Are you a ukulele player who would like to branch into the art of songwriting? Writing a song on the ukulele can be challenging, but it also can be great fun! Read on for some tips and tricks to help you on your songwriting journey.
Most songwriters will tell you that it is good to change up your process on occasion, as this can help generate some new ideas. The ukulele has a different sound than a piano or even a guitar, so playing the same chord on a ukulele can help you hear other melodies in your head and also bring you some lyrical ideas.
Hone in on your chord progression
The first thing you need before writing – and one of the most valuable songwriting tips for ukulele players – is some inspiration, so be sure to take some time to brainstorm if you don’t already have a thought about what you want to write about. If you DO know what you would like to write about, your next step is to choose the chords you would like to use. As I’ve said before, the most common chord progressions include the chords “F” “C” “G” “Am” “Em” and “D” or some combination of these. However, these are by no means the only chord options you have, especially when you are writing in a key other than C or G.
Consider using a chord progression generator
If you aren’t sure what other chords belong in any particular key, or if you are looking for some variety in your progressions, never fear! This is where a ukulele chord progressions generator can be useful, as I wrote about here. If you are not sure what chords you would like to use or which chords sound good together, a chord progressions generator is incredibly useful.
However, I find that simply picking up the ukulele and playing around with some chords can strike a “chord” with me and give way to melodic ideas that simply seeing chord names and shapes does not do, so don’t limit yourself, either. It’s best to use a combination of these two techniques to form the foundations of your song.
Okay, but what the heck do I do with these chords?
How should I strum them? What tempo should I choose? Again, here you want to rely on the topic of your song. Is this going to be a happy song? A hopeful one? A sad one? A heartbroken one? Do you want to get people dancing or do you want them to slow down and relax? All of these questions are ones to consider when composing a piece using a ukulele.
The ukulele is an incredibly diverse instrument. While it can create a happy and upbeat sound, it is possible to write very heartfelt and emotional pieces on the uke. Take, for example, “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis Presley. This is a very popular ukulele song and has been covered by many artists over the years. A well-written song such as this stands the test of time!
Start considering the melody
Okay, now that you have a chord progression, it’s time to start considering the melody. Keep playing the chord progression you have written and listen for any melodies you hear. You can start singing different vowel sounds or nonsense words and this can help lyrics come to you. Or, if you already have lyrics in mind, you can work on trying to fit them into a melody.
A word of caution here: do not force the melody and lyrics to fit together. Often it is better to simplify the words to fit the melody than it is to extend the melody to fit your lyrics. This can make things sound really wordy. Lyrics ARE poetry, but they aren’t Shakespearean poetry: they have a specific flow and function to them.
If you aren’t sure about lyric writing or putting words to melody, I recommend listening to some of your favorite artists and paying attention to the rhyme schemes and patterns they use. You may find that by doing this, your lyric writing will improve passively as you naturally “imitate” the rhythms and styles of those artists who inspire you.
Don’t worry about plagiarism here – I’m not suggesting you steal someone else’s work, but rather that you use someone else’s ideas as a jumping off point for your own. Doing this will put you in good company. Everyone has inspirations and musical influences.
Don’t hesitate to use a capo, alternate tuning, or different picking patterns
Lastly, you can change things up in your writing even further by using a capo (yes, they have those for ukuleles, too!), alternate tuning, or a picking pattern rather than strumming your chords.
If you follow these simple songwriting tips for ukulele players, you will be well on your way to writing not just one, but several songs. Happy writing!