I am new to cigar box nation,  I learned to play the violin so I can pick out a few tunes, but I've never learned to play chords,  Is it possible to play the melody with chords so as the tunes are not just individual string notes.  How does one go about learning to play chords and maintain the melody?

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Hi Paul, welcome to the nation. As for your question, I'm the wrong person to ask as I'm still trying to learn myself, but to keep it simple, yes, it is possible to play melody with the chords as I have heard skilled people do it. As for how to go about learning...slowly seems to be the case for me. An old musician friend once told me, "practice, practice, practice" and I'm sure that's the answer, I just never seem to find the time. :)>

This interests me.   It is possible to play a melody with only chords, but not really DOABLE.   I think what folks do is combine notes and chords to play a melody.   Notes alone are pretty easy.   The more chords you play, usually the better sound.  I am trying a bit to get better at this.   But like Duck says, it take practice and I do not find the time.

 Thanks Duck and Uncle John. I guess I am not much of a musician, as I don't know chords at all,  how does one know where to insert chords into the melody and what chords to insert?  If I would learn a few basic chords could I insert those into the melody?  How would I do this?

Paul, first you need to get comfortable doing songs with chords.  Lots of how to play info here.  Top of the page.   Knotlenny's CBG 101 did me the most good at least in our cbg world. 

I think the answer is a bit genre and style specific.

But in most styles/genres, a chord sequence might be found in the rythym or supportive role, or a melody may play off of chords, or resolve to a chord at times. Just as you might play an alternating bass line on a chord, or "walk up" to a chord change.

I think the best answer might be to listen. Listen to some relevent pieces in the style you wish to play, and see how chords and melody might fit together. I believe some of my favorite sounding work comes from playing a melody "between" the chords, not playing the melody with chords, if you know what I mean?

As I think what my friend John is trying to say (more or less) is maybe learn a simple three chord strumming song version, then add some melodic notes between the chords. as your skill progresses.

It is an especially interesting question to ask, given that the violin/fiddle, and mandolin are both tuned in fifths, so the notes are in the same place, yet the typical and common styles of playing each is so different.

Much Mandolin playing emphasizes the 2 and 4 in the count with a "chop" chord and alternates between rythym and melody by the way, if you havent already noticed that?

Oh, and sorry it seems I am everywhere here Paul. I guess I am a member of too many groups here and get a notice no matter where you post eh?

Funny thing is the old timers here are asking where the hell has he been? LOL!

Where the hell has Mark Bliss been?

See? I told ya!

John, buddy, you wouldnt believe it if I told ya. that would be a long reply.

Bottom line is life has been VERY good for me for some time, and though "busy as a one armed wallpaper hanger" I have been checking in here as time allows a little more lately.

Seems the new guy Paul Cooper must have some similar interests and has posted questions in every group I am a member of this week. I've tried to make him feel welcome and as always, I've tried to be helpful. Guided him to you, so I cant be doing too bad.

Thanks, guys,  If i am understanding right, the chords come first, then the melody is worked in with the chords.

I guess I'll have to learn a few chords and see how and when to place the melody?  Thanks!


I started out as a rhythm guitar player. Chords only. The melody was provided by my singing voice, with the chords supporting that. Most singer-songwriters start out that way. Then, as almost every gitslinger does, I wanted to play lead. So I tried that for awhile, but found I'm not as good, fast or accurate at that as at playing rhythm. It wasn't until I started playing CBGs, with their apparent limitations of fewer strings and open tunings, and after some 35 years of playing 6-stringers in standard tuning, that I began to learn how to mix chords and melody. I play mine the way John says, chords interspersed with multiple note runs, alternating back and forth as the song requires. This is pretty common in rock, some blues, bluegrass, and country. I have friends who can play what I call chord melodies, which is pretty common in jazz and especially in classical styles. I'm still trying to learn how to do that. It involves, partially, suggesting the melody by arpeggiating chords so that the individual notes in a chord pick out the melody. If you play violin, I'm assuming you know how to read music. I'll bet that at least at some point, you have actually played chords on a violin. Fiddle players do this all the time, bowing two or even three notes simultaneously, although this is less common in classical violin pieces. You should be able, from a piece of standard notation, to see how chords are constructed, and apply that to, say, a 3-string CBG.

Thanks Oily,

I guess I'm going to have to learn mandolin chords from a book, then try to incorporate the notes. Yes, I can read music although I haven't done much with chords.  Thanks for taking the time to explain this.  I think I get the idea.  I can't wait to try this because  notes are not as pleasant fo listen to as notes plus chords.

Paul,  IF you have a mandolin, I suggest you find a website called Mandolin Cafe and find their

 2 finger chord charts.    Learn the G, C and D chords and find songs that use those 3 chords.   Get where you can play them easily and naturally and maybe sound out a simple song. 


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