UD#68 How Chord Melody Works

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How Chord Melody Works (UD#68)

from Ukulele in the Dark
with Guido Heistek

The process of creating chord melody arrangements is quite simple. There are three basic steps:
1. Learn the melody.
2. Learn the chords.
3. Put the chords and melody together!

Let’s start with a song that we are all familiar with: Mary Had a Little Lamb. Not the coolest tune, I know, but making your own chord melody is SO cool that it will more than make up for it. You’ll see. At the end of the lesson there is a video recap with a special treat for more advanced players.

If you know the melody of a song you have something very concrete to build from. It’s like the frame of a house. And, I highly recommend learning the melody by ear. Why by ear? Because you won’t always have the paper in front of you. It’s a fascinating adventure to learn to play without sheet music and a simple tune is a wonderful place to start.

Good news! The melody for Mary Had a Little Lamb has four notes. Four notes! In the key of F the song uses the notes F, G, A and C. Here they are in tab:

Here is the beginning of the melody in tab. See if you can figure out the rest. Remember there are only 4 notes. F, G, A and C. Take your time!

If you find it impossible to get the melody by ear, it may be that you are not ready to do it. I am certain that you will be able to do it, but maybe now is not the time. So, do your best. And if you can’t do it, the tab is below. Take it easy. No pressure!

There are only two chords in this song. Perfect for learning by ear! When we feel the need for a chord change we switch to the other chord. In the key of F this song uses two chords: F and C.

Here is the melody of Mary Had a Little Lamb in tablature and standard notation. The chords have not been filled in though! In each of the empty brackets put either an F chord or a C chord. Please note that there is not necessarily a new chord every bar. The same chord can repeat. I’ve filled in the first chord for you. Give it a try and have fun with it. It’s helpful to sing the melody while you try out different chords. Or you can have someone else pick the melody. If you prefer to do the exercise without the sheet that is good too! Here is the sheet:

click image for printable sheet-

How did that go? The answer sheet is below. Please note that they are my choices of chords. You may have come up with something different. It doesn’t mean that what you came up with was wrong.

click image for printable sheet-

Thank you for all your hard work so far. Really getting the melody and chords inside you is a very important step in the chord melody process. Now let’s put the chords and melody together! As we discussed last lesson, letting the “thumb come to rest” is an important technique we’ll use. Let’s do it!

NOTE: If you didn’t see last lesson, check it out here: http://ukuleleinthedark.com/ud67-good-tone-from-the-start/

Here are the first few notes of the melody:

The chord for this part of the song is the F chord

Let’s add the chord F to the melody notes above!

1. We play down strums with the thumb.

2. On the strings that we hit BEFORE the string that has the melody note, we will strum chord notes (in this case notes from the F chord).

3. We will let the thumb come to rest on any string AFTER the string that has the melody note.
The first note of the melody is very easy to combine with an F chord. It’s an A note, the highest note in the F chord. Convenient! Take a look at this:

The next melody note is a little more of a challenge since it is on the E string. Notice the little “x” that tells you to let your thumb come to rest on the A string so it doesn’t sound. The chord is still F:

Gee, I hope this is making sense to you. I can see that it has the potential to be confusing. More examples!
Here is the third melody note combined with the F chord. Notice again the “x” is telling you where to let your thumb come to rest.

Okay I hope you get the idea.
If we use the same process of combining the melody with an F chord for the first seven notes of the song, the Chord Melody looks like this:

Give it a play. See what it sounds like!
Trimming to Taste
Let’s simplify! Strumming a chord with every note can sound a little busy. So, I like to pair it down. Let’s try a chord on every other beat like this:

That’s nice! More sparse!
Let’s keep going…
Here are the next three notes of the song in tablature:

The chord that goes along with these three notes is the C chord. Let’s put the two together!

So if we add a C chord to every note it looks like this:

Or we can do the sparser version where we add the chord to every other note:

Let’s Keep Going:

In the music sheet below I’ve done the first 4 bars of the chord melody arrangement for you. Try to finish the rest of the arrangement using one chord every two beats. The answer sheet is below. Also, I’ve made a little video to support today’s lesson. Have fun! Here is the work sheet:

click image for printable sheet-

Here is the answer sheet:

click image for printable sheet-

Thank you for tuning in. Please stay tuned for our holiday Chord Melody arrangement next lesson. Thank you so much for all your suggestions!  I am leaning toward “Huron Carol”. Wishing you all the best. Here is the video for today’s lesson:


p.s. I am regularly creating new lessons for this site. Please subscribe to my e-mail list to receive every new lesson hot off the presses, plus special deals and discounts.

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