How to Play Guitar and Ukulele together?

In a gathering with your friends or family, some of them might know how to play the guitar, and some might know how to play the ukulele or bass guitar or maybe there is already a piano player.

Where to begin? Well, playing music with different instrumentation is always a tricky subject. Guitar and ukulele are two different instruments but they can complement each other very well. With this article, I would like to share with you how to play music with a guitar and ukulele together harmoniously.

How to do a Guitar and Ukulele Duet: When playing guitar and ukulele together or any instrument, one must always keep the sound in mind. Have a balanced sonic palette or simply balanced sound with your instrument. Even at the early stage of your playing, always be aware of the sound that you are creating or playing. 

Similar to a painting. No one would appreciate a painting that has no balance in color shades or organization. One might say it depends on the eye of the beholder or the ear of the beholder.

To better understand what I mean about balance in music playing, let me introduce you some simple concept. When playing with two or more musician, one should ask a question like “should I play: louder or softer, higher or lower, longer or shorter, faster or slower, more or less, or not play”. Or probably ask who is playing what? Me or you? Listening to each other’s playing is also essential in achieving a balanced sound.

These elements of music playing could be summarized into three categories: melody, harmony, and rhythm(beat). I am not going to define all these musical elements exhaustively, but rather share with you at least how to take one concept and start playing some beautiful balanced music by being aware of the sound of your instrument. Grab your guitar and ukulele now and have fun playing together!

What Should I Play First?
You and your friend or another family member have probably known a few chords in guitar or ukulele, at least the basic chords. And you might already have known some strumming patterns too. Otherwise, you would not think of playing a guitar or ukulele with somebody. You might also have a song in mind too. That is good! There are so many popular three-chord songs and four-chord songs that you can start jamming together. Print out the song’s chord chart that you select and start playing together.

Maybe you can start with some Folk songs, those are fun to play too. How about a Hymn?

During my first year playing guitar, I was amazed at my friend that he was able to play this classic slow rock song “Hotel California” on acoustic guitar. We were eleven years old back then. And I told myself, someday I will be able to play that song on guitar note-for-note, and I did. I have uncles who are not professional musicians, but they loved to listen and sing along to different bands like America, Eagles, Kansas, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and other classic rock bands of the 70’s and 80’s. Those were my very early musical influences listening to my uncle’s music.

Back then I kept hearing one of America’s (the band) popular song called “A Horse With No Name”. And even my friends knew how to play it. So I was intrigued to learn that song too. The whole song has only two chords, Em and D6/9. Do not be intimidated about the chord name. Trust me, I learned how to play D6/9 chord without even knowing its name. It was an easy chord to play on guitar anyway. I just asked my friend how to play that chord and I didn’t even bother asking the chord name. I just wanted to make sure that I am playing the correct chord sound, how it was recorded. yt

Remember, everything in music is about the sound you make. Keep that in mind to always play balanced sound or music, regardless of the band settings you will be. After many years I finally understand what a D6/9 chord, and had a deeper understanding of Harmony, Melody, and Rhythm after attending Berklee College of Music.

So Let’s Play Together!

Song #1
Here is an example of a three-chord song by Creedence Clearwater Revival “Bad Moon Rising”.  The original key is in D, but I will show you the chord progression in the key of C. Then I will talk about changing the song key next.
verse | C | G / F / | C | C |
chorus | F | F | C | C | G | F | C | C |

You may have heard the term in music called “Dynamics” and “Range”. Simply, Dynamics is how loud or how soft you play the music. And Range is how high or how low the notes and chords you are playing. As I have mentioned above, when playing together let us start by asking these two questions. Should I play louder or softer (dynamics)? Should I play higher or lower (range)? Check the videos on how we play together, paying attention to the Dynamics of the two instruments. Listen to different Ranges combination of both guitar and ukulele.

Song #2
Let’s play another classic song by Bob Dylan, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”. It has basically three chords only, switching the C major to Am. Here’s the chord progression.
| G / D/ |  C  |
| G / D / | Am |

With this song, we can also apply our knowledge of using Dynamics in playing our instrument. Let us try to apply another concept of more vs less” in playing this song. In the video, watch the difference how the guitar strums lesser than the ukulele, then build up the song by strumming more later on. All the concept that you apply while playing together will always create the overall flow for the song form (verse, chorus, bridge, ending). Just listen to any of your favorite songs how it develops.

Song #3
Now let’s try playing a four-chord song. How about a song from this famous British group U2, “With or Without You”? The entire song uses the same four chords for verses and choruses. Again, the original Key is in D, but I will move it down to Key of C for now.
| C | G | Am | F |

Are you getting the hang of playing together now? One more concept that we can apply with this song while playing together, the “long vs short”. Playing the guitar using the palm to mute (shorter sound) the strings will create a dramatic percussive effect. With this playing technique, you are naturally applying the concept of Dynamics when muting the strings with your palm.

Unless you are using a pedal for some kind of over-driven or distorted sound, it should be softer than strumming your guitar normally. When muting the strings, you do not need to strum the whole six strings. You only need to play the two or three bottom notes. It is the bass notes of the chord that you are playing. Check out the video.

The Song in Different Key (Using a Capo)
By using the same chord shape that you are familiar with, you can change or transpose the song key using a capo to your guitar or ukulele. It is a very helpful tool. However, I would not really recommend you get used to playing different songs or transposing the song key using capo alone. It is nice to know how a capo works, applying to get a different effect or sound.

For example, an open chord sounds different than a barre chord. Please do not get lazy when you are practicing. There is no substitute for real learning and memorizing your chords. There is also no short route if you would like to retain your skills and knowledge in music playing for a long time.

If you want to play better and improve your skills in either guitar or ukulele, learn ALL the chord structures in different positions as much as you can. Learning chords for guitar and ukulele will come very handy when playing different kinds of tunes or styles of music. For sure you will be more comfortable and have more fun playing with your friends or family.

So there you have it! Now invite one of your friends and add them to play percussion like Cajon or Slap Top, and even Bongo and some type of shaker or tambourine that would add more fun playing together with guitar and ukulele. Just remember to play with balanced sound with all the instruments. Enjoy!