Composing your first song/music using ukulele is not suppose to be a daunting task that requires you to get a four year college degree.
It depends on how complex` or catchy (hook) you want your music/song to be. Sometimes those simple catchy tunes are the one that top the charts. Not to mention that once your creative juice starts flowing, Ukulele is a very handy instrument to write with, in comparison to using a piano or a guitar.
How to compose a song on ukulele? Composing a song on ukulele consists of having an idea for a singable melody, developing chord progression that fits your style, the lyrics for the song, a song form and finally the combination of your voice and your ukulele playing.
You could be riding a train or bus when that melodic, rhythmic, or harmonic idea hits you. The ukulele is your best friend. An instrument that would allow you to hear your melody and harmony (chords) right away.
Of course, a recording device like your smart phone can be very handy too so you would not loose that idea when inspiration hits you. For me, If you can hum a melody that’s already a good start. Otherwise, the ukulele can aid you to jumpstart either a melody, a chord, or simple rhythmic pattern, or a combination of all of them.
Learning four simple chords will take you afar with your music or song. Your own hummed melody will make that four chords shine and it is very original.
If you have a long list of your own music or songs that you listen from your iTunes library, you already have the melody in your head. All you need is to organize those hidden melodic ideas stored in your aural library from the music you have been listening all these years.
The key is to have fun enjoying the whole easy process of composing your own music or song with the aid of an instrument, in this case a ukulele, which is a very portable to carry around anywhere you go.
Now that you have your friendly ukulele, you might wander, should I write a melody first, chord progressions, or a rhythmic pattern?
You might have the idea already of the lyrics for your song. Thats good! It does not matter which one comes first, as all these musical elements, together with the words go hand in hand.
A person might have strength writing lyrics (poet) but not a melody. Or another might be a natural hummer of catchy melody.
A song is only effective with the right combination of melody to words, while rhythm is directly embedded with the melody. Unless you are writing a more rhythmical piece, then a ukulele is not needed.
What you need is a hand percussive instrument like bongo or djembe composing your rhythmic piece. By the way, you can also tap or gently slap your ukulele board. Therefore, it is a very percussive instrument too.
Lets jump to composing music with ukulele! There are three elements to consider when composing music, Melody, Harmony (chord), and Rhythm (Tempo). Lyrics is not an element of the music but part of the whole song.
You can start the whole process in any order that you want, depending how you hear your musical ideas. There is no rule on what musical element should one starts. As I have mentioned previously, it could be written simultaneously.
Here are four tips on composing a song on ukulele.
1. Coming up with the Melody for Your Song
When you compose your first melody, ask your self these few questions. “Is it singable?” Meaning, you should be able to sing your melody without big leaps (interval) between each note.
In other words, the flow of the melody does not jump all over the places from low to high or high to low ranges.
It would always help in the beginning for the melody to be step-wise motion or one note to the next note should be close to one another, and not jump-wise motion (intervallic). You can pluck a single note from your ukulele to start your melody.
Do not worry about what Key of the song you should write. Unless you start the process of trying different chord progression, then your melody should be in the same Key of your progression. Otherwise, pluck a single note, sing it if you can, and proceed to the next series of notes repeatedly singing or humming those notes.
Once you have short melodies or phrases, another good question to ask yourself would be, “Does it has space where I can breathe in between phrases?” Even instrumental music needs space to make it sound more natural, or what we called more Melodic.
2. Decide on the Chord Progression
A chord consist of two or three notes (or more) sounding simultaneously.
What is a chord progression? It is a series of 2 or more chords that support the melody to clearly establish the foundation of a song. Check Wikipedia for in-depth definition of what is a Chord Progression.
Depending on the style of music you intended to write, the harmony together with the melody determines the style of your music. We’ll talk a little bit about the different musical style in the “Song Form”.
| C | G | Am | F | – Key of C
| I | V | VIm | IV | or 1, 5, 6, 4 progression
Here are some of the examples of a 4-chord song:
“Hey, Soul Sister” Train
“Take Me Home, Country Roads” John Denver
“Don’t Stop Believin’” Journey
“Take On Me” A-ha
“Tonight She Comes” The Cars
“With or Without You” U2
“Right Here Waiting” Richard Marx
“Under the Bridge” Red Hot Chili Peppers
“Nothing is Impossible” Planetshakers
“Forever” Kari Jobe
“When I Come Around” Green Day
“Where Is the Love?” The Black Eyed Peas
“Someone Like You” Adele
“Wrecking Ball” Miley Cyrus
“All of the Stars” Ed Sheeran
Transpose these sample progression in different keys using a capo and you will immediately able to play or learn lots of song. We have many more examples of songs chord charts here.
| G | Em | Am | D | – Key of G
| I | VIm | IIm | V | or 1, 6, 2, 5 progression
Another standard chord progression mostly used in jazz standards. You will see this progression in the ‘A’ section of George Gershwin tune called “I Got Rhythm”, famously know as the Rhythm Changes.
Basically, if you start to compose chord progression first, try to play any two chords that you learn in ukulele.
Strum a simple rhythm and repeat that chord progression that you choose. Do not worry about the strumming for now, if you are still developing your strumming skills. You can use all even down stroke. Count 1, 2, 3, 4 = down, down, down, down, then repeat the chord progression.
Once your ears get familiarize hearing the progression, you can start humming a melody against your 2-chord progression. Repeat the same melody that you just sang against the 2 chords.
You just created a phrase. Without even aware of the rhythmic pattern of your melody, you already have a rhythm on your melody naturally. Now lets see if Rhythm can be compose first before the melody or harmony.
Here’s a fun video going over this as well:
3. Tips for Writing the Lyrics
Lyric writing on its own is another subject that can take lots of time and practice before one can truly master the craft. To be honest, I can’t show you how to write your own song. To me, it is a very personal thing that you alone would know. I heard from somebody that you will have one good song out of a hundred songs that you wrote.
By the way, this is not an extensive information or lesson on how to write better lyrics for your song. However, I can give you few simple points in connection with the musical elements for your composition using ukulele.
You might need to consider getting a good rhyming book, or any rhyming site on the internet that you can refer from time to time. I would also like you to know that Lyric writing is not the same as poetry writing. Although there might be similar in many ways, like end rhymes or meter. But they have totally different techniques from one another.
If you notice, some song has incomplete sentences or phrases. On the other hand it could be as complete as telling a story. I guess it depends on the style you want to go to.
One fun way I remembered and still exploring from Pat Pattison’s book which I called “Metaphoring”. Not sure if there’s such a term, but that’s how I remember things whatever make sense to me. Basically, it is expressing the identity of one noun by the other noun. Follow these steps: Make two list of Nouns, column 1(X) & column 2(Y). Example:
(X) (Y) Desire Edge Island Temptation Map Gallery
Then follow this formula;
"X" is "Y" e.g. map is gallery "Y" of "X" e.g. island of temptation "X's" "Y" e.g. desire's edge
Based on the example above you may start something like, “watch your desire’s edge, the island of temptation follows.” Through different combinations of these nouns, you will end up something you didn’t imagine, at least I got surprised.
The other resource I use lately is using the scriptures from the Holy Bible. That’s right, lots of truth in there. All you have to do is put your own melody and chords. Try open the book of Psalms or even Proverbs. You’ll be surprised, and be blessed at the same time.
4. Making Your Song Memorable Using Motifs
What is a Motif? How is it related to composing your music or song? In short, a motif can be a fragment of two to four notes succession.
It can also be called bumper music, a distinctive sonic sound of specific instrument, or simply any catchy sound “hook”, or short musical idea that has some special importance or characteristic in your composition that when listeners hear it, they will immediately recognize the tune.
Think about the Intel bumper theme, the theme for NBC, the used of slap bass instrument in Jerry Seinfeld tv show, etc. There are many songs and tunes that are very recognizable because of these motifs. The Intro for “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” which is an iconic song for all ukulele players, a must to learn. You can certainly be aware of the use of motif when composing your own song using ukulele.
Lets Put it Together
Now organize the phrases you have, and put it together using this common Song Form: Verse, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge or simply called AABA form. There are many different song form you can use, but many song writers use this recognizable form.
Another element of music that you might want to explore in composition is the Rhythm.
Composing Rhythm separate in relation with your song is not really necessary, unless you are writing a more percussive piece of music. In the process of composing your song, keep in mind the importance of having a strong simple rhythmic pattern, and its role in your music.
What other simple technique you can use to compose a song using ukulele?
Reorder your chords. It is pretty common technique and a simple way to get from verse to chorus to bridge, just by reordering the same chords. For example, a chord progression using G, D, Em, C:
Verse | Em | G | Em | G | (Repeat) Chorus | C | D | G | Em | (Repeat) | C | D | Bridge | G | D | Em | C | (Repeat)
Composing your own music or song using ukulele is really an enjoyable process that you can spend the rest of your life doing it. Not to mention, the benefits of engaging such an activity by either doing it on your own or collaborating with somebody. Keep in mind that you can do it.
With practice and constant repetition, you will get better with the whole process. If you have access to a recording device, capture everything you do during the process so that you can check back to see your improvement.
At the same time, you will accumulate many song ideas that you can use with your next song. For anyone to get good at something, they have to put in some time. Enjoy the journey!
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.