When a beginner first picks up a ukulele, they normally
start by learning to play chords and progress to playing songs with those
chords. After a while they may learn to fingerpick notes from those chords. Once
that’s accomplished, what is the next step? Ukulele chord melody!
A chord melody is a combination of strumming and
fingerpicking. You strum the full chords while at the same time picking the
melody. This allows you to play songs in interesting and unique ways.
If you’re not particularly fond of singing while you play,
then this may be a great option to ‘spice up’ your playing. Many very
progressive and famous players prefer this style, including Jake Shimabukuro
and James Hill.
Before you start attempting to play chord melody you should
be a very good strummer and fluid with different fingerpicking patterns since
you’ll need to combination to play.
Now, arranging chord melody is an advanced topic, and this
article will only give an understanding of how to start. Becoming good at this
will take practice, but once you do, you’ll be able to develop your own
The Building Blocks of Chord Melody
We’ve already said that you need to be a fairly advanced
player to learn to play the chord melody style of ukulele. It will also be very
helpful if you have some knowledge of music theory and
Once you have the basic skills needed to play chord melody,
we’ll dig into the different building blocks that make up all songs.
In the next section we’ll dive into each of these topics in
We are going to start with the rhythm because by the point
where you are able to start playing the chord melody style playing on time
should be almost second nature.
Since chord melody can become quite complex it is very important
to stay on time, don’t rush or fall behind. Make sure you’re not missing beats
or adding in extra ones to hit particular notes.
When many of us were learning strumming patterns, we had to
practice at very slow BPM, and you may have to go back to that as you’re
learning new arrangements.
The melody in a solo arrangement should always been the
highest note singing out from your uke. This means that you’ll normally be
playing this note on you’re a and E string, so you have two harmony notes
ringing out lower than your melody.
By playing the melody higher than the harmony you allow it
to be easily picked out by the human ear. If it’s played on lower notes it can
blend into the mix and be harder to hear for the listener.
Assuming your rhythm is correct and you’re playing in time,
the melody is the most important part of the solo arrangement.
When picking your first song you should pick a song you
already know and ideally one that you can find sheet music for.
As we stated earlier, knowing your scales, in particular
your major scale is very helpful here. With the combination of sheet music and
scale knowledge you can find the melody for any song.
For many songs, especially basic or simple ones, would be
very boring if you only played the melody. That’s when you throw in the harmony
to really add some sound and spice to the song.
Now, lets clarify that when we say harmony, we are referencing
the chords of the song.
One of the tricks to arranging great chord melody is finding
triads. These three note chords allow you to find chord shapes where the melody
note is the highest note. You can do this in root position, first inversion and
second inversions to harmonize in the best way possible.
Dynamics are not specific to the ukulele chord melody style,
but apply here just as much as in any other form of playing.
When you emphasize a note, chord, or section of a song over
others you’re using dynamics. This can be used in many different ways to let certain
notes really ring out and stand above others, or slowing building your strumming
from soft to loud to introduce a chorus.
To practice this skill simply spend time strumming soft to
loud, picking out notes with differing volumes, and changing tempo during a
piece of music.
Your First Chord Melody on Ukulele
You now have all the knowledge, and hopefully playing skill,
you need to arrange your own chord melody!
Just like anything else with the ukulele, you won’t master
this style of playing overnight, it will likely take you a lot of practice.
We recommend you start with a very basic song; Mary Had a Little
Lamb, Twinkle Twinkle, little star, or something along those lines. Or if
you started with really simple songs when you first picked up a uke go back to
one of those.
While this is a difficult style of playing, once you get
good it will open up endless options to add to, change, and make songs that you
once were tired of playing fun and exciting again!