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I'm accompanying my friend on one of her own songs with my uke. However, the song only has two chords the whole way through!

The chords are Dm and Am - eight even beats of each. It's mostly slow and steady then it speeds up at the end to a fast climax.

Any ideas for different chord configurations or strumming patterns that could make this more interesting for me to play?

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    You might compare with "What I Got" by Sublime, which is just two chords over and over again. If the rhythm, lyrics, and singing are good enough, you don't need interesting chords. – Todd Wilcox Jun 21 '17 at 18:39
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    Also check out Wagner's prelude to Das Rheingold. It's a very different style, but it only uses one chord! – Richard Jun 21 '17 at 18:49
  • There are several songs that only use two chords. One is 'Dance the Night Away' The Mavericks. I've played it with many different bands, and the truth is, without the rhythmic chords - the same all through intro, verses, choruses, solo - it doesn't sound as good. Yes, boring to play, but it WORKS! If your rhythm pattern is solid, people will listen more to the whole song, especially the lyrics. And let's face it, the uke is only an accompaniment. Don't get in the way, but provide a solid backing like expected! Unless the song is tedious and then you need some rhythmic spice! – Tim Jun 22 '17 at 11:44
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You could try lots of things. Changing the rhythm pattern is one, but you could also try things that work with tone (timbre) and dynamics too. Here are some ideas that come from guitar, but I think should work on ukulele too:

  • Palm mute. Creates a softened, quieter sound. You can increase/decrease the amount suddenly or gradually.
  • Change the position where you strum across the strings. Closer to the bridge becomes brighter, away from the bridge becomes softer.
  • Change speed and direction of the strum. You get a kind of brushing effect with a slow strum. Usually you strum down on the down beat, but strumming up creates a subtle difference in sound.
  • You can slide into the proper chord from a few different position - above or below by one or two frets. Just move all your fingers in one locked position at the same time. You can place the slide at different points metrically - full beat before the first beat, half beat before beat three, etc. Try to see if any work with the song.
  • Mix in some arpeggiation with strumming the full chord, or maybe a tremolo effect by alternating two strings rapidly.
  • Play the chords in various positions up the fretboard. With 8 bars per chord you have a lot of time to move through two or three positions for each chord.

With all of these you can control how much change you add to a basic pattern. This could mirror the tempo increase the song already has. Start out with a little bit of variation to a basic strumming pattern, then add bit more as the song progresses.

Another approach is to add space. Can you add some rests or hold a chord for a longer time? Maybe only add the changes or extra ukulele parts when the voice comes to a rest. The possibilities depend on what the vocal part is doing.

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A simple way to add some movement to the chords without departing too far from the songwriter's prescription is to use the 'step up/step down' principle. Stepping up from D minor you would go to E minor, and stepping up from A minor you would get B minor. The most subtle approach is to step up on a 'weak' beat of the bar ( beats two or four or the second in a pair of quavers). Stepping down from D minor you would go to C major, and from A minor you would go to G major. Of course, when you've stepped up you need to return to the original chord. If you think you can get away with something a little more audacious, you can go an extra step up. For D minor you would play: D minor E minor F major, then either E minor or straight back to D minor. For A minor you would play: A minor B minor C major then either B minor or straight back to A minor. The important thing is to sneak these extra chords in without detracting from the main game, which is still D minor and A minor.

  • If you are in D minor, Em might clash with the B♭ of D minor. – user45266 Nov 6 '18 at 6:45
  • D minor triad:DFA, E minor triad: EGB. I see no problem. – Areel Xocha Nov 6 '18 at 11:11
  • The B♭ of the key of D minor. – user45266 Nov 6 '18 at 17:45
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If it were me,I'd make my vocalist friend write a better arrangement. Seriously.

However, that's probably not an option, so start out by figuring out what she really wants for your "continuo" part. Maybe she wants the voice to be all the audience notices, and your simple backing is there just for ambiance. Maybe you can try doing a modal analysis of the tune and then suggesting additional chords.

Hey it could be worse: you might have to play Pachelbel :-)

  • There's no continuo involved here. Is it possible you've replied to the wrong question? – neilfein Jun 23 '17 at 2:34
  • @neilfein What would you call an interminable 2-chord strum other than "continuo" ? – Carl Witthoft Jun 23 '17 at 11:45
  • In my experience a continuo is a repeated bass part. Never heard the word used to describe the chord structure. – neilfein Jun 23 '17 at 15:09
  • @CarlWitthoft Better phrase might be "vamp"? Although when I read "continuo" I immediately understood what you were saying, so there's no problem... – user45266 Nov 6 '18 at 6:46
  • @user45266 I've always used "vamp" to define a few measures which are repeated an indeterminate number of times until something happens to kick off the next theme. Most often used in theatre musicals to cover conversation in the middle of a song – Carl Witthoft Nov 6 '18 at 13:57

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