Autumn leaves chord melody lesson

Autumn Leaves - Easy Chord Melody Arrangement For Beginners - Tabs and chords

Autumn leaves is one of the most popular non-American jazz standards on pick-up gigs and records. It is a must-know tune for any jazz guitarist and a great choice when you want to play both chords and melody on guitar. This guitar lesson provides an easy chord melody arrangement to play this famous jazz tune.

What is Chord-Melody on Guitar?

Chord-melody means to play both the melody and the chords of a song (generally jazz standards) at the same time. The main interest is that you can play alone the melody and the harmony of a tune as a pianist would do with its right and left hand. It is a wonderful technique widely used by jazz guitarists to arrange a tune.

It can be very useful to add new dimension to your playing. Most of the time the original chords are extended or replaced by chords called substitutions. Mastering this guitar technique is quite difficult, that's why a beginner guitarist should have at least a basic understanding of common jazz guitar chords.

Vocal and Instrumental Versions

The first obvious part of the work before learning to play chord-melody on Autumn leaves is listen to some vocal and instrumental versions to help you hear the melody and understand the chord progression. Here are some suggestions in various keys :

Famous Vocal Versions

Instrumental Versions

Now try to listen to famous jazz instrumentalists  :

Drop 2 and Drop 3 Voicings

The best way to understand and hear the harmony of Autumn leaves is to play basic chords using drop 2 and drop 3 voicings. So let's quickly recap what are drop voicings. These chords can be used to create beautiful and rich harmonies. They are very useful when working on orchestrations or arrangements. This technique applies to any jazz standard as it is the case in the Autumn leaves sheet below.

The principle of drop voicings is to take a close position chord and move the second highest note (drop 2) or the third highest note (drop 3) one octave lower to create an open chord.  Drop 2 and drop 3 chords are very common in all kinds of jazz arrangements. Many composers and arrangers have used them, especially for big bands in brass sections. However, these kinds of voicings sounds great on the guitar too.

The easy transcription with TABS and standard notation below takes the most common drop 2 and drop 3 voicings to play Autumn Leaves. The list below will help you understand which chord used in this sheet is a drop 2 and which one is a drop 3. Here they are in order of appearance :

  • Am7 (drop 3)
  • D7 (drop 2)
  • Gmaj7 (drop 3)
  • Cmaj7 (drop 2)
  • F#m7b5 (drop 2)
  • B7 (drop 3)
  • Em7 (drop2)
  • B7b9 (drop 3)
  • Eb7 (drop 2)
  • Dm7 (drop 2)
  • Db7 (drop 2)

Autumn Leaves Guitar Chords

How to Play Autumn  Leaves Melody on Guitar?

The second important part of this guitar tutorial will show you how to play the melody of Autumn leaves in order to understand this jazz standard more in-depth. Remember that before learning a chord-melody for any jazz standard, make sure to know the melody in order to be more comfortable mixing the chords and the melody.

Playing the melody will also help you to solo more easily over the changes previously discussed when you want to start improvising over this great jazz tune with your guitar. 

As you can see in the lead sheet below, the melody of Autumn Leaves is almost entirely based on phrases leading to the 3rd (the blue circle) of the chord (Am7, Gmaj7, F#m7b5, Em7). The other lines lead to the fifth or the root of the chords.

Autumn Leaves Melody

Autumn Leaves Chord Melody Arrangement

The following study is to mix the chords with the melody. You may notice that the melody is an octave higher than the previous one.

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Autumn leaves chord melody chords jazz standard

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