In 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:
- Where Can I Turn for Peace (updated version with second page and added chord indications for reference purposes)
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.
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.