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Musical Multi-Tasking
Chord-melody Basics
By James Hill

Learn to to pick single note melodies while providing your own chordal accompaniment.

Melodies & Chords: Cut from the Same Cloth
Click here to read this article in D6 tuning (a, d, f#, b)

Melodies are played one note at a time. Chords involve playing multiple notes simultaneously. Essentially, that's the only difference between the melody and harmony. To illustrate, imagine the following "musical experiment."

The Experiment

Take the notes of a C major scale and put them in jar #1. Now put the notes of the C, F, and G chords (the I, IV, and V chords in the key of C) into jar #2. Compare the contents of the two jars:

Fig. 1

As you can see, the contents of the two jars are identical. What does this mean? It means that if we remove time from the picture, melody (e.g. the C scale) and harmony (e.g. C, F and G chords) are identical.

So what? How does that make you a better ukulele player? Read on.

The Exercises

When you hold a chord "shape" with your left hand, it's actually the right hand that determines whether your audience hears a melody (one note at a time) or a harmony (more than one note at once). Go ahead and try it. Hold a C chord and play the following examples without moving the fingers of your left hand:

Ex. 1

Now try mixing melody and harmony. Hold a C chord and, once again, play the following examples without moving the fingers of your left hand. Strum a C chord where indicated by a slash mark:

Ex. 2

Just like that, you've become a musical multi-tasker; you're able to pick and harmonize a melody line with just one instrument. Keep your left hand as still as possible and remember: the "trick" is to find your melody note within the chord whenever possible.

The Challenge

Challenge yourself to play the Uke III part in this arrangement of Down in the Valley while maintaining a steady strum on beats two and three of each measure.

James Hill is editor of Ukulele Yes! and co-author of Ukulele in the Classroom, He also maintains a busy touring schedule as a performer; his latest CD release is True Love Don't Weep. Visit for more.