Chord Melody Guitar One

I just started the Chord Melody Guitar One course. I am very good at playing the whole neck in any key. I am used to using my thumb on my right hand to pluck the strings and I go up and down the strings of the guitar with my left hand as I progress up and down the scale of any key. I feel like I am almost starting over dedicating my thumb on my right hand to the low bass note and using my fingers on my right hand to pluck the other strings. On my left hand, I am using my middle finger on the tonic note. It is slowing getting used to it. Is there any tips? Does anyone else feel like this is a complete new skill set with this course compared to the improvise for real course. Let me know Thanks

After a couple of days now I’m starting to get more used to playing in this fashion using my thumb to play the bass note or tonic and using my other fingers to pluck the strings. I assume in the video when you’re playing the strings in this matter you’re actually plucking the strings upwards. I have now started playing using my thumb also to pluck the strings down words and then when I want to add the base note I put the thumb back on the tonic and that seems to be working out well too. Am I overthinking this or is this basically part of the process let me know

Hi @Randy Well yes it’s new, but to me that feels like a perfectly natural thing to find in such a course:

a) Chord Melody Guitar is a course specifically for guitar, so it’s likely there will be stuff about guitar technique that wouldn’t be appropriate in the ‘All Instruments’ IFR book.
b) The IFR book is largely from the point of view of playing melody (i.e. one note at a time), whereas Chord Melody Guitar extends things to chordal harmony.

I hope that makes sense?

In case you’re not aware @Randy if you want to grab someone’s attention (e.g. if your question is directed to David Reed?) then it’s a good idea to put their username tag in the message. For David that’s @ImproviseForReal

I hope that helps.

Hi @DavidW , I always appreciate David’s help but I thought this forum allows you to direct advice from anyone in the forum that could shed some light on current challenges. I am sure I will get a lot out of this course and I just wanted to make sure I was going about it the best way possible to get the quickest progress.

Yes it does, but there may still be occasions when you want to highlight something to one or more known users.

I’m not sure how many people there are here who’ve done the course? I did both of the courses a couple of years ago, before they arrived at their current format (it was essentially the same content, but divided up a little differently to suit a different presentation format).

I’m hoping to do a second run through in the not too distant future using the current ‘video course’ format.

Hi @Randy, thank you for bringing your questions to this forum. I also received your question via e-mail and I’m sorry it has taken me a few days to respond. But it’s really much better to discuss our questions here because often other students will either have the same question, or will have useful insights about it. So thank you for doing that. And thank you @DavidW for responding to Randy in your usual kind fashion.

@Randy, the answer to your question is that for you, this is absolutely part of the process. If you haven’t experienced playing fingerstyle before, then that’s going to be a whole new experience for you to explore, discover and hopefully enjoy. The most important thing is to approach these new experiences with the right mindset, one that will make the journey enjoyable and ultimately make you successful. If you approach your music practice with a “transactional” mindset (giving something only in order to get something), then you’ll miss out on both the fun and the learning, because you’ll be too worried about how efficiently you’re using your time, and how quickly you’re developing the “skill” that you want. In this mindset, the notion of learning an entirely new skill feels overwhelming, like a huge burden and a setback.

What we need is just the opposite, a mindset which rejoices at the possibility of learning a new skill. For this it’s helpful to remember that our brains don’t learn in linear fashion. When you’re taking your first clumsy steps in fingerstyle guitar, you aren’t going “backwards” in any way. You’re lot losing proficiency with a pick, or losing time in your music project in general. EVERY experience you have nourishes your musical mind in ways that you can’t even notice until later. Even those first clumsy exercises in chord melody style present countless opportunities to discover beautiful combinations of notes. In fact, even your clumsiness itself is an asset, because it will force you to go slowly and play the same few notes over and over again. And it’s that personal, private experience with the notes that gives you a true understanding of the sounds. This understanding goes far beyond fingerstyle guitar, and the personal relationship that you develop with these sounds is something that will even change your playing with a pick.

But I wouldn’t say that you’re overthinking it at all. On the contrary, I think you’re asking a fantastic question about our music practice. My own answer would be to examine the feelings that come up for you on this issue, and ask whether you have been successful in creating a music practice in your life that allows you to enjoy these explorations calmly. Time pressure ruins everything. No learning is possible when we’re in a rush. What we need is an atmosphere of calm, quiet contemplation that allows us to truly enjoy these new physical discoveries the same way a baby enjoys learning to crawl.

That’s my take on it, anyway. If anyone else cares to share their own experiences and perspective, please do!


Thanks @imrpoviseforreal, I have done some finger picking playing chords instead of strumming but I have usually used my thumb to play individual notes. What I have been doing with this new course is using my fingers to pluck individual notes but also using my thumb to pluck notes and bringing my thumb back up to hit a bass note (tonic) . Is that ok or is it a bad habit? Also probably a stupid question but when I use my thumb to pluck a note i a hitting it downwards but when I use my fingers I am plucking it upwards like a bass player would, is that correct. Let me know Thanks

Hi @Randy , I can only give you my perspective on this so I would caution you against giving any special weight to my opinion. But my personal belief is that most musicians worry far too much about “bad habits”. The only truly bad habit in music would be to play in a way that causes injury. Other than that, I think the world would be a much richer place if we all had the courage to explore our OWN ways of playing our instruments. When Wes Montgomery was learning to play everything with just his thumb, I’m pretty sure that exactly zero guitar teachers told him that this was a good idea. But what would his music be without that soft, warm sound that he got with his thumb? So there’s really nothing to be afraid of in exploring the physical technique that gives YOU the greatest pleasure in expressing your sound. And if you have some experience with fingerpicking, it doesn’t surprise me that you would find it comfortable to use your thumb to express some of your melody notes. I really only use my thumb to play the lowest note of a chord when I’m playing two or more strings together. If I’m playing a single note by itself, I will almost always use either my index or middle finger. But that’s just my own personal preference. I don’t foresee anything but positive creative discoveries if you go off in a different direction.

Ok thanks. And when you’re plucking the strings with your fingers I assume you’re plucking it up when you’re using your fingers I have no experience using my fingers plucking the string down?

@randy My take on this is pretty much what I take @ImproviseForReal to have suggested, i.e. try it. If it works for you great, if not just that’s something you’ve learned.

With your questions about up & down are you maybe seeing the fingers as direct pick equivalents, i.e. with a pick you are used to making distinct use of both up & down, so maybe the same with fingers?

My take is that fingers are fingers & picks are picks; they are both ways of plucking strings but they are not the same.

When I started Chord Melody I’d only been playing for around 6 months or so & was a pick user. Doing Chord Melody got me thinking about using fingers. I found I liked fingers. I also found I didn’t like using finger nails, preferring the tone I get from plucking with flesh (both fingers & thumb). I might occasionally pluck with a nail edge for ‘effect’ (it’s possible even when they are very short, as I now have them). On other occasions I might use the ‘flat’ of a nail to ‘flick’ a string or strings. I push down with the thumb & up with fingers. The opposite is not impossible (but not easy either) & I’d probably only do it if I thought it provided some desirably different sound. In a situation where I might use up & down if using a pick, with fingers the solution might be multiple fingers; it would depend on what the aim was. Mostly I use index & middle (& thumb). Occasionally I use ring. Rarely I use ‘pinky’.

That’s all stuff I’ve found by experimenting. It didn’t happen in an instant, it was a gradual process (which is on-going). I see it as part of establishing my personal ‘style’ & tone.


Thank you @DavidW for sharing your experience with all of those different fingering possibilities. It’s interesting to hear about your process.

@Randy, yes, the primary way that I’m using my fingers in the video course is to play down with the thumb and play up with the other fingers. So when you play with thumb and fingers simultaneously, you’re essentially bringing the thumb and fingers together in a closing motion.

The actual motion is slightly different from just bringing the thumb and fingers together. It’s a bit more like the feeling of screwing a bottle top (in the direction to close the bottle), because the fingers and the thumb don’t come directly at one another. But the first answer to your question is just to clarify the basic directions that the fingers are moving. And you’re right that the fingers are moving upward while the thumb moves downward.

If you want to see this motion more clearly and discover exercises that you can practice to gain more control over your sound, a simple YouTube search on “classical right hand exercises” will return hundreds of video tutorials. In all classical guitar fingering, you’ll see this principle of playing down with the thumb and up with the fingers.

If you expand your research into flamenco guitar, in that culture you’ll find more bi-directional use of the fingers and the thumb, producing many interesting percussive effects. But for your main chord melody technique, a great place to start is to just learn the basic use of the right hand that comes from classical guitar.


Thanks, that is very helpful, I am looking forward to progressing in this course.

Hi Randy,
I’m a bit late in the discussion sorry, you have probably found your way already. But in case you haven’t, let me suggest a very simple exercise for you.
Although it is very good to focus on creativity and enjoying the music and the sounds you produce, I personally find that when there are technical blockage, my creativity tends to revolve around my comfort zone. So I’m all for extending that comfort zone with a bit of technical work.
I suggest that when you sit with your guitar and that you improvise or play single notes along the neck, you spend a few minutes forcing yourself to never use your right-hand thumb, but only your index and middle finger at first. More specifically, try to force yourself alternating between your index and middle finger for every note you play.
Also, to really push that exercise, force yourself to not pull the strings away from the guitar while you pluck, but on the contrary, push the string you’re plucking into the body of the guitar. This is done by closing the finger, as if you were trying to bring it closer to the bottom of your palm, while keeping the finger relaxed. Doing that, the finger pushes the string “into” the guitar (because the string is on its way), up to a point where the string will slip away from the finger and then vibrate. The finger then continues the motion and rests against the string below the one you just plucked (so you never actually close the hand, it’s just to give you a sense of what if feels like). This is called a “rest stroke” (because the finger terminates its course resting against an other string). I’m giving you the term so you can search for videos to illustrate it.
The whole point is to develop a sense of what it feels like to pluck a string with your fingers without pulling it. In reality, you’ll rarely use that type of stroke while you play, but you won’t be pulling either. So I think it’s useful to exaggerate the motion like that, to really feel that your fingers don’t pull strings away from the guitar when you stroke, that you don’t use the fingers as hooks.
Practising this movement, just from a technical perspective, could help your right hand. I think if you also practise alternating (say index and middle) at Every note, then you’re building a solid technical foundation for right hand playing. Just keep your hand relaxed, and casually “close” the finger.
You can bring this constraint into whatever you’re usually practising for a few minutes. If you’re practising only playing chord notes (arpeggios) then try playing them with this technique. If you’re practising running up and down the tonal map, you can try and use this technique too. Even for improvisation, try to dedicate some minutes to this type of stroke while you improvise.
I hope this is helpful.

Hi @freddy, and welcome to the forum! Thank you so much for that excellent advice and for your description of the inward motion of the right hand fingers. What I most love about your advice is the idea that you can always get double value for your practicing, combining the IFR exercises with purely technical exercises.

In your example, you’re reminding us that we can enrich our IFR practice with technical exercises. By limiting ourselves to just one type of stroke, for example, we can develop more confidence with that technique while we continue with our harmonic learning through IFR.

What I want to add is that the same principle also applies in reverse. Whenever you see an interesting technical exercise for guitar that you’d like to practice, you can always enrich that exercise by adding some harmonic content. For example, instead of practicing a generic concept like “string crossing”, maybe with a particular choice of right hand fingering, why not practice that concept on the arpeggio of the 2- chord across the fretboard?

It doesn’t always work, because some techniques need to be practiced in a vacuum in order to master the movement itself. But it’s almost always possible to combine our physical technique exercises with our harmonic visualization skills so that we get double value for our time.

Thanks for the great advice and for taking so much time to explain rest strokes so carefully. I really appreciate it! - David

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I understand that everyone is at such different levels of progress. I am trying to get used to all the different tonal maps and combination of notes and positions. I have been using my thumb for the bass notes, I am not sure if that is wrong or if I should start from scratch and change my fingers at this stage. When you talk about a rest stroke, I assume you are detailing plucking the strings up towards the lower strings. I am not sure what the difference is in pushing the string into the sound hole. I am not sure at the stage I am at now that this is something I should worry about and consider it when I am more fluent with all these patterns and shapes or if I should make these changes now and not use my thumb on the bass notes.

FWIW @Randy I use my thumb on the bass notes/ the 3 fattest strings, and my fingers on the 3 thinner strings, usually. I am not (yet!) a proficient chord melody player, but that’s what’s working for me now.

I am used to my thumb on those strings and changing it up at this point I think would just slow down my progress.