Ukulele & Languages

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Some ideas on how to play ukulele with a guitar player

11 2014

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 (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

Chords for A Minor Blues

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 :

Rhythm Pattern for ukulele accompaniment

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!

Am Pentatonic Scale

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.

Afterword :

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 :

You can find more information about playing the blues on the ukulele on Al‘s site in this post and I strongly recommend Al‘s e-book How to Play Blues Ukulele.

Further listening :

You can listen to our other ukulele/guitar experiments :

Ukulele playing arpeggio and guitar experimenting different strums and picking

Guitar, ukulele and singing ! Our original song : Countryside Walk




  1. John Birsner on the 13th of November 2014 @ 01:20

    Thanks. Interesting and helpful. Hope you do more of these.

  2. Armelle Europe on the 13th of November 2014 @ 08:46

    @John : Thanks for your feedback! We are glad you found this post helpful. We will try to do more of these as we learn new things.

  3. Al on the 16th of November 2014 @ 15:48

    Excellent post, Armelle! Really interesting to see the differences when the parts are switched over.

    And thanks for the mention!

  4. Armelle Europe on the 16th of November 2014 @ 18:58

    @Al: Many thanks for your comment!
    It was only natural I should mention your How to Play Blues Ukulele ebook. I have yet to download your latest update!

  5. Bill on the 22nd of November 2014 @ 08:42

    If one records this on his/her pc or laptop then then loops it,it makes a nice slow jam and an opportunity to practice the pentatonic scale. Thanks…BC

  6. Malcolm on the 22nd of November 2014 @ 11:08

    Really good site and nice videos.


  7. Armelle Europe on the 22nd of November 2014 @ 14:27

    @Bill : that’s a good idea! I am glad you can put our video to good use.

  8. Armelle Europe on the 22nd of November 2014 @ 14:29

    @Malcom : thanks! Your feedback is much appreciated.

  9. Geniebeanie on the 22nd of November 2014 @ 14:34

    Love the kitty :-)

  10. Armelle Europe on the 22nd of November 2014 @ 14:39

    @Geniebeanie : I wish we were half as adorable as he is ;-)

  11. Friday Links on the 22nd of November 2014 @ 15:00

    […] – Tips for playing ukulele with a guitar player. […]

  12. Nicola Graham on the 17th of November 2016 @ 10:48

    Very good tips for evrey ukulele players.

  13. Armelle Europe on the 28th of November 2016 @ 16:52

    @Nicola : I am glad you found this post useful !

  14. Dee on the 11th of September 2017 @ 04:36

    This was wonderful and helpful. The guitar player seemed to have capoed up. It looks like the 7th fret to me. Is that so?

    My daughter and I are trying to do this same thing. I play guitar, she is learning Uke.

    If the guitar is capoed at 7, this totally makes sense to me.

    Just let me know about the fret.



  15. Armelle Europe on the 15th of September 2017 @ 10:28

    @Dee : I am very glad that you found this post helpful.
    There is actually no capo on the guitar, Gwilym is playing an Am 12-bar blues using barre chords at the 5th fret. The 12 bars are repeating throughout the video.
    Here are the 12 bars :
    Am/Dm/Am/Am (Dm is a quick four)

    I hope this helps. Good luck !

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