I started off by writing the melody line because I need them on top. Let's just assume the melody note I'm working on is C on the C major scale; I will have like 3 chords to choose from which are C(C,E,G), A minor(A,C,E) and F(F,A,C).

Then, I tried to figure out which note from A,E,F,G that sounds great with C. If it sounds just like I wanted it to with G, I'll go with G chord but if it sounds good with another note such as the A, E, and F, I need to choose between A minor or F chords. Of course I can make it sound good with another note other than what I had mention but this alone has consumed a lot of time let alone another note which in my opinion I might as well try it with every note in the scale and probably a flatted 7th.

This probably is the worst way you ever seen of people arranging tune. I realize that this could be all wrong, that's why I make this post. Is there any kind of pattern I should be looking out for in my melody line? Shouldn't I start the whole process with just melody line alone? I'm looking forward to make simple full-sounding arrangement and practice my music theory at the basic level. I have learn all the 12 scales and basic chord building for major, minor, augmented, diminished, dominant 7th and major 7th just to later find out that I don't know how to apply them practically.

  • Second para. second line : did you mean C chord rather than G chord?
    – Tim
    Commented May 10, 2014 at 5:35

3 Answers 3


I would say the question, as written, is a bit open-ended, as there are many aspects to consider any time you arrange music. I'll try to broadly highlight what some of those issues are, without going in to much depth, to give you a starting point for further investigation.

When arranging music, it's important to understand what the components of a piece of music are. Music will typically consist of a melody line, a bass line, supporting harmonies, and some type of rhythm. Additional components can be added or removed, (for example, adding a counter melody, or dropping out the bass) but this is sort of a standard model. It's also important to have an idea of what your available forces are (i.e. the number of different performers and instruments available), and which of those musical components they can play (good luck getting a bass line out of your ukulele!).

A ukulele is easily capable of playing a melodic line, or it is capable of performing a simple harmonic/rhythmic part. Going beyond these (or perhaps combining them all in a single arrangement) is going to be more difficult, and dependent on the skill level of the performer -- for example, possibly using fingerpicking and arppegiation. I'm not sure what you're specifically after, but a pretty typical simple arrangement would have a singer to sing the melody, then use the ukulele to just fill the harmonies and rhythms (leaving out the bass line altogether, of necessity). Note that in this case, the ukulele does not need to explicitly play the melody, since another instrument (or in this case, voice) is playing it. That frees up the ukulele to just play harmonies/rhythms.

If this is the style of arrangement that you are after, than there are really only two broad things you need to know: what chords to play, and what rhythms to play them with. Choosing a rhythm determines which strumming pattern you use, and can be a matter of personal taste or an attempt to match the original song's style. The rhythm is important to have, to give song its groove, but even a simple rhythm will go a long way.

As for the question of which chords to use, this gets into the question of harmonization. I have a feeling that this is what your actual question may be (how can I select chords to harmonize a melody), but that's another long answer, based on music theory, and isn't specific to ukulele, so I won't go into detail here. If you're playing an existing song, you can often find the chords listed online somewhere. More generally, you'll want to figure out what key you're playing in, and what chords are likely to go in that key. As mentioned in the comments of another answer, not every melody note needs a chord. The rate at which chords change is called the harmonic rhythm, and in a lot of pieces, it tends to be just one chord per bar, with other notes being non-harmonic tones.

If you don't have a voice or other instrument to play the melody, another option is to play just the melody on ukulele. In this case, the question of arranging the melody becomes largely a question of ornamenting the melody line. You can add various embellishments such as rhythmic variations, hammer-ons, pull-offs, harmonics, arppegios, glissandi, and (because ukes don't sustain a tone so long) repeated notes. This gets into performance techniques, and will probably overlap a lot with guitar technique.

A great way to learn how to arrange is to watch other arrangements, and deconstruct what they're doing. Here's an example arrangement I found on youtube of two ukuleles, one playing a simple harmonic/rhythmic style, and the other, an ornamented melodic style. The two performers switch back and forth between styles every once and a while. Note how little movement there is in the left hand of the person who is simply strumming the chords, compared to the person playing the melody line.

Once you've mastered each of these kinds of arrangement techniques, you could go beyond this into more complex arrangements, where you are playing melody, and harmony, and elaborate rhythms. But this will take considerably more skill to arrange and perform. One thing that you will need to be very comfortable with is moving chords up and down the neck, so that you can play any chord in any position along the neck. By way of example, here's Jake Shimabukuro playing a rather involved arrangement. Watch how much his left hand is moving up and down the neck, and pay attention to the way he incorporates various techniques, to highlight rhythms, harmonies, and the melody.

I hope this gives you a good starting point, and happy strumming!

  • The title of this post might sound open ended but my explanation define the context. My bad for the unsuitable title. Mostly, I play with four finger on the string but I don't do fancy alternating between strumming and picking because it's just beyond my comprehension. I want to make a rather simple single ukulele arrangement without having to use some fancy technique which in my opinion could come later when I'm better at arranging.
    – user9372
    Commented May 11, 2014 at 11:14

You are on the right lines. Every note in your tune will not need its own chord, though.Look at a whole bar, not just one note. All of those notes will probably work with just one chord. That's what will fit in that bar. For example, in a bar with C, D, E and G, the best fit chord is C maj. With A, F, F, G an F chord is best fit. Reasons are first, the note on the strongest beat is in a particular chord, as you found out.Then you look at the other notes, and see which fit from the same chord.The strong beats are often 1st and 3rd,(in 4/4 time) so notes from a good fit chord will be on those. Sometimes all the notes will fit, but if 2nd and 4th don't, then it's not so important.

There will be times when one chord sounds wrong for the whole bar. Then use two, using the same idea.

Often, you'll find that two, or even three different ones could fit.Like A, A, F, G could use Dmin.instead of F. Then look at the bar before and the bar after, to hear what sounds good. If it sounds good, it usually is.

Several times I've mentioned that theory is more useful (to most people) when there's some practical knowledge to hang it on. Your case seems to agree with this. Good luck in your search for the 'lost chord'!! Also, try to make up a series of chords, then put a melody on top of that.

  • To be frank with you, I don't know how to divide my melody line into measure and I don't even know what time signature my melodies are on; at least in the way they are notated. Anyway, is it true if I say I should be looking at the pattern of chord tone, passing and neighboring tone in a bar to help me decide?
    – user9372
    Commented May 10, 2014 at 13:13
  • Yes, that's the way to go. Funny, I found it hard to understand the other answer as well.
    – Tim
    Commented May 10, 2014 at 13:32
  • Maybe he forget to consider the context of the matter. I'll rate yours as useful and thanks. For now, I'll just keep the post on just to see if there are any other suggestions or if the moderator feel suitable to; until the moderator close this post.
    – user9372
    Commented May 10, 2014 at 13:43

If you want to have easy start, just jump to 2nd part-special tuning part.

standard tuning

Let's talk standard tuning GCEA If you are familiar with guitar than it won't take you a long time to get used to ukulele. The interval of ukulele string are same as 1st-4th string on guitar. Only different is 4th string is one octave higher. Basically you can starts on Major G(Major D on guitar) use 4th strings as root note.

In the beginning you can work on songs of D Major keys on guitar and play the same chords (some are even same positions) on ukulele.

Second step is try to transfer your root notes from 4th string to 3rd string. This is a big step, because from now you are trying to get ride of guitar's interval and arrangement.

Open D tuning

If you want to start from special tuning, i recommend to start with DADA (i call it open D for Ukulele) (correspond to open D on guitar)

for this tuning, you just treat 2-4th string of ukulele as 4-6th string on guitar; 1st string of ukulele as 1st string on guitar

4th-2nd string forms a natural major 3 or minor 3 chords. than use 1st string to play melody, what you need to do is just to hold 2-4th string on same fret all the time.
here's some positions on this tuning:

open: D major 3

2nd frets: E minor 3

4th: #F minor

5th: G major(sub dominant)

7th: A major (dominant)

9th: B minor (relative minor)

if you want to play some 7th or 9th-13th, suspend , aug chords, just use 1st string ad decoration notes. For example : Em7: 2nd fret one 2-4 string and open string on 1st string

  • I'm sorry my good man, I can't seems to understand either part of your answer. And your example from guitar doesn't knock any sense into me as I don't have any experience with guitar. I mainly started with music by playing only melody line on a recorder and become good at guessing what notes come next and be able to play most melodies by ear but that is a monophonic instrument. On ukulele I would just sound dumb playing just melody line on a polyphonic instrument wouldn't I?
    – user9372
    Commented May 10, 2014 at 12:37

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