A 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.
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.