How to play a melody on guitar

First of all I’m really happy that lessons are being added to grade 3.

The lesson on writing melodies for well known songs is too complex though and it feels I am missing a vital part of information.

I am talking about this lesson: How to Play a Melody on Guitar |

Justin teaches us how to play melodies but I am unsure what exactly he is doing … For example in the song ‘Let it Be’ he starts playing certain kind of notes, however there is no guide on what and more importantly why he is playing that certain note.

Is it just improvisation and always playing the root note on the first ‘beat’ ?

Thanks for the help !

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Looks like he’s just hearing/singing the melody and finding the notes that correspond.

The chords to the song are a starting point. The melody will usually (not always) be a note in the chord.

Take Let it Be for example. Starts on a C major chord. Notes in the C major triad are C, E, and G. The chord is only three notes even though it’s played across 5 strings. The notes just repeat. CEGCe. Same with all major chord shapes basically.

The starting note is G for the vocal melody (played over a C chord). Then goes to A (not part of C major), then E (part of C major). There’s a chord change on the word “times” to a G. The notes in G major triad are G, B, D. Melody is G on the word “times.” Then the next note in the melody is C ( not part of G major) then up to D (part of G major). So on…

Mostly about listening and being able to play what you hear.


@CorynF to add to what Joe has already mentioned the
melody note are out of the C major scale.

I’ve not been through Grade 1 and 2 since Justin revamped the Beginner Course. So I am not sure how much theory people coming into this lesson would have? Referencing scales and notes that make up chords may be theory not yet covered?

Having watched the lesson, the crux (as Joe said) is about hearing the melody and finding the notes on the neck. Justin recommended finding the notes in the open position ie first 4 frets. Practical one can explore playing notes from the chord, without needing to know all the theory explicitly.

If I were doing this I think I would prepare by writing the lyrics out, splitting words into syllables. I think for these suggested songs generally one note per syllable. Then add the bars and the chords, which give clues to what the melody notes might be ie the notes you are playing as you strum the chord (as Joe said).

If not one of those then try others, without needing to worry if they are notes from the scale, though (as Stitch said) that would be helpful. But I can’t recall what key each suggested song is in. And Justin did say that knowing the key and the chords in the key would be helpful but not a necessity (for those people reaching this point but not yet working through additional theory)

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Hi @CorynF

You do not need theory, scales, super deep knowledge.
The main point is made early on when Justin says:
He also says, decide if the next melody note is higher or lower.

You are literally listening to the melody, really good listening, not superficial listening that is only half engaged because you already ‘know’ the melody.
Then you find the start note.
And playing the start chord is the biggest guide on that as the start note will be somewhere in or near to the chord notes.
Then you find the next note.
Is it higher? Lower?
By a lot or a little?
One fret?
Two frets?
Can I put my finger down and find it?
Ah yes, got it. It was actually four frets higher - could be thought of as four semitones higher if you moved to an adjacent string.
What about the next note?

Wash, rinse, repeat.
It is going to be slow and methodical.
But The principle is basic.

Hope that helps.
Cheers :+1:
| Richard_close2u | JustinGuitar Official Guide & Moderator


Listen, hear, find, play. :grin:
Wash rinse repeat.:sunglasses:

As someone who has solely used Justinguitars lessons and zerotoheroguitar videos I must say this lesson is an insane jump in difficulty but it might be time to start working on hearing songs. I just wish there was a middle step because I’ve never struggled as hard with anything as I do on this lesson.

Thanks for the explanation everyone.

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I’m really glad I had a go at doing this after watching this lesson. I remember trying to do the “happy birthday” melody way back in one of the beginner modules, I think it was an ear training lesson. I was terrible at it and gave it up. However, yesterday I found all the notes for “house of the rising sun” without too much difficulty. Just a bit of trial and error. It was actually really satisfying and fun! And today had a go at “yellow” by Coldplay. My attempts don’t sound anywhere near as cool as Justin’s with all the embellishments, but it’s a start and something I’ll keep doing from now on.
Thanks for the lesson!

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This is a very good lesson. If you know at least one major scale pattern, it will be a whole lot easier to find the notes.

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I haven’t tried this one yet, but I am glad I read this thread first. Thanks!

I think I will try it gently, basically listen carefully and at a specific moment just trying a note. A one note melody! Slowly trying to find notes that fit and where to place them, building from there.

It doesn’t seem that different than improvising on a scale over a backing track.

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Great lesson. Don’t think I’ve ever come across it before. Really helpful with some of the stuff I’m currently trying to do.

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This is a great lesson. I find it quite tricky frankly. Justin goes quite fast when he gives the examples and uses some embellishments.

I found almost all the notes for the verse of House of the rising sun, but I can’t find the note that’s being played on the word ‘one’. Any suggestions? :slight_smile:

Think its an A note S2,O or a minor chord.
This is really my first crack at this stuff and its not easy though.
Especially when your trying to match a minor chord sound to a single note.

I’m finding this exceptionally difficult. I agree with @CorynF, it’s a huge jump in difficulty and feels very out of reach based on what I’ve learned thus far. From transcribing a couple of power chords to this…

I’m starting with Let It Be and I’m not actually sure exactly what a melody is? I think it’s the tune the singer is doing? It doesn’t seem to be what the piano is doing. I got three bars down and then checked UG & the lesson video… mostly wrong :slightly_frowning_face:.

I’m curious to know if any beginners who have come through Grade 1 & 2 and are now trying to do this are having much success?


Hi jkahn, I’m not going through Justin’s course and I’m not a beginner, but I am a beginner at transcribing. I’ve always considered myself to have a terrible ear (I don’t sing at all), so transcribing is a big challenge.

The melody that you’re trying to figure out is the vocal melody, not the piano. After a lot of time, I managed to figure out Let it Be. I used Justin’s hint of the first 2 notes (E - G) and then went one note at a time, trying to figure out if it’s going up or down. I often had trouble when 1) the note stayed the same (I was hunting for a lower or higher note) or 2) when the jump is larger than one or two notes.

I was probably helped by the fact that I know the song well: I learned the solo (not based on the melody, though) in addition to the chords and play it often. I think it also helped that I wrote out the chords on tab paper and wrote down the correct notes (together with the corresponding word in the lyric) as I found them.

I would encourage you to keep at it. I’ve since tried doing Hallelujah and, though I haven’t gotten all of it yet, parts of came pretty quickly. It feels like it’s getting easier, somehow.

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I’d add that “melody” is used here in the sense of what is sticking out, or what you are likely to hum to yourself. In most pop/rock songs, it would be the vocal line or an instrumental solo.

Thanks for the tips @jjw1 and @Jozsef.

I think what sticks out is different for different people, I find it a huge challenge to hear melody in vocals. On guitar I find it much easier (but not easy).

Yes the hardest parts are where notes are repeated or have large jumps for me as well. And finding the first note is super hard.

I’m still curious to hear from other beginners that have come through grades 1 and 2.


Have you tried slowing the video playback speed down? Can’t help with the note.


I assume the S is String and the O is open? If so then it would be A note S5, O. The string numbering convention is for the high e string to be string 1.


Needless to say that I am no expert, that said, yes, the melody would be what the lead singer is singing during the verse and chorus. I say lead singer as there may be backing vocalists singing in harmony. I can’t hear Let It Be fully in my head and would probably be beyond me anyhow, so can’t say what the piano is doing. It could be harmony, could be chords played as arpeggios, who knows, I don’t?

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Here’s an example of two Beatles songs and their cover versions that may make it clearer what “melody” refers to. In the covers, the guitar follows the original vocal melodies the most closely.

And a slightly different cover of Eleanor Rigby that still retains the vocal melody (with Larry Carlton on guitar):

Thanks David, starting to get a picture now. Listening to so much grunge/metal/hard rock & electronic music has not helped me develop a good ear for this melody stuff!

That helped illustrate it, thank you @Jozsef. I wonder how a 2 minute song gets turned into a 12 minute cover :rofl:.