UD#103 Harmony of One: Chord Melody Backing!

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UD#103 Harmony of One: Chord Melody Backing!
from Ukulele in the Dark with Guido Heistek

My grandfather and grandmother, Paul and Suzie, were musicians. They used to appear on the radio and in variety shows around Aylmer, Quebec.

My grandfather played guitar and sang. He once told me a story about the first time he played a guitar. He was in a bar in a small town with some friends and a big group of lumberjacks walked in demanding entertainment. He picked up a guitar that happened to be lying around and banged away on it while he and his friends sang loud enough to cover up the fact he couldn’t play. He did eventually learn some chords but his style always stayed true to these percussive beginnings. I mean this in a good way.  He had a rhythmic accompaniment style that was uniquely his own and suited his gravelly vocal delivery.

Suzie sang in the duo. She would sometimes sing the lead, but often would sing a harmony part along with Paul. I think hearing their voices blended together was one of my first experiences with harmony singing. And, I believe I owe any intuitive feel that I have for vocal harmony to hearing my grand-parents singing together, while the whole family joined in.

I love harmony singing and the richness that it creates. Sometimes when I am doing a song on my own, I miss that feeling: the feeing of two voices interacting. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with how to create a melodic interaction between the uke and the voice that can give a similar effect.

I’ve written out a little example, so you can hear what I am talking about. In the example, I sing the melody, and the accompaniment is played in a simple chord melody style. Sometimes the chord melody accompaniment uses the same note as the main melody. When two people sing the same melody note, we call it unison singing. When it’s part of an instrumental accompaniment, we call it “doubling the melody”. You often hear this when piano players accompany themselves. They play the chords but also add the melody in their right hand and it supports their singing. This is also something you can do on a uke!

At other points in my example, I use harmony notes in the accompaniment part. These are the notes that my grandmother might have sung when she and my grandfather did this song together.

The sheet music for the little example piece is below. It’s the first verse of the Four Lads’ version of “Down By the Riverside.” This was one of Paul and Suzie’s favourite tunes. A family classic.

Give the arrangement a play. See if you can sing the melody while you play the accompaniment. A real spit attention challenge!

I’ve also made a little video so you can hear how it sounds.

Hope you enjoyed today’s lesson.

All for now!


P.S. I am regularly adding new lessons to Ukulele in the Dark. Please subscribe to my mailing list below to receive every lesson right when it comes out. Be sure not to miss a thing!

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