In fact, this post could just as well have been entitled ‘Some ideas on how to play the guitar with a ukulele player’. If you are playing the ukulele and your best friend is playing the guitar, there is a chance that you might tire after long hours spent arguing which of the two instruments is best. How about trying to combine both instruments to play together instead ?
My friend Gwilym and I would like to share our experience on playing the ukulele and the guitar together. Gwilym is playing the guitar and I the ukulele. For a few years now, we have been trying different ideas to play our instruments of choice together in a way that allows both of us to make progress. We have chosen to write this post and to make two videos to illustrate how the ukulele and the guitar can play different roles when played together.
Of course, in order to play together, we needed to have a common structure, which could be seen as the ‘spine’ of our tunes. This is where playing the blues is interesting : the ‘spine’ consists of 12 bars following a set pattern (see below). We have opted to play a minor blues in the key of A (Am and Dm are among my favourite chords). We have used the same structure for both videos but each of us improvised his/her part according to his/her fancy.
Our 12 bar blues is very standard and uses the following chords in I-IV-V progression :
(Am is I, Dm is IV and Em/E7 are V)
Am / Dm / Am / Am (The Dm here is a quick four)
Dm / Dm / Am / Am
Em / Dm / Am / E7
In the first video, Gwilym is playing a melody on his guitar which he plays a bit like a bass, while I strum the accompaniment on the ukulele.
The ukulele accompaniment uses the strumming pattern below in Swing time.
(Where ‘X‘ means ‘Chnk‘ and ‘–‘ means ‘silent‘, ↓ means downstrum and ↑ means upstrum).
One bar of 4 times works like this :
For more information on Swing Time and Chnk, read Al‘s article on Ukulele strumming, paragraphs on Swing/Shuffle Strums and Chnking.
First video :
A Minor Blues – Guitar and Ukulele duet
Second video :
In this video, Gwilym is playing the accompaniment on the guitar while I play the melody on the ukulele. He uses roughly the same strumming pattern as I use for the ukulele in the first video but with barre chords.
A Minor Blues – Ukulele and Guitar duet
To make things easier for you to create your melody, all you need to know are the 5 notes belonging to the A minor pentatonic scale as they will always sound right in a blues in A. The following diagram shows you the 5 notes of the A minor pentatonic scale : A, C, D, E and G.
Basically, you can try to create melodies using all the notes that are highlighted on this ukulele fretboard (notice that open strings are included). They are all either A, C, D, E or G at different places on your fretboard.
Trust your ear to retain whatever melody sounds nice to you!
If you wanted to play a blues in a different key, then you would need to learn the corresponding pentatonic scale. For example, if you played a blues in C, you would then need the C minor pentatonic scale.
You may have noticed that in both videos we have tried to play the instruments so that each can sound distinctively from the other. This is why the guitar emphasizes the low notes on the first video and in the second video, starts each bar with the root of the chord which is the lowest note of the chord.
On the ukulele, it is interesting to look for the higher notes in contrast so don’t hesitate to navigate up the fretboard ! Another thing to point out is that one instrument is playing chords while the other plays the melody. If we were both to play chords or melody, it would either sound dull or confusing.
What we wanted to illustrate with our two mirrored videos is that the guitar and the ukulele can reverse roles while using the same melodic and harmonic tools.
We hope you will find these ideas useful, we are still learning and there are many more possibilities we haven’t explored yet ! Music is a never-ending journey !
Please let us know what you think in a comment !
Further reading :
Further listening :
You can listen to our other ukulele/guitar experiments :
Guitar, ukulele and singing ! Our original song : Countryside Walk