Wednesday, 27 February 2013

3-Chord Songs, part 6: The Happy Birthday Chord Pattern

Knowing how to play Happy Birthday is useful for more than just birthday parties. The chord progression happens to fit a very common pattern, which might be thought of as:


The I-chord in parentheses is sometimes absent, but typically the song follows the Happy Birthday phrasing of:

I                 V
Happy Birthday to you

V                 I
Happy Birthday to you

I                 IV
Happy Birthday to you

      I        V  I
Happy Birthday to you

Notice how the first line rocks from I to V, and the second line rocks back again from V to I. (I've written the V over start of the second line, even though it is not strictly necessary, to illustrate this symmetry.)

Then the new element of the IV is added, and the last line brings back a brief amount of tension with the V again before resolving.

(If I, IV and V aren't making sense, please refer to the first chart in this post to find ukulele chord substitutions.)

The same, or at least a similar, pattern can be found in all or parts of the following songs:
  1. For He's a Jolly Good Fellow
  2. Brahm's Lullabye
  3. If You're Happy And You Know It
  4. Goodnight, Irene
  5. So Long, It's been Good To Know You
  6. When The Saints Go Marching In
  7. Sloop John B
  8. Glory of Love
  9. Don't Fence Me In
  10. Save The Last Dance For Me
  11. The Ballad of Jed Clampett (theme song from The Beverly Hillbillies)
  12. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
  13. Under The Boardwalk
  14. Tiny Bubbles
  15. When I'm 64
  16. Ob-La-Di
  17. Hey Jude
  18. Song Sung Blue
I would love to be able to round that list out to an even 20. If you find any other Happy Birthday-type songs, please leave them in the comments and I'll add them with credit to you, of course. Thanks!

Monday, 25 February 2013

3-Chord Songs, part 5: Happy Birthday to You on the Ukulele

Every ukulele player should know how to play Happy Birthday. It's the one song we are all guaranteed of singing at least a few times a year, and it's one of the easiest to learn.

Here are three simple versions, all in the key of F. Playing in F means that the lowest note in the song is also the lowest note on a reentrant-tuned ukulele: the open C string. Thus we can pick out the melody using the three bottom strings and very little hand movement.

Method 1: Chords Only

This is the most basic arrangement of the song. Strum the chords and sing along.

F                 C7
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday, dear (you)
      F        C7  F
Happy Birthday to  you

Method 2: Picking the Melody

Here is a simple melody version. It is laid out as if you are holding your uke ready to play, but have your fretboard turned toward you; thus, in GCEA tuning, the top line of dashes represents the "A" string, and the bottom line is the "G" string. A "0" indicates plucking the open string, and numbers show where you fret the string while plucking it.

 Happy Birthday  to you        Happy Birthday   to you

 Happy Birthday  dear (yo-u)   Happy Birthday   to you

Method 3: Picking + Chords

Finally, we can combine the two methods of playing. The melody is picked, as above, but chords are also strummed at the end of each phrase.

                  F  C7                         C7 F
 Happy Birthday  to you        Happy Birthday   to you   

                          Bb                    C7 F
 Happy Birthday dear  (yo-u)   Happy Birthday   to you

Extra: "And many more..."

The arrow (->) shows a slide from the 2nd to 3rd fret; the tilde (~) is for vibrato.

 and many more...

If you want to get extra fancy, make that slide into an F7 chord:

 and many more...

A printable .pdf file with all three ways of playing Happy Birthday in F can be found here.

Friday, 22 February 2013

3-Chord Songs, part 4: Two More Patterns

These two patterns can be played in a loop all the way through the song, except for the single variation noted in parentheses.

  1. Please Release Me (I-IV-V-I / I-IV-I-V-I)
  2. Your Cheatin' Heart
  3. Jamaica Farewell
  4. King of the Road
  1. Louie, Louie
  2. La Bamba
  3. Good Lovin'
  4. Twist and Shout
Do you know of any other songs which fit one of these two patterns? Please feel free to leave them in the comments.

Friday, 15 February 2013

3-Chord Songs, part 3: Songs in the I-IV-I-V-I Pattern

If you look only at the chords alone and not how many measures each chord is played, the 12-bar blues changes are: I-IV-I-V-I. This same chord pattern, with slight variations, figures in many of the first 3-chord songs one comes across. You may have to repeat part of the pattern, you may omit an I chord somewhere, and this doesn't account for bridges or choruses at all; but the following are songs that more or less follow I-IV-I-V-I:
  1. Moonlight Bay
  2. You Are My Sunshine
  3. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star/ABC/Baa Baa Black Sheep
  4. Popeye the Sailor Man
  5. Ring of Fire
  6. Cecilia
  7. Sugar, Sugar 
These songs start on the IV chord (IV-I-V-I):
  1. Aloha 'Oe
  2. On Top of Old Smokey
  3. Bye Bye Love
  4. P.S. I Love You
  5. This Land is Your Land
  6. 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)
And these songs use I-IV-I-V, either in repetition or with a second part of straight I-IV-I-V-I:
  1. The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh)
  2. Teach Your Children
  3. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
  4. Show Me the Way to Go Home
  5. Another Saturday Night
  6. I Saw Her Standing There
  7. Act Naturally
  8. Rhythm of the Rain
  9. Brown-Eyed Girl
  10. Lean On Me
If the Roman numerals are confusing, just substitute the chords of C, F and G7 for I, IV and V, respectively—this means you'll be playing in the key of C. Play the chords in the order given; if you listen, you'll hear when to change chords.

Monday, 11 February 2013

3-Chord Songs, part 2: Songs in the 12-Bar Blues Pattern

Once you know the 12-bar blues pattern, you can play not only blues but also a lot of rockabilly, country & rock songs, largely from the middle of the last century. The lyrics may not strictly follow the A-A-B pattern, and you'll likely have to emphasize the backbeat (as noted in the lyrics of #15, Rock and Roll Music); but the chord changes are unmistakably those of the 12-bar blues.

Here's a list of some you may recognize. For an additional challenge, find a version of the songs and play in the same key as the recording. Since it's probably safe to say that none these songs were written on ukulele, playing this way will almost certainly pull you out of the key-of-c comfort zone.
  1. Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (Ray/Prince, recorded by the Andrews Sisters & others)
  2. Route 66 (Bobby Troup, covered by Nat King Cole & others)
  3. Move It On Over (Hank Williams)
  4. Mind Your Own Business (Hank Williams)
  5. Hound Dog (Lieber/Stoller, recorded by Elvis Presley & others)
  6. Kansas City (Lieber/Stoller, recorded by Wilbert Harrison& others)
  7. Rock Around the Clock (Freedman/Myers, recorded by Bill Haley & the Comets)
  8. Shake Rattle and Roll (Charles Calhoun, recorded by Bill Haley & the Comets)
  9. Tutti Frutti (Little Richard)
  10. Blue Suede Shoes (Carl Perkins)
  11. Folsom Prison Blues (Johnny Cash)
  12. Roll Over Beethoven (Chuck Berry)
  13. See You Later Alligator (Bobby Charles, covered by Bill Haley & the Comets)
  14. Before You Accuse Me (Bo Diddley, covered by Eric Clapton)
  15. Rock and Roll Music (Chuck Berry, covered by the Beatles & others)
  16. Johnny B. Goode (Chuck Berry)
  17. Chains (Goffin/King, recorded by the Cookies & the Beatles)
  18. Can't Buy Me Love (the Beatles)
  19. Day Tripper (the Beatles)
  20. In The Summertime (Jerry Mungo)
  21. Stuck in the Middle With You (Stealer's Wheel)

Friday, 8 February 2013

3-Chord Songs, part 1: The 12-Bar Blues

3 Chords

Previously we reviewed songs that can be played with only two chords, the I and the V7 (also known as the tonic and dominant seventh). Many children's songs, folk songs and hymns fit this pattern.

By adding a third chord, the IV or subdominant, you open up possibilities to play exponentially more music—and more importantly, to start to make sense of the music that you play. Here are the I-IV-V chords for the most common ukulele keys:

Basic 12-Bar Blues

The 12-bar blues is based on these 3 chords and is the basis for much popular music. What do we mean by 12 bars? A bar is a unit of measurement in music. In the case of the blues, it is counted out in 4 beats—so a bar is a unit of 4 beats, counted 1-2-3-4, with each beat getting equal time. The vertical lines below are the dividers between bars. Each slash is a beat, and you can see how it is counted above the slashes. Twelve sets of 4-beat bars:
The most stripped-down chord progression for the blues looks like this:
—and if you were to play in the key of C, we can substitute C, F and G for I, IV and V to get:

Chord Variations

There are many variations on this pattern. You might see the IV chord put into the second bar like so:
In the third line, you frequently come across this pattern, with the IV substituted for the second V:
And sevenths or other variations of the chords can be substituted, as well. Since we are relatively new players, we're sticking to the sevenths for now.
If the blues is going to go on for more than one verse, a turnaround can be employed at the 12th bar. The easiest turnaround is the V7 (shown again in the key of C):

Playing in Different Keys

To play the 12-bar blues in any other key, you simply substitute the appropriate I, IV and V chords (the I chord is always the same as the key you are playing in). So to play 12-bar blues in F,  your 3 chords are F, Bb and C. To play in A, you use A, D and E. (Again, you can substitutes the sevenths of any of these chords.)


Another way to vary the sound of your 3 chords is to walk up and down a little, as Ukulele Mike does here, playing in A:
Two ways to dissect this pattern:
  • you look for the 5th note of the chord you're in, walk up one step, another half step, and back down to the half step
  • more simply, as explained by Al Wood at Ukulele Hunt, you play the sixth and seventh of the chord in question. This is called the blues shuffle.


The blues lyrics pattern is usually written A-A-B:
Line 1, bars 1-4, states the premise (A)
Line 2, bars 5-8, repeats the premise (A)
Line 3, bars 9-12, comes to some conclusion (B)

You can see this very clearly in the classic St. Louis Blues (with chords on top):
Or you can make up your own heartfelt, bluesy lyrics in the A-A-B pattern to produce your own song. Here's mine:

The 3-Chord Blues

I only know the C chord, and the F and the G
Said I only know the C chord, and the F and the G
But I can play the 12-bar blues, and that's enough for me

You can play this in F, G and A without changing the final line, and only minor modifications need to be made to play it in D and Bb.

For popular songs in the 12-bar blues pattern, see this post.

Online Resources

By far the most comprehensive source for playing blues ukulele is the Ukulele Hunt e-book, How to Play Blues Ukulele. The $17 (at this writing) download includes a 78-page .pdf file with multiple appendices and mp3s to aid understanding. There is also a printable version of the book, for those who would prefer to have a bound copy.

Ukulele Mike also has some videos, one of which is embedded above. He also has a lesson on playing the 12-bar blues in G, improvising blues in the key of C, and playing/improvising in the key of E.

Brett McQueen of Ukulele Tricks has 3 lessons in playing blues ukulele, broken down in a way that's easy to understand. Here's the first one. When you finish it, you can follow the link to the second part, which also has a link to the third section.

Aldrine Guerrero of Ukulele Underground has this 2-minute video explanation.

And if this isn't enough for you, just search for "blues ukulele" on YouTube for more than 28 million results!

Saturday, 2 February 2013

World Ukulele Day

Today is World Ukulele Day. WUD was first declared by Ukulele Mike in 2011 as a day to play or celebrate ukulele in any way you choose.

Since February 2nd is also Groundhog Day, here's one idea:

If the weather is cloudy and an early spring is forecast, play some spring songs:
  • Blue Skies
  • Bring Me Sunshine
  • I Can See Clearly Now
  • Tiptoe Through the Tulips
  • Ain't Gonna Rain No More
  • On the Sunny Side of the Street
  • Over the Rainbow/Wonderful World
  • When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along

If your groundhog is frightened of its shadow and there will be six more weeks of winter, play these instead:
  • California Dreamin'
  • Who'll Stop the Rain
  • Baby, It's Cold Outside
  • Look For the Silver Lining
  • Rhythm of the Falling Rain
  • I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm
  • Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head
  • Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
Any other ideas? What songs will you play, and how will you celebrate on World Ukulele Day?