3: Lenny Breau

“Lenny Breau is the greatest guitar player in the world. If Chopin could have played the guitar, he would have sounded like Lenny Breau.” ~ Chet Atkins

If I had to pick one player out of the pantheon of jazz guitarists who was the most creative, spontaneous and dynamic, the clear choice for me would be Lenny Breau.

Although his life was cut short by an untimely death, and his history was peppered with personal difficulties and drug problems, he achieved great artistic heights with jazz guitar, and his innovative approaches to the instrument have influenced countless guitarists since.

In this post, you’re going to learn some of Lenny Breau’s key approaches to chord melody jazz guitar, as well as get a background of his life and influences.

Let’s get into it!

Interested in arranging your own chord melodies? Check out my free eBook: Get a free copy of my how-to guide on creating cool chord melody arrangements on guitar by clicking this link now >>

Lenny Breau’s Life & Career

Born in 1941 in Maine, USA, Lenny’s parents were Harold “Hal Lone Pine” Breau and Betty Cody: professional country and western musicians.

After starting playing guitar at age 8, Lenny ended up being the lead guitarist for his parent’s band at the age of 14.

But, it didn’t last.

Around 1959, Lenny left the band after his father chastised him for using jazz lines in his lead playing – and actually slapped him in the face for it!

This event shaped Lenny’s destiny, as he then went to seek out local jazz musicians to collaborate with instead.

The rest is history.

Lenny ended up being a regular session guitarist for CBC radio and CBC television and even ended up having his own TV show, The Lenny Breau Show.

During his career, Lenny befriended Chet Atkins and the pair did many collaborations. Here’s an example:

Lenny Breau’s later career was mainly spent performing, teaching, and writing for Guitar Player magazine.

Lenny died in 1984, aged only 43, but left a huge legacy that should be studied in detail by all jazz guitarists.

An Original, Innovative Approach to Chord Melody

Blending many styles of music such as jazz, country, classical, Indian, and flamenco guitar, Lenny had a highly evolved fingerstyle technique that reached rare levels of virtuosity.

Check out this track of All Blues, which showcases Lenny Breau’s playing at its finest. This is from Live at Bourbon Street – my favourite Lenny Breau album:

As you can hear, Lenny’s playing is totally different to any other jazz guitarist you may have heard.

You might be fooled into thinking there are two guitarists onstage, instead of one.

This is why:

Lenny wanted the guitar to sound like a piano, with a pianistic ‘left-hand’ style comping and ‘right hand’ melodies.

This resulted in an entirely new approach to playing chord melody.

“I approach the guitar like a piano. I’ve reached a point where I transcend the instrument. A lot of the stuff I play on the 7-string guitar is supposed to be technically impossible, but I spent over twenty years figuring it out. I play the guitar like a piano, there’s always two things going on at once. I’m thinking melody, but I’m also thinking of a background. I play the accompaniment on the low strings.” ~ Lenny Breau

Complete Spontaneity

If jazz guitar was a martial art, Lenny Breau would have been a true kung fu master.

The reason?

Lenny is completely spontaneous and uninhibited in his soloing – you can tell that very little of his improvisations are premeditated in any way. Lenny responded dynamically to whatever his other band members were playing at the time.

This is what I like most about Lenny Breau.

He encapsulated the jazz ideal: spontaneous, original, and energetic musical expression in the present moment. This is what we are all aiming to get to of course, but few truly make it there.

Lenny proved that it can be done.

3 Lenny Breau Licks

As mentioned above, Lenny approached chord melody jazz guitar as if he was playing a piano, with the ‘left-hand’ (lower register) comping and the ‘right-hand’ (higher register) featuring elaborate melodic lines.

Not an easy feat, but Lenny developed clever approaches to get this effect, which the following licks demonstrate.


Lenny Breau Lick 1

Listen & Play:




Notice the types of chords that Lenny is playing in the lower registers throughout this lick.

As they are only 2 notes (usually the 3rd and 7th of the given harmony), it enables him to be very melodic with elaborate single line phrases in the upper voice.

Because of this clever three note voicing technique (i.e. 2 notes in the comping and 1 note in the melody), it freed up Lenny’s hand to play much more melodically than if it was being ‘strapped down’ by holding down too many notes (e.g. if he were to use drop 2 or drop 3 voicings instead).

Also noteworthy is some hip sounding offbeat comping in the lower register.

Trust me, it’s a lot easier to play than it sounds.

The 2nd bar features classic bebop vocabulary: a C#dim7 arpeggio (which is a 3 to 9 arpeggio of A7b9), followed by an A altered scale which creates tension in the melodic line.


Lenny Breau Lick 2

Listen & Play:




Here’s another example of a similar approach with three note voicings.

In the first bar, you can see Lenny slide into the comping with a chromatic approach towards the end of bar 1

This is followed by an elaborate single line that uses a 43241 bebop finger pattern in bar 2.

One of Lenny’s hallmark techniques was being able to hold long notes in the melody line while comping with offbeat figures in the lower register, giving the illusion of playing two guitars at once. You can see this in action in bars 1 and 3.


Lenny Breau Lick 3

Listen & Play:




To beef up a single line, Lenny Breau would often comp with three note voicings on every melody note, as this final lick demonstrates.

This is another textural effect you can add to your chord melody toolkit.

Also, note how the chords are anticipated on the offbeat to bars 2 and 3 (labelled ‘Ant’ in the notation).

Chord anticipation is a technique that was one of Lenny’s favorites – as it, in his own words, “gets the music to swing more”.

Lenny Breau Recordings and Resources

Lenny Breau left a large legacy of recordings; unfortunately, they are of varying quality.

But, by far my favorite is Live at Bourbon St. (recorded 1983) that features bassist Dave Young, but here are some other noteworthy recordings to check out:

  • The Velvet Touch of Lenny Breau – Live! (1969)
  • The Hallmark Sessions – (recorded 1961)

To get more on the life and background of Lenny Breau, check out the book One Long Tune: The Life And Music Of Lenny Breau by Ron Forbes-Roberts.


Lenny Breau’s chord melody techniques are excellent to study for chord melody beginners. They are relatively easy on the fretting hand yet still sound very effective.

That means that you can get started right away arranging swinging chord melodies that sound great.

To learn Lenny’s techniques in more detail as well is some other easy arranging techniques, check out this guest post I did recently for Jazz Guitar Online, Chord Melody Made Easy.

I hope this article has inspired you to check out more about Lenny Breau’s legacy.

Lenny was an astoundingly creative guitarist and an inspiring musician, despite the many challenges he faced in his personal life.

Studying his recordings has made a huge impact on my own playing, so I encourage you to do the same.

*Stop Press* New Chord Melody eBook Out Now!

Don’t forget, my new eBook, The Complete Guide To Chord Melody And Chord Soloing, has just been released!

If you want to learn the easy way to chord melody mastery, get your copy by clicking here.



I’m pleased to announce that Matt Warnock of Jazz Guitar Online and myself have spent this year co-writing a comprehensive guide on arranging chord melodies and how to master the art of chord soloing, entitled The Easy Guide To Chord Melody Guitar.

This brand new eBook is a complete A-Z guide on creating your own great sounding chord melody arrangements for trio and solo guitar situations, and you’ll also learn how to chord solo (i.e., improvise with chords) like a pro.

To find out more about the book and to get your copy, click here>>

In the next and final installment of this 4 part series on great chord melody players, you’re going to learn about perhaps the most famous jazz guitar chord melody player that ever lived.

He certainly needs no introduction. Do you know who I’m talking about?

I’ll see you in the next post!

Greg O’Rourke, BMus (Hons), ANU

4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists Part 2: Ted Greene

4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists Part 2: Ted Greene

4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists Part 2: Ted Greene

Have you ever heard of the Chord Chemist?

In part 2 of this special series entitled 4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists, you’re going to learn about a jazz guitar chord melody player who made a lasting impact on the jazz guitar scene.

Ted Greene is who I’m talking about, who many believe advanced solo jazz guitar to its highest point of development.

Ted was obsessed with chord voicings, and actually wrote a hefty instructional book entitled Chord Chemistry, which is the most comprehensive manual of guitar voicings ever published.

He was relatively unknown to the general public outside of jazz guitar circles, but Ted Greene’s contribution to the understanding of the guitar is profound.

His one and only album, Solo Guitar, recorded in 1977, is considered by many to be one of the most important solo jazz guitar albums ever to be recorded – it’s the duty of any aspiring chord melody player to check this one out.

Ted was an unbelievable musician, as you’ll hear in the examples below.

Interested in arranging your own chord melodies? Check out my free eBook: Get a free copy of my how-to guide on creating cool chord melody arrangements on guitar by clicking this link now >>

Ted Greene’s Life & Career

Ted was born in Los Angeles in 1946 but grew up in White Plains, New York. He began his study of guitar at age 11 and was quickly hooked.

Not exclusively being a jazz player, Ted, in fact, played and mastered many styles of music.

As his career matured, he tended to either play solo guitar gigs or accompany vocalists, as he found bands too limiting.

But most of Ted’s focus was that of an educator, writing a comprehensive series of instructional books on guitar harmony, chord melody and single note soloing.

Most of Ted’s day-to-day life was devoted to teaching his many students – there was always a long list of guitarists eagerly waiting for an opening in his jam-packed schedule.

Ted Greene’s Chord Melody Style

I want you to experience Ted Greene’s playing directly, rather than just me talking about it – so here it is!

The following performance of Send In The Clowns is from Ted Greene’s album, Solo Guitar.

This is my favorite track from this album. To be honest, whenever I listen to it I get tears in my eyes. Ted’s music is powerful and very moving.

Solo Guitar Transcription

Rather than just go through a few licks with you in this article, I have something even better.

How cool is this – I found complete transcriptions of Ted Greene’s album, Solo Guitar, free to download online at The Ted Greene Archive (

Click here to go to to access the PDF transcriptions now!

When studying the chord melodies of Ted Greene, it’s best to learn a complete transcription of one of his recordings like this one – it will give you a good overall sense of his techniques and ideas when it came to solo guitar chord melody.

Ted Greene and…Bruce Lee?

Ted Greene is one of those rare musicians that has completely transcended style, and in a utterly non-contrived way.

Listen to the video of Send In The Clowns above and ask yourself: is it jazz? Is it classical? Is it film music? Is it pop or rock?

I think it’s, in fact, none of these – Ted’s style is something entirely new.

Ted’s playing brings to mind the thoughts of Bruce Lee, a philosopher that really inspires me.

(You can probably tell that from the design of this website… :-)

Bruce Lee was critical of martial artists rigidly applying themselves to just one style, as it essentially boxed in a practitioner and put limits on their understanding and ability:

“Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.”

“Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow…”

~ Bruce Lee

In the context of jazz guitar, I think Ted Greene managed to achieve what Bruce Lee was talking about here.

Ted transcended the limitation of style, and in doing so created his own personal approach.

To use Lee’s words, he added something that was uniquely his own.

A Master of Harmony

I think one reason for Ted Greene’s incredible skill was his supreme knowledge of Western harmony.

Ted was an avid reader of nearly any book of music theory, and was skilled in distilling complex concepts into easy to understand principles for his students – concepts that could, in fact, be applied to any style of Western music – not just jazz.

If you want no better example of his ability to combine and transcend style, check out this video of Ted improvising spontaneously over Autumn Leaves at one of his workshops at the request of a student – combining classical baroque music and jazz!

Intellectual appraisal aside, the thing I really love most about Ted Greene is that his playing is painfully beautiful – it’s like a window into his soul.

After all, his encyclopaedic knowledge of chord voicings wasn’t a means to an end, it was just the foundation upon which he created a unique, personal and wonderfully expressive sound.

There has been no other guitarist quite like Ted Greene and I don’t think there will ever be another like him in the future.

Further Ted Greene Resources

As I mentioned above, Ted only recorded a single album – Solo Guitar (1977) – but this is required listening for anyone interested in chord melody, and particular solo jazz guitar.

It would be worth checking out Ted’s jazz guitar instructional books. They are a complete resource in itself for any jazz student:

If you’re looking for a great read, check out the book by Ted’s wife Barbara Franklin, entitled My Life With The Chord Chemist: A Memoir of Ted Greene, Apotheosis of Solo Guitar, which recounts Ted’s early life and development as a musician, as well as an insightful narrative of the 13 years prior to his death.

Something I found when I was doing the research for this article was this page on a tribute website, Memories of Ted, with real life stories about Ted Greene by his many guitar students. Reading these stories paints a picture of not only of an extraordinary musician but, most importantly, of Ted’s kind and generous heart.

Finally, check out the resources at, which has a vast archive of lessons and recordings by Ted.

I hope you enjoyed this exploration into the world of Ted Greene, one of my all-time favorite chord melody guitarists.

Let me know what you think about this article by leaving a comment below!

My New eBook, The Easy Guide To Chord Melody Guitar – Out Now!


I’m pleased to announce that Matt Warnock of Jazz Guitar Online and myself have spent this year co-writing a comprehensive guide on arranging chord melodies and how to master the art of chord soloing, entitled The Easy Guide To Chord Melody Guitar.

This brand new eBook is a complete A-Z guide on creating your own great sounding chord melody arrangements for trio and solo guitar situations, and you’ll also learn how to chord solo (i.e., improvise with chords) like a pro.

To find out more about the book and to get your copy, click here>>

That wraps up the second installment of this four-part series on the great jazz guitar chord melody players.

Next week, you’re going to learn about Lenny Breau, one of my own key influences when it comes to chord melody playing.

I’ll see you then!

Greg O’Rourke, BMus (Hons), ANU

4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists Part 1: Ed Bickert

4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists Part 1: Ed Bickert

4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists Part 1: Ed Bickert

In the second half of the 20th century, four of the most exceptional chord melody guitarists emerged on the jazz guitar scene.

In this four-part series of posts, you’re going to learn about these important players lives, their style, and how they each of them made a huge impact on jazz guitar as we know it.

You’re also going to learn classic licks and transcriptions of these players so you can incorporate their ideas into your own playing.

As you’ll discover, chord melody allows for a lot of individual expression and creativity.

Each of these players had a groundbreaking approach to chord melody with a sound totally unique to their own.

Let’s see what’s possible with chord melody guitar, starting with one of my favorite players, Ed Bickert.

Interested in arranging your own chord melodies? Check out my free eBook: Get a free copy of my how-to guide on creating cool chord melody arrangements on guitar by clicking this link now >>

Part 1: Ed Bickert

Though he was not well known, I consider Ed Bickert to be one of the trailblazers of jazz guitar.

I’ll go even further to say that Ed Bickert is one of the greatest jazz guitarists the world has ever seen – I think his name deserves as much recognition as Joe Pass or Wes Montgomery.

The reason?

Bickert had very innovative approaches to chords and chord melody playing, as you’ll see in some of the examples below.

Ed Bickert’s Life & Career

Ed Bickert was born in Manitoba, Canada, to a family of farmers. His parents were musical, with his father being a fiddler and his mother a pianist.

Deciding to pursue music instead of farming, Bickert quickly established himself as a success, becoming one of the top jazz and studio guitarists of the scene in Toronto in the 60s.

But Bickert’s real lucky break came when he was introduced to Paul Desmond by Jim Hall, (Ed and Jim were friends), which led to several collaborations between Desmond and Bickert.

Bickert continued to play until the early 2000s, when he then retired.

Unlike other jazz masters, Bickert quietly pursued his art and didn’t overtly seek fame or success.

I think this is one of the reasons why Bickert developed such a uniquely personal style, as genuine as it is groundbreaking.

Now, let’s check out some of his playing.

Ed Bickert’s Style – Smooth As Silk

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

But a video is worth a million.

So, check out this video of Bickert playing in a trio of the classic jazz standard Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me as a fine example of his silky smooth style:

(By the way, if you want to learn Ed Bickert’s solo off this track, click here for a closeup video walkthrough I found on Youtube and click here for a video of the notated transcription)


If I was only allowed to choose one player to emulate in a trio setting it would be Ed Bickert – laid back yet refined, I could listen to him all day long.

As Bickert plays a solo he often interchanges between single line, chord stabs and full chord soloing, skilfully creating interest and variety as you can hear in the video above.

What I love most about Bickert’s playing is his unique approach to chord voicings: easy on the hands, but very sophisticated.

Bickert was the master of implying harmony with chords.

His chords give the impression to the listener of many more notes being played in the voicings than what is actually there.

For jazz guitar, it’s usually only practical to play three or four note chords, so you need to make sure you get the most ‘bang-for-your-buck’ out of the chord tones for each shape you hold down.

Bickert’s voicings live on the upper structures of the harmony: he rarely plays the root or 5th in his chords and often uses quartal approaches.

Here’s the thing:

If you try to play Bickert’s voicings unaccompanied, they can often seem quite dissonant and unrelated to the given harmony.

But, in the context of a trio, they blend in beautifully – giving a warm, listenable, and attention grabbing sound to your comping and chord solos.

3 Ed Bickert Licks

No more armchair jazz guitar! It’s time for you to get to work now.

Get started by learning the following 3 licks in the style of Ed Bickert, which are strong examples of his key ideas.


Ed Bickert Lick 1

Listen & Play:




This first lick, based on a I – vi – ii – V turnaround, features colorful chord voicings at every turn.

Notice the skillful ‘smooth as silk’ voice leading that Bickert employs in this lick as he moves from chord to chord.

Also noteworthy is that all the chords in this lick are rootless voicings.

The reason?

If you’re playing in a trio, the bass player is usually playing the root notes, freeing you up to play more colorful tones on top.

Whilst this lick might sound a bit strange unaccompanied, try it along with the recording and it will make sense.


Ed Bickert Lick 2

Listen & Play:




In this lick, Bickert employs open strings to great effect.

Bickert liked using chord clusters, i.e groups of notes very close together. Employing open strings results in a chord cluster which can be otherwise be too tricky to play on guitar.

Again you’ll see the use of entirely rootless voicings, with Bickert playing exclusively in the upper structures of the harmony.

Also, notice that deliciously smooth voice leading that Ed Bickert is renowned for.


Ed Bickert Lick 3

Listen & Play:




I love this one.

The first chord is a sub of the iim7 chord, becoming a V/V7.

There’s also lots of chords in this lick with a b13 tension, giving it a really hip sound.

As this lick finishes on a I7 chord in the harmony, it’s a good one to use for a jazz blues progression.

Great Recordings of Ed Bickert

This list isn’t exhaustive, but is a good place to start checking out Ed Bickert’s playing at his finest:

  • Paul Desmond & Ed Bickert – Pure Desmond (1974)
  • Paul Desmond Quartet Live (1975 )
  • Out of The Past (1976)
  • Ed Bickert with Don Thompson: At the Garden Party (1979)


Despite being the musical equivalent of a ‘hidden yogi’, Ed Bickert is a master musician and essential study for any serious chord melody jazz guitarist.

His chord voicings are sophisticated yet easy to apply, which will give you a dynamic sound in your chord melodies and will help break you away from the more stock standard drop 2 and drop 3 chord voicings.

I encourage you to find out more about this fabulous player, one who should be more well known to jazz guitarists everywhere.



My New eBook, The Easy Guide To Chord Melody Guitar – Out Now!

My New eBook, The Easy Guide To Chord Melody Guitar – Out Now!


I’m pleased to announce that Matt Warnock of Jazz Guitar Online and myself have spent this year co-writing a comprehensive guide on arranging chord melodies and how to master the art of chord soloing, entitled The Easy Guide To Chord Melody Guitar.

This brand new eBook is a complete
A-Z guide
on creating your own great sounding chord melody arrangements for trio and solo guitar situations, and you’ll also learn how to chord solo (i.e., improvise with chords) like a pro.

We’ve heavily referenced Ed Bickert throughout this book, so check it out if you’re keen to learn more about this genius of jazz guitar.

To find out more about the book and to get your copy, click here>>

I hope today’s post has inspired you to learn more about Ed Bickert. Let me know what you think about this article by leaving a comment below.

In the next installment of this 4 part series, you’re going to learn about a guitarist known as the ‘Chord Chemist’. Do you know who it is?

Keep a lookout for the upcoming post to find out!

Greg O’Rourke, BMus (Hons), ANU


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