If you listen to a well-orchestrated arrangement you will almost always hear the melody notes as the loudest notes in the mix. If you listen further you can pick out the bass notes fairly easily, which are generally mixed at around the same level as the drums. Then there are the chords. A little lower in the mix yet, as well as being more complicated polytonal sounds, chords have a lot to do with the mood and color of the piece. But, if you really pay attention, you will also commonly hear a little internal voice of some kind – notes that are producing a sort of scale like counter-melody. In a big orchestra this might be coming from a single wind or stringed instrument. On piano or guitar, they are more like extensions of the chords. Let’s just say that you have a chord chart in front of you that has this common progression: | D | | Em | | A7 | | D | |
Instead of just strumming these chords, why not add some movement? Try this progression and you will see that I am just moving a note around within the chord to make more interesting listening (you may need to drop the straight pick and pluck with your fingers so you get all the good notes but no extra ones):
If you want to hear this general idea in a song, listen to Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen”. The truth is that you can take almost any chord and find some note in the middle of the chord that will move up and/or down to produce this effect so as to fit into any chord progression. Fiddle with it. Try it on other songs and in different keys just to see what you might come up with. And remember, if you ever want to dig deeper and get some help with your guitar playing, I regularly teach one-on-one Skype guitar lessons to folks all around the world. Check it out.