Listening to songs and wanting to play the same songs on ukulele - that's what draws most people to the ukulele. That and it looks like a load of fun and easy too play - which it is. Then you need to actually remember the songs that you're learning so you can play them again. And, hopefully not have to read them off a sheet all the time.
Remembering a song is lot like remembering the directions for a road trip. There are the turn-by-turn directions, road maps, signs and landmarks that will get you to where you are going. Turn here, turn there, remember this and remember that landmark. With a songs it's the chords, the melody, style, the harmonic cells, the form, etc that are part of the song that you want to remember.
With a few music tools and an understanding of the basic principles of how chords and chord progressions - the songs work. You can start unraveling what's going on in any song.
There's a lot more in common between songs than you might think. Each song has it's own direction, signs and landmarks that can be used over and over again to actually remember songs.
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Where to Start
All music — melodies, chords, progressions, licks, leads, riff, etc… comes from some scale and there's no better scale to start with than the major scale. From the major scale is the most common scale used. From the solid foundation of the major scale, you can learn and derive the other essential scales. The major scale can be used as a basis for creating and deriving chords. The major scale is your go-to / fall back scale for all your primary music information.
Memorize the Major Scales
The Major Scale is one of your most common and important scales to learn and MEMORIZE in ALL 15 keys. The majority of popular and traditional songs are in major keys.
All 15 major scales need to be memorized for creating chords, melodies, and improvising. However, as far as the keys that songs are created in they're a few common keys for every style that is performed.
Harmonic Analysis is the understanding of the functional sequence of chords. It's the process used to analyze the harmonic structure of a progression, song or composition. This analysis is then used to make scale selections for improvisation, analyzing and creating melodies and chord substitution.
Go to Harmonic Analysis Lesson Series … , based on my book Harmonic Analysis for Chords Substitution and Scale Selection.
Learn the The Nashville Number System
This numbering system - based on the principles of music allows for writing a song in NO key to be played in ANY key. Can also be used for comparing songs an identifying the commonality between songs. There is a lot more in common between songs than not.
The Nashville Number System is an informal method of transcribing music by denoting the scale degree of chords within a progression, tonality or song. It was developed by Neal Matthews, Jr. in the late '50s as a simplified system for The Jordanaires to use in the studio and further developed by Charlie McCoy. It resembles the Roman numeral and figured bass systems traditionally used to transcribe a chord progression. By writing chords as numbers transposition to other keys is possible with verbal communication or without rewriting a chart. As a simple system of transcription, it can be used with only a rudimentary background in music theory. Improvisation structures can be quickly explained using numbers, and chord changes can be communicated mid-song by holding up the corresponding number of fingers. The system is flexible and can be embellished to include more information (such as chord color or to denote a bass note in an inverted chord).
Learn the Melody
Melodies, licks, riffs - typically are single notes and can be sung and these you can learn. The famous jazz guitarist Jo Pass said, "Learn melodies - No one goes around whistling chord progressions. On a ukulele, you can learn a melody in one key with a set fingering that can always be the same as a melody will not change. The rhythm might change, but the melody typically does not. Happy Birthday's melody is always the same regardless how bad it typically is sung.
Identify the key intervals of a melody for future recall. Based on the major scale Happy Birthday starts with the 5th below the root, and in the key of F major it is: C C D C F E C C D C G F ... 5 5 6 5 1, 5 5 6 5 1 2, ...
Learn the Chords
For learning the chords of a song or chord progression - unlike the melody that your can sing, hum or whistle - the chords can be understood intellectually and referenced to other songs you learn and know. This can be accomplished using the resources above.
Know the Song Intellectually
Know the song away from your instrument. You've probably heard this if you have ever been to a ukulele jam session or play-along. It's where someone is yelling out what the next chord is - while they're playing the current chord. They don't have to wait to see what someone else is playing - that is too late. They know what is coming up and can prepare. "They know the song."
As soon as you play the first chord of a song you should be thinking ahead to what the next chord or chords are.
Key Signatures and the Circle of Fifths and Fourths • Updated: Mar 2, 2021
There is a load of information in traditional "Key Signatures." Unlocking the principles in this circle leads to a better understanding of music and how things work. A key signature is a series of sharp or flat symbols placed on the staff, designating the notes that are to be consistently played higher or lower than the equivalent natural notes.
The Harmonized Major and Minor Scale Charts • Updated: Sep 5, 2011
The "Major Scale" or Ionian scale is a diatonic scale, made up of seven distinct notes, plus an eighth which duplicates the first one octave higher. In solfege these notes correspond to the syllables Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti/Si, (Do), the Do in the parenthesis at the end being the octave of the root.
Harmonic Analysis Lesson Series • Updated: Jan 6, 2020
Harmonic Analysis ( HA ) is the process used to determine the harmonic function of chords within a chord progression. A chord progression is defined as a sequence of chords, each chord has a root and has a particular chord type. The relationship of a chord's root to a scale determines its function within that scale's tonality. Once a chord's function is identified, scale selections along with chord and scale substitutions can be made. This process is called Root Movement Analysis ( RMA ). This series of lessons are extracted from my book for use with individual private and on-line students. Each lesson directly corresponds the chapters in my book Harmonic Analysis for Scale Selection and Chord Substitution by Curt Sheller (me).
Creating Introductions and Turnarounds for `Ukulele • Updated: Mar 20, 2020
Introductions are a composed or improvised pieces of music that introduce - sets the stage for - a song or composition. Introductions, or intro for short, are used in all types of music. In this lesson, the focus is on introductions in contemporary pop, rock, blues, country, folk and jazz styles.
Classic Endings for `Ukulele • Updated: Mar 16, 2020
Two Feel, bVImaj7 bIImaj7, Basie Ending, Single, Double and Triple Tags, Chromatic, Take 'A' Train Ending, Shave and a Hair Cut, Lawrence Welk Ending. These are common classic songs ending that are used over and over in the standard song repertoire.
Using Songs to Learn `Ukulele • Updated: Mar 13, 2015
There are two approaches when learning a musical instrument like the ukulele or guitar. The first approach and one that is very popular with the ukulele goes right along with its easy to play reputation. This approach uses songs to learn the ukulele. A second approach is to learn what would be consider the the basics before working with songs.
Songs Using a Common 1 5 6 4 Chord Progression • Updated: May 2, 2018
There's actually a lot common between songs when it comes to chord progressions. Here is an every growing list of songs that use the common 1 5 6 4 chord progression. This is a "Full Diatonic" chord progression with each chord coming from its corresponding major scale. This common progression is often called the "Four Chord, Pop Progression."
Playing by Ear - Chords • Updated: Oct 6, 2016
Playing chords, chord progressions, and songs by ear is all about getting your ear to recognize the sound of chords and chord progressions and just like melodies, train the fingers and the hand to follow your inner ear and play these chords, chord progressions, and songs on demand.
This training involves the mind, hands and ear. Of the three the hands always need the most work as they can't hear or understand anything - only what they have been trained to do so.
Harmonic Analysis for Scale Selection and Chord Substitution
Updated: Apr 12, 2021
Harmonic Analysis is the understanding of the functional sequence of chords. It is the process used to analyze the harmonic structure of a progression, song or composition. This analysis is then used to make scale selections for improvisation and chord substitution.
A Guide to Blues Chord Progressions for Ukulele A to Z
Updated: Jun 15, 2006
The Blues are at the heart of all American music. It has influenced Country, Rock, Folk, Jazz, Bluegrass and just about every form of American music we listen to today. 26 blues progression in C and G tuning, progressing from basic to advanced jazz progression, with chord grids and substitutions explained.
The Advanced Guide to Blues Chord Progressions for Guitar - Volume I
Updated: Jun 25, 2019
Volume I covers the keys of C, F and Bb. The key of C includes detailed accompanying text explaining the principles behind each progression. Each volume of The Advanced Guide to Blues Progressions for Guitar features basic to advanced blues chord progressions. to be used with the chord voicings from volume I, II & III of The Advanced Guide to Guitar Chords.
The Advanced Guide to Blues Chord Progressions for Guitar - Volume II
Updated: Jan 9, 2018
Volume II covers the keys of E, A, D and G. The key of E includes detailed accompanying text explaining the principles behind each progression. Each volume of The Advanced Guide to Blues Progressions for Guitar features basic to advanced blues chord progressions. to be used with the chord voicings from volume I, II & III of The Advanced Guide to Guitar Chords.
The Advanced Guide to Chord Progressions for Guitar - Volume I
Updated: Mar 15, 2002
Volume I of The Advanced Guide to Chord Progressions for Guitar features the principles of voice leading applied to chord progressions. These principles are explained using chords from volume I of The Advanced Guide to Guitar Chords. Chapters with common major and minor full diatonic, partial diatonic and chromatic chord progressions are also included to further explore voice leading.
The Advanced Guide to Chord Progressions for Ukulele - Volume I
Updated: Jan 10, 2020
Before individual chords become the background of songs, they must be put into orders called chord progressions. The Advanced Guide to Chord Progressions for Ukulele organizes progressions according to string family, position, voice leading and chord magnetism.
Harmonic Analysis for Scale and Chord Selection Updated: Jan 1, 2003
Harmonic Analysis is the process used to determine the harmonic function of chords within a chord progression or song. A chord progression is defined as a sequence of chords, each chord has a root and is a particular chord type. The relationship of a chord's to a scale determines its function within that scale's tonality.
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