Category Archives: All UkulelePlay! Blog Posts

More Music for Ukulele Ensembles! Blackbird, Over the Rainbow & More.

I just finished a round of arranging songs for UFO HUM‘s next concert; these 100% legal arrangements for ukulele ensembles (royalties make their way back to the copyright holders) are available through a special arrangement with Sheet Music Plus. Here are the new titles:

You can check out more titles released before Christmas on the For Ukulele Ensembles page of this site.

New Music for Ukulele Ensembles plus Freebies

I’ve created a new page, For Ukulele Ensembles, with music I’ve arranged for 3 or more ukulele players. The page currently contains a couple of BLACK FRIDAY FREEBIES (Canon in C, and I’ll Fly Away), as well as a number of popular Christmas songs (Feliz Navidad, It’s Beginning To Look Like Christmas, The Little Drummer Boy, Sleigh Ride, Silver Bells, You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch).

I’ll be adding arrangements of Best Day of My Life : American Authors, Music of the Night : Andrew Lloyd Webber, Happy : Pharrell Williams and more in 2017!

Unlike a lot you find on the internet, these are 100% legal arrangements (royalties make their way back to the copyright holders) through an agreement with SMP Press who works with Hal Leornard music publishing.

I hope you enjoy these with your own ukulele trios, ensembles, bands and orchestras. Happy Holidays!

First Melodies for Ukulele : Free eBook

March 24th 1927 - Actresses Joan Crawford & Dorothy SebastianNew FREE eBook:

  • First Melodies for Ukulele : 18 familiar tunes to help folk get started with tablature. Includes tablature and staff notation so you can get to know the notes on your fretboard better at the same time.

I put this together for my beginning ukulele students, but thought others might benefit as well. Enjoy!

Christmas is Coming!

Get more ukulele books for your friends and loved ones this holiday season . . .

I <3 the Mountains - Whiteboard

Today my weekly Two Trees ukulele youth class went over the classic camp song, I Love the Mountains. The repeating chord pattern is a great one for beginners. We also talked about transposition and bringing the song up from the key of C (which is easy, but I find a little low for my voice) to the key of F. I took some shots of the white board and thought I’d pass them along.

Note that some versions of the song use the pattern C-C-Am-Am-Dm-Dm-G7-G7 instead of C-C-Am-Am-F-F-G7-G7. This would translate in the key of F to F-F-Dm-Dm-Gm-Gm-C7-C7 instead of F-F-Dm-Dm-Bb-Bb-C7-C7 and as Gm is easier than Bb for beginners it might be the way to go.

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Annual Ukulele Popularity Cycle

This is mainly a bit of random trivia, but if I asked you what month of the year is the ukulele most popular, wouldn’t you choose a Summer month? Would you believe that if you use Google Trends to track the term ukulele (click for detailed data) that you’d find that December is consistently, year after year, the time when people are searching for info on ukuleles? Could it be this is just when people are searching for ukuleles as gifts for Christmas? or is it possible that people need a little ukulele time in the dead of winter? I’d probably go with the Christmas theory.

Ukulele Interest

The next most popular time of year for the ukulele is the Summer months (which seems to make sense to me) with the Fall dipping to the low point for the year (perhaps because folks are busy with the business of getting back to school?).

Anyway, I just found this regular pattern (it almost looks like a musical waveform) so interesting that I felt inspired to share. I’d love to hear what other people think of the pattern; please feel free to propose your theories in the comments section below.

Also, anyone hazard a guess as to what caused that uncharactaristic spike in June of 2011 that disrupts the regular pattern?

Overcoming Sheet Music Addiction

11276924-music-spiral-background-Stock-Vectoror Confessions of a Sheet Music Addict

The last few weeks have been pretty important for me in overcoming one of my SECRET FEARS . . . performing WITHOUT sheet music.

I know it doesn’t sound that frightening or serious, but its a big deal to me. I did my undergraduate degree in vocal performance, so I’m no stranger to performing memorized songs where someone else is accompanying (I memorized whole opera roles for heaven’s sake). However, adding that extra layer of accompaniment, strumming and fingerpicking on my not-very-simple homespun ukulele songs (I did my graduate degree in composition and its not uncommon for me to use a dozen different chords in a song) has been truly terrifying and has stopped me from pursuing more live performance opportunities than I would’ve liked to. This make me sad.

So why not just use a stand? The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain uses sheet music! Fine, when I’m doing a cover or performing with a group, but I just can’t bear the thought of performing my own music with a stand between me and the audience. It’s hard enough to connect with a group of strangers on a set of completely unknown songs without the additional barrier of a music stand between you and the audience, let alone without the task of dividing your attention between the score and their faces. Honestly, even in music I’ve written, I can’t help but lose my place glancing back and forth like that and I should know the music better than anyone; I wrote it.

I’ve been playing uke for a little over 5 years now (got my first uke as a present for Christmas of 2010) and I finally am beginning to feel like my skills are at a performable level for self-accompaniment. I also feel like it is time to take it to the next level. I’ll be doing a 30-minute set of original, mostly never-before-performed songs at Thanksgiving Point’s Tullip Festival this coming Saturday (April 16, 2016) at 11am . . . and I won’t be bringing a music stand with me. So, what am I doing to work toward this goal?

REALIZATION

For a long time I labored under the assumption that if I just played a song enough times that eventually I would have it memorized through sheer repetition; that’s how I memorized songs at the university (keeping tally marks at the top of a score to tell me how many times I’d done a particular piece). Well, this was NOT working for me with self-accompaniment on the ukulele. In fact, I found as long as kept my eyes on the score I wasn’t memorizing the chords OR the words no matter how many times I repeated the song. It turns out my brain has figured out that if I always have a visual reminder then there is no need to commit the information to memory. Dang lazy brain! I just have to admit it, I am a recovering sheet music addict.

CHANGE OF TACTICS

Here are some steps that I believe are helping me in my recovery:

  1. I’ve sung these songs a lot of times. I can perform all the chord changes and accompanimental patterns flawlessly while singing emotively. This was a necessary first step, I needed that familiarity, but now is the time to move on.
  2. I stopped looking at the score and struggled through the songs passage by passage. Often I would forget which chord belonged where. When I made a mistake I would back up to the beginning of the phrase or section and go through it until I could do it right a few times in a row. Then I moved on until I came across another trouble spot. In this way I was eventually able to ‘connect-the-dots’ and make it through whole songs.
  3. I created cards that just showed the chord change patterns for an entire song with no words, melody or notes on strumming/fingerpicking. I did use these a few times and I think they helped me see the patterns in my own music better. Recognizing a pattern is very helpful to the brain in memorization.
  4. I timed all the songs and then ordered the songs and printed out a ‘set list’ for the upcoming performance. I am carrying this set list in my wallet and am making sure my ukulele is with me whenever I’m out an about in case I have a few moments to go through one or more songs.

In a few weeks, I’ve gone from having just one of my songs memorized to ten songs near ready to go. I’m still making mistakes and need to do a lot more reps of my set list in the coming week, but I’m encouraged by the progress I’m making. Hopefully, the distractions of live performance in a park setting won’t prove too much for me and turn this all into a disaster, but I have hope and recently read an interesting article on stage fright that had some pointers I think will really help. Here’s hoping I’ll ‘break a leg’!

CONCLUSION

It turns out the memorization process for me is just a brutal slog and I have to be disciplined enough not to go running back to the music unless I really can’t figure out a section. If you have any tips or ideas, things that help you memorize music, I’d love to hear about them in the comments. Thanks!

Happy Easter! : That Easter Morn Tab Arrangement

That Easter Morn

Hope you enjoy this arrangement of Robert Cundick’s lovely Easter hymn. You can find the original hymn tune and words here: That Easter Morn at LDS.org

Happy Easter!

Chord Melody Arranging Part 2 : Transposing

Where Can I Turn for Peace 2In the first part of this series I talked about some principles of chord melody arranging using the melody in the original vocal range with mostly ‘open position’ chords (the easy ones). This second part will talk about transposing the melody into standard ukulele range and using inversions of chords that are ‘up the neck.’ First you may want to print out a copy of the arrangement I’m using as an example:

Transposing

One of the problems of arranging vocal melodies for the ukulele is that they tend to dip below the middle C that is the bottom of standard ukulele range. This is one of the main reasons there are strong supporters of low-G tuning, like James Hill (except for the Canadians it is low-A tuning). We tackled this challenge in part 1 of this series by transposing a section of the melody up an octave. Another common method of dealing with this problem is to transpose the entire melody up into ukulele range. Here are some steps that may help you with this process, using the second page of “Where Can I Turn for Peace?” as an example:

  • Identify the lowest note in the melody you wish to arrange. In the example, the lowest note was an A below middle C with is a ‘minor third‘ (a whole-step plus a half-step) below the range of a standard-tuned uke. That means that in order to bring this into range we have to move all the notes up by at least a minor third.
  • Bringing this melody up by a minor third would take us from the key of C (no sharps or flats) to the key of Eb (three flats). There aren’t a ton of open chords in that key, so I chose to go up another step higher to the key of F, which is a ‘perfect fourth‘ (two whole-steps plus a half-step) higher than the key of C. This key only has one flat in the key signature with a number of ‘open’ chord options.
  • You’ll find the keys closest to C around the circle of fifths (learn more on wikipedia) are the easiest keys to play on the ukulele: F and G. These would be followed by D, A and Bb. These are generalizations; you might find the best key to transpose to is something odd, like Db (probably not).
  • Whatever key you move to, you must make sure you move all the notes by the same interval. In this piece I’ve transposed up by a perfect fourth, so C becomes F, F becomes Bb, D becomes G, and so on.
  • All of your chords need to be transposed up by the same interval; a C chord becomes an F chord, an F chord becomes a Bb chord, and so on.
  • Once you have your melody and chords transposed you can begin looking for chord inversions that highlight the melody notes. You’ll be looking for notes to land on the 1st/A-string (see the first chord of measure 17) or on the 4th/G-string (see the last chord in measure 20). If the note is below these on the middle strings you can always strum a partial chord (see the first chord in measure 24).
  • If you aren’t familiar with a ton of ‘up the neck’ chord inversions, cheat. Either use a ukulele chord dictionary or an online chord finder (ukebuddy.com). A reference makes it so much easier (I use one).
  • If a melody note doesn’t belong to a chord (which happens often), you’ll need to add it to the chord (see the Bb on top of an F chord in measure 17 and the E on top of the Bdim7 in measure 19).

That’s about all there is to it. One of the awesome things about chord melody solos of this kind are that they force you to learn all those wonderful ‘up the neck’ chord inversions, opening all kinds of options for your playing, both instrumental and accompanimental.

Notation/tablature software (I use Finale, but there are free options like MuseScore) can help with transposing and take some of the chore out of it (of course, these have a learning curve of their own). Whatever method you use and however long it takes you to get there, there is nothing like the satisfaction of playing your own arrangement of a song.

Source Files

Get the source files (pdf, finale and music xml for import into other music editors) for the above arrangement under the ‘Files’ tab of the Joyful Noise! LDS Ukulele group on FaceBook. Also, if you’re interested in sharing your arrangements of hymns and Christ-centered spiritual songs, this is a great place to do it.

The Welti Solution : Chord Melody Arranging Part 1

Where Can I Turn for PeaceA good friend / former student asked me for some suggestions on solutions to a chord melody version of “Where Can I Turn for Peace?,” a well-known LDS hymn. He was working from the version included on page 30 of Hymns Made Easy (which includes chord indications above the melody). It was easier for me to illustrate by arranging this song than try to explain in an email, so here is my solution:

Some questions that arise in looking at this tune . . .

What do you do when some of the melody notes do not belong to the chords indicated in the music? This is a common thing in music of all stripes. Melodic notes that do not belong to the chord sequence add tension and interest to the melody. When arranging a chord melody solo you’ll need to incorporate these notes into the fingering, which means you’ll need to be able to find the note on its own in the first place (learn your C-scale to start with). For example, this hymn calls for a B-note over a C-diminished chord on in the third measure. When you change the C to a B in that chord, you end up with a B7 chord instead. You can see this in the arrangement above.

What do you do when a melody note is buried in the middle or bottom of the chord instead of being the top note? Wilfried Welti is a fairly well-known and respected ukulele arranger. I’m borrowing ‘the Welti solution’ to make this arrangement work. His answer lies in how you arpeggiate the chord you are playing. This is indicated by arrows in the arrangement that stop on the melody note you wish to highlight. An up-arrow indicates a motion from string 4 towards string 1, while a down-arrow indicates the opposite direction. You’ll note that where a melody note takes place on one of the inner strings, you stop the arpeggio on that string (see the arrangement above). Using this solution you can highlight any note of a chord.

What do you do when a melody note goes below the range of the ukulele? Lots of vocal melodies go below the C that is the lowest note on the ukulele. A popular solution is to put a low-G string on your uke, but let’s pretend that option doesn’t exist and you don’t want to string your ukulele like a mini-guitar. If we’re not willing to transpose the entire melody up into ukulele range, then we must make do somehow. One solution is to leave those notes out and to the imagination of the listener. Another is to transpose just that phrase of music up an octave. This latter option is what I’ve done at the end of the second line of music in the arrangement above.

Using these three techniques, you can create a lovely and convincing chord-melody arrangement in the ukulele’s lower range without transposing up into the higher fret-range of the instrument. I’ll talk about transposing the melody up to a ‘ukulele-friendly’ key in a future ‘part 2’ article on ukulele chord melody arranging.

Update: Now you can read part 2 on transposing! with an updated version of the arrangement.

Source Files

Get the source files (pdf, finale and music xml for import into other music editors) for the above arrangement under the ‘Files’ tab of the Joyful Noise! LDS Ukulele group on FaceBook. Also, if you’re interested in sharing your arrangements of hymns and Christ-centered spiritual songs, this is a great place to do it.

Gravity : Cover by Jason Arimoto

Rarely do you get great playing and vocals in the same solo cover . . . Just wait til he starts singing!