Chord melody is a style of ukulele playing where you strum the chords and fingerpick the melody at the same time.
Often chord melody arrangements feature modern pop songs you would normally sing but instead play solo on ukulele.
However, you can also play what I like to called chord melody vamps, where you take a repeating chord progression and improvise a melody with those chords to create a beautiful-sounding solo piece played on your ukulele.
In this video, discover a fun and easy way to play your own improvised chord melody vamps on ukulele.
I show you how to play a few chords with a mellow-sounding strumming and picking technique, while adding in improvised melodies.
By the end, you’ll be playing your ukulele in a creative, beautiful-sounding way!
Keep reading for the chords and scale pattern used in this video.
Ukulele Chords Used in This Chord Melody Vamp
For this vamp, I like to use four different chord positions.
These ukulele chords tend to sound moody together because most are major seventh or dominant seventh chords.
Seventh chords give a chord progression or song that “flavor” or complexity to give it a “vibe” or moody feeling.
These chords are your home base for your vamp, meaning when you go to introduce the melody later, as instructed in the video, whenever you’re not sure what melody to play, just come back to these chords because they will sound great on their own.
To play an Fmaj7 chord, barre or press down all four strings at the 5th fret with the index finger and place your ring finger on the 7th fret of the bottom A-string.
To play a Cmaj7 chord, place the middle finger on the 2nd fret of the bottom A-string and let the top three strings ring open.
This is a fun variation of G7 that is played more up the fretboard.
To play a G7 chord in this variation, place the middle finger on the 5th fret of the C-string, index finger on the 3rd fret of the E-string, and ring finger on the 5th fret of the bottom A-string. Let the top g-string ring open.
To play an F chord, place the middle finger on the 2nd fret of the top g-string and index finger on the 1st fret of the E-string. Let the other two strings ring open.
“Pinch Strum” Strumming & Picking Pattern Used
To achieve a soft, warm and mellow sound for the strumming and picking, we’re going to use the Pinch Strum technique, where you strum down across the strings with the flesh-side of the thumb and up across the strings with the flesh-side of the index finger.
Be sure to watch the video to learn exactly how to perform the pinch strum.
How to Improvise Chord Melodies
After you’ve practiced the above chords and strumming/picking technique, you’re ready to improvise your own chord melodies!
To do so, you need to know a couple things.
First, these chords are found in the key of C major, meaning that any melody note we select to improvise should be found in a C major scale.
To go with that, any melody note you’re going to improvise with these chords is played on the bottom A-string to place the note as the highest note in the chord to make it stand out.
This means you need to know where the notes of a C major scale are played on the bottom A-string.
The notes found in a C major scale are:
These notes are considered natural notes because they don’t have any sharps or flats.
Your goal today is to learn and memorize the natural notes (i.e. the notes found in a C major scale) on the bottom A-string.
Any of the notes found in this pattern can be used to improvise your melody.
Note: I didn’t want this lesson to turn into a theory lesson so if you’re interested in learning the building blocks of a C major scale you can discover more here.
So, how does this pattern work with the chords?
This is where it gets really fun.
For each of the chord positions above, modify the note fretted on the bottom A-string of the chord with any of the notes found in the above bottom A-string natural note pattern.
This is where you’ll want to watch the above video where I show you specific examples of improvising melodies with each chord by modifying the bottom A-string note in the chord.
It’s Your Turn
So, to recap, here’s how to improvise your own original chord melody solo on ukulele:
- Learn the chords
- Practice the pinch strum
- Memorize the natural notes of the bottom A-string
- Practice modifying the note on the bottom A-string of any of the chords with a natural note
- Write out your own chord progression using the chords above and create your own improvisation!
You have full permission to be as creative as you want!
In the video, I gave you a lot of ideas that you can take and implement to come up with your own chord melody vamps.
This is one of my favorite ways to play ukulele and tap into a more creative side to playing. I encourage you to have fun with this and take your time being curious about the kinds of melodies and finger positions you’ll discover. Let your ears be your guide and create something new today!
Great lesson. An intro to improv, and a bit of theory without getting into the details too much (feel free to do so in future). Have enjoyed several of your courses in the past, would love to see more of this type of content. Thanks!
Awesome, Pete! I’m glad you enjoyed this and definitely would love to explore this kind of content more. Thanks for your comment!
Oh, and one more thing…while the progression is simple enough, a pdf of the tablature would be great. Guess I really benefit from the visuals. Thanks.
I’m wondering if your are considering composing some new arpeggios for the ukulele? I have already taken your fingerpicking class and also the arpeggio class you offered a couple years ago. Fingerpicking arpeggios remains my favorite music to learn to play, and I’m hoping you will offer more to purchase to work on. Thanks for your great classes and beautiful arpeggio adaptations!
This is at the top of my list, Patricia! I’m glad to hear you’d be interested in more of these because I love composing and arranging them. I’ll get to work on that. Thanks for your comment!
THAT was Beautiful! So simple, yet so satisfying. I’m going to work on this, Pronto. Love it. Thank you Brett, you keep inspiring me and help to keep my Uke playing fresh.
Thanks, Rhonda! I’m glad you found this inspiring. Have fun exploring these different ideas as you create your own improvisation!
I enjoyed this lesson and will be working on your tips. How can one use scales other than the CMaj and add melodies (for example A-minor). Is this technique for playing melody notes limited to only the first string? How about chord melody picking for playing improvised jazz using this technique? Sooo many questions….
Love the questions, Donald! This is definitely the tip of the iceberg, so I like how you’re thinking. C major is a great place to start implementing these ideas but other keys are definitely possible. Chord melody as a style on ukulele generally likes “ukulele-friendly” keys where open strings can be found and utilized in a lot of the chords of a given key to fill out the sound, so keys like C, G, F, and A can be good “ukulele-friendly” chord melody keys to explore these ideas. Typically, the bottom A-string or E-string is best for placing melody notes. Incorporating the E-string for melody can be a little trickier because you have to be more intentional about how you’re strumming/picking the ukulele. A lot of times in jazz you use a lot of four-finger moveable seventh chord shapes, so there is less of a reliance on open strings for harmony. And when it comes to melody in jazz, the melody phrasing often connects the chord changes, so it’s not uncommon to switch between strumming a chord and then picking single-note melody passages. Hoping I can explore more of these ideas in lessons or more dedicated courses in the future! Thanks for your comment.
Brett, awesome video! I love how you make the lessons so easy to understand. What other combinations of chords would work with this lesson? Would you always modify the A string using other chords?
Glad you liked it, Teresa! As you’re first starting off with this idea, you can’t go wrong with any chords and variation in the key of C major using the bottom A-string as a way to incorporate melody. In the key of C major, that gives you: C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, and Bdim. You can modify these into seventh variations as well, which would give you: Cmaj7, Dm7, Em7, Fmaj7, G7, Am7, and Bdim7. I’d recommend picking a couple chords from that and then look up variations and have fun exploring with the Ukulele Tricks Chord Library. 🙂
This is really cool! A question on the strumming technique, though. Perhaps it is just my aging eyes, but in video it looks like your thumb only hits the top string (or maybe top 2) and your index only hits the bottom (or maybe bottom 2) strings. Is that right? Or are you hitting all 4 strings on both the up and down strums?
That’s correct, Dave! A lot of that comes down to feel and how soft or loud of a dynamic you want. When you’re “digging in” to play louder, it’s possible you will strum more of the strings than when you play softer. I’m not really intentionally thinking about how many strings to strum but it does appear that in this case you end up only strumming the top two strings or bottom two strings. Hope this provides some clarity! Thanks for your comment.
You mentioned the name of a Hawaiian Music book and said it would be included somewhere. Haven’t been able to locate. Please repeat that (spelling) for me. Thanks so much!
Oops! I included it in the description of the YouTube but forgot to publish it on the blog post. Thanks for asking, Kimberly. The songbook is called “He Mele Aloha” and it was put together by Carol Wilcox, Kimo Hussey, Vicky Hollinger, and Puakea Nogelmeier. You can learn more about it here.
Brett, so happy to see this chord-melody lesson! I’m 100% with Don West’s comment and your reply. Would love to see Additional (paid) content to expand on this topic. The chord-melody Xmas songs you offer are great practice…I appreciate you.
Really like the “ 7th” sound. I like your lessons for the uke and enjoy playing my tenor uke when my fingers get too sore & tired from the guitar strings (still a real newbie at guitar – even after several months! ).
I also love switching between the uke and guitar. Glad you enjoyed this one!
It is amazing how much I learnt in just 10 minutes. It was awesome. Improvising is very satisfying, especially when ones memory for written music is like a sieve. Just being able to “noodle” is very rewarding.
I agree! Noodling brings out a creative side that is just way too fun. Glad you enjoyed this lesson!
Thanks Brett great lesson sure stretches the fingers! I also really enjoy the comments &answers
Could you do a lesson on hammer on please. Bonna
Bonna, I see you’re in the Blues Tricks course, so definitely check out the hammer-on lesson there! 🙂