Monday, 25 March 2013

Springtime Songs

It's spring, and people are starting to travel again. There were only four of us at our last meeting, only three who stayed the whole time. Our playlist was set for the season and included: I'm Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover, Lemon Tree, Garden Song, Rockin' Robin and—it had to come up sometime—Tiptoe Through the Tulips. We also played a few favorites: Let's Get Away From It All, Blue Bayou, Hallelujah, and Puff the Magic Dragon.

Easter is coming up, but there aren't many secular Easter songs. In fact, we could only think of two: Irving Berlin's Easter Parade, and Here Comes Peter Cottontail.

After finding the above video, I ended up having a short correspondence with YouTube user ThePopster666, aka "Papa." He makes his videos as a way to teach his grandchildren ukulele, and he gave me permission to post my transcription of his chords (which are also in the notes under his video on YouTube), as well as link to the .pdf file I made for our group here. In both cases, I've emphasized the 3 main chords (in bold type on the .pdf, in red below) so that the I-IV-V structure of the song is more evident. Those who prefer simple can just play the bold chords. ThePopster's additional chords give the song more nuance, though.

Here Comes Peter Cottontail
as arranged by “ThePopster666”

[C]Here comes [CM7]Peter [C7]Cottontail

[F]hoppin' [FM7]down the [F6]bunny [F]trail

[G7]Hippity [C#dim]hoppin', [G]Easter's [G7]on its [C]way [Cdim][Dm7][G7]

[C]Bringin' [CM7]every [C7] girl and boy

[F]baskets [FM7]full of [F6]Easter [F]joy

[G7]Things to [C#dim]make your [G]Easter [G7]bright and [C]gay [Cdim] [G7]

[C]He's got [F]jelly [Fm7]beans for [F6]Tommy

[F]colored [C]eggs for [G7]sister [C]Sue

[C]There's an [F]orchid [FM7]for you [F6]mommy

[F]and an [G7]Easter [Cdim]bonnet [G7]too

Oh! [C]Here comes [CM7]Peter [C7]Cottontail

[F]hoppin' [FM7]down the [F6]bunny [F]trail

[G7]Hippity [C#dim]hoppity, [G]happy [G7]Easter [C] day [Dm7] [C]

If the key of C is too high, you can transpose...or you can use these arrangements in G or in A.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

4-chord Songs, part 2: I-V-vi-IV (the Pop-Punk Progression)

Here is the chart we have built for ourselves, using the Circle of Fifths:

If you select any row going across and pick out the chords in the first and third column (C/G7, F/C7, G/D7, etc), you can play 2-chord songs.

If you add the second column, you can play 3-chord songs (these, too).

And if you use all the chords going across any single row, you can play songs in the 4-chord Doo-Wop pattern.

That arrangement is I-vi-IV-V(7). Mixing those same chords up a little, you get another well-known chord progression. The Pop-Punk progression is arranged I-V(7)-vi-IV (or other rotations in this order, such as vi-IV-I-V and IV-I-V-vi), and is the basis for:
  • Auld Lang Syne
  • Waltzing Matilda
  • the first 4 chords of Oh! Darling (the Beatles)
  • Let It Be (the Beatles)
  • Take Me Home, Country Road (John Denver)
  • Beast of Burden (the Rolling Stones)
  • Don't Stop Believin' (Journey)
  • the chorus of Down Under (Men at Work)
  • With or Without You (U2)
  • Africa (Toto)
  • I'm Yours (Jason Mraz)
  • Hey Soul Sister (Train)
  • and all these songs, too

If you've noticed that this is a particularly catchy pattern of chords, you wouldn't be alone. Some years ago, this Axis of Awesome act memorably demonstrated the progression's popularity:

Want to write an easy-to-play pop or indie song? Start with 4 chords.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

4-Chord Songs, part 1: I-vi-IV-V7 (the Doo-Wop, or 50s, Progression)

The 3-chord song patterns we reviewed all used the I, IV and V chords. That is to say, on the Circle of Fifths below, any of the chords written in red upper case letters around the outside of the grey circle (the I or root), plus the two chords on either side of it. Counterclockwise is the IV chord, and clockwise is the V chord. In the key of C, the three chords are C (I), F (IV) and G or G7 (V or V7). In the key of D, the three chords are D (I), G (IV) and A or A7 (V or V7). This pattern works for any key, although ukulele songs tend to be written on the part of the circle that runs from Bb to A.

image from Wikipedia

One way to add a fourth chord is to look to the relative minor, the lower case green letters on the inside of the grey circle. The relative minor, or vi (minor sixth) chord of C is A minor. (The A minor scale uses the same notes as the C major scale, only it starts and ends at A instead of C.)

Once you hear the Doo-Wop Progression, or the songs which use it, you'll understand the name. Its basic pattern is I-vi-IV-V(7); in the key of C, this would be C-Am-F-G7—an easy loop for the fingers, and a very familiar sound. Here are some of the songs which use it:

  1. Blue Moon
  2. Heart and Soul
  3. Beyond the Sea (Bobby Darin)
  4. Everyday (Buddy Holly)
  5. All I Have To Do Is Dream (Everly Brothers)
  6. Stand By Me (Ben E. King)
  7. Please Mr. Postman (The Marvelettes)
  8. Runaround Sue (Dion)
  9. I Love How You Love Me (the Paris Sisters)
  10. Sherry (the Four Seasons)*
  11. Up On The Roof (The Drifters)*
  12. Monster Mash (Bobby "Boris" Pickett)
  13. Unchained Melody (The Righteous Brother)
  14. I've Just Seen A Face (The Beatles)
  15. Wonderful World (Sam Cooke)
  16. Octopus's Garden (The Beatles)
  17. Crocodile Rock (Elton John)
  18. YMCA (The Village People)
  19. Every Breath You Take (The Police)

There is even a Wikipedia entry just for songs using this progression here.

When I was fiddling around with these chord changes, my son wandered into the room and noted that one of the songs from the musical Grease has lyrics built around these chords. Those Magic Changes is fifth from the bottom on the above-linked Wikipedia list.

Stacey then found the following video with lyrics, making it easy to play along and get the pattern embedded into your fingers.

*thanks to Stacey for the contribution of these songs to the list

Friday, 1 March 2013

3-Chord Songs, part 7: Miscellaneous Songs

To finish up our group's exploration of 3-chord songs, here are several which use either a unique or a mixed pattern which is not easily classified. As always, they are presented as titles only so that you can google lyrics, listen for the chord changes, and try them in different keys or using different chord formations. Have fun playing!
  1. Catch A Falling Star
  2. Willie and the Hand Jive
  3. It's So Easy
  4. Surfin' USA
  5. Ring of Fire
  6. Love Me Do
  7. Down On The Corner
  8. Me And Bobby McGee
  9. Layla
  10. Rivers of Babylon
  11. Three Little Birds
  12. One Love
  13. Margaritaville
For further exploration of ukulele playing using 3 chords, check out Jim d'Ville's 3 Chord Club. He has a separate section on 3-chord songs of the Beatles, and a set of tutorials on understanding the Circle of Fifths. I plan to dig into both of these myself as soon as possible.