Playing music "chord melody" style is one of the most satisfying ways to render a song we love, because we get to hear the melody as well as the background harmony. The "Happy Birthday" guitar chords are an excellent place to start to learn this skill.
Even if we are singing the melody to the song, it is really nice to be able to throw in a chord melody "break" in the middle, and then come back and sing the last verse. It's also nice because people are always impressed when they hear someone do a chord melody arrangement. It immediately puts you a cut above the "strummers".
So, whether for musical reasons, or to get that little "ego boost" we all need from time to time, check out this little introductory lesson. I have kept it simple; a simple song and a simple arrangement, just to get the point across, and give even beginners a chance to experience the style.
We have an easy key here on purpose. And what that means is that it is a key that allows us to use a lot of open strings. "Happy Birthday" is put in the key of G. On guitar, merely strumming the 2nd , 3rd and 4th strings is in itself a G chord, because those notes (D,G, and B) ARE a G chord. This makes it easy for us to do the thing you need to do in order to play chord melody; and that is to put the necessary melody note on top of the necessary chord.
Try out the lesson below. Make sure you follow the Practice Guidelines also. By doing so, you will make sure you avoid bad habits in the movements required to play the music. I recommend strumming through the arrangement with a pick. You could use your thumb instead. the important thing is to make sure that for every chord you strum, you bring out the top note (the last string sounded in the strum) clearly, because that IS the melody we want to hear ring out from the chord underneath it.
By the way, this is a good key to sing "Happy Birthday" in, so think of someone who has a birthday coming up, and plan to surprise them with your new chord melody arrangement!
Practice Guidelines For Happy Birthday
||As you place fingers 2&3, make sure you stay relaxed from hand to shoulder. Keep the Heavy Arm.
||On beat 1, strum to the 1st string, on beat 2, strum to the 2nd string. Block the 1st with the side of your hand.
On beat 3, place the 4th finger lightly on the 3rd fret. Leave the 3rd finger where it is.
||We are going to change from this G chord to a D chord, and we are going to do it in a very effective way. The 3rd & 4th fingers stays down, and we keep the fingers firm, with all the arm weight going through them. This allows us to have the other fingers light while we move them.
So, with 3 & 4 still down, we place the 1st finger on it's note, and we place the 2nd finger behind the 4th finger. AFTER these fingers are in place, we remove the 4th finger. We now have the D chord, and we switched to it in a very economical way.
This chord change should be practiced separately each practice session, using No Tempo and Slow Tempo practice.
||On beat 1, simply remove the 2nd finger. The tricky part here is the chord change on the 3rd beat. Try this: prepare the left hand for the change by replacing the 3rd finger with the 2nd finger on beat 2. That is, while playing Beat 1, sneak the 2nd finger right behind the 3rd which is playing then 3rd fret of the 2nd string. Then before playing beat 2, switch the 2nd finger for the 3rd.
This allows you to turn your hand and bring the 4th finger close to the 1st string, 5th fret, which is needed for beat 3. When you get to beat 3, simply drop 4 into place and strum. Watch that 3rd finger. Although it is not being used, keep it relaxed, separate from the 2nd finger, and low to the string.
||Careful here as you move the left arm out from the body to go back to the G chord at the 3rd fret. The 4th finger is your guide, staying on the string as you move down.
While you move, the 2nd finger extends over to the 6th string, ready to drop on the 3rd fret when you arrive. Watch your hand as you practice this move No Tempo. Watch your 3rd finger also, which must stay relaxed and ready for it's job on the 3rd beat, where it drops on the 2nd string.
||Time for a big move up the neck. Fortunately, it is an easy move, because only the 4th finger is needed, and it stays on the string as a guide as we slide up.
During the slide, you must remain relaxed AND you must keep the other fingers CLOSE to the strings, light, and relaxed. In fact, allow the 1st finger to lightly touch the 1st string also as you slide up. Have it stop at the 7th fret, so you end up in your new position with 4 on the 10th fret, and 1 on the 7th. Then, do your strums.
On the 3rd beat you need to slide back down the neck, ending with the 4th finger on the 3rd fret. Again, keep the 1st finger on the string as a guide until you get 4 into place. In fact, in your no tempo practice, make contact with the string on your way down by letting 4 touch the string AS the arm shifts down.
||(Note: Follow the tab here instead of the notes for the first chord. The computer insisted on making the top of the first chord an E instead of an F#, which it should be!)
You need to get into a C chord WITH the 2nd finger on the 2nd fret of the 1st string. This note is not a part of the C chord, but it IS the melody note of the song. You may say when you play this "Yuck, that sounds terrible". That's because it is a very "dissonant" note. It creates a lot of "tension" with the chord, but on the next beat it resolves into a normal chord tone.
This "tension and resolution" is found all the time in music, and is part of what makes a melody, or music in general, emotionally satisfying. It's like watching a movie, and seeing the hero get into trouble, and then get out of it: tension, and resolution.
In music, when a note is placed on a chord temporarily that is not really a part of the chord, it is called a "non-harmonic tone". This F# is a non-harmonic tone. On beat 2, you take the 2nd finger off, and play a normal C chord, with the open 1st string on top (E).
On beat 3, we need a high C melody note, so lightly place the 4th finger on the 1st string, and slide up to the 8th fret.
||Place the 3rd finger on it's note BEFORE taking 4 off, and simply transfer arm weight from the 4th to the 3rd finger.
On beat 2, slide down to the 3rd fret with the 2nd finger. Watch the 4th finger as you do so, and position it close to the 5th fret for its note on beat 3. Keep it relaxed and ready to be used. Touch it to the string, then lift 2 and move it to it's new note on the 2nd string, and also move 1 onto its note on the 2nd fret, 3rd string. If you have trouble with this chord, Pose on it.
||Slide 4 down to the 3rd fret, place 2 on the 6th string, Congratulations! You have reached the finish line. Now go cut the cake!
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