I was watching some harmonica lessons a few weeks back and one those lessons was to restrict your improvisation to a single hole which gives you just 2 notes to play with. It’s a real challenge to try and play something interesting with just 2 notes and it makes you focus more on other things like timing and dynamics/volume. Without a doubt it improves you as a player, so I wondered how that might be adapted to ukulele.
My variation on this isn’t about solo improvisation, it’s about improving your rhythm and making songs sound more interesting and varied. I set about finding songs that have only a single chord in them to set you the challenge of making them sound interesting for the duration of the song.
The one chord song list
- Coconut – Harry Nilsson (C7)
- The Beat Goes On – Sonny and Cher (F)
- Run Through The Jungle – Creedence Clearwater Revival (D)
- Tomorrow Never Knows – The Beatles (C)
- Chain Of Fools – Aretha Franklin (C7)
If anyone has any to add to that list, let me know in the comments and I’ll get it updated.
Put the lime in the coconut
So let’s take Coconut by Harry Nilsson. It’s a C7 chord throughout the whole song . You’re going to need to do something with that to keep it interesting.
Break the song down
A simple method to making a song a little more interesting is to break it down into sections and give each section it’s own strumming pattern. The song coconut is actually just a C7 finger picked throughout but we’re going to change things up a little bit. We’re going to break the song up into the following sections…
So that gives us 3 prominent sections to change things up. As the song is finger picked on the original it makes a good starting point for us for the intro and comes with the added advantage that you don’t have to sing over it (phew!)
Here’s a few versions of the C7 chord that you can use throughout. The easiest one is the one finger on the first fret of the A string. I’ve given you a couple of chord inversions to play with too just to mix things up a bit (if you don’t know what inversions are yet, don’t worry).
This is a really simple fingerpicked pattern that runs in 8th notes (counted 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &) so you’ll be tapping your foot on the first note and then every other note after that, it makes an effective intro pattern and it’s not too tough to get to grips with. Use your thumb on the G and C strings, your index finger on the E and your middle finger for the A string.
For the verses we switch to a simple strumming pattern, something like this…
The X’s represent a chuck/chunk strum, if you need more help here you can read my post about chucking.
The chorus is a variation of the above pattern but it’s a little different. Again it’s all about mixing the sound up a little. We need to do whatever we can to keep this one from getting boring. If you want a few more strumming patterns you can grab my 32 strumming patterns PDF here.
And that’s it. You can add more patterns and variations if you like and you don’t have to follow my approach. Maybe you want to use the fingerpicking section for the verse – it really doesn’t matter, nothing is set in stone. You could even look at throwing some chord inversions into the mix. That’s the beauty of a single chord song – it allows you to get a little creative and start to focus on something other than chord changes. Give it a try, see how it works out for you.
17 thoughts on “One Chord Songs On Ukulele”
This is a wonderful lesson! It’s got all the important parts right here : ) Thanks for taking the time to make this lesson up for us, I think it shines!
This idea of varying strum patterns and using inversions needs to be shouted loud. I listen to many uke clubs/societies/etc on YT and every song seems to sound the same. Because the uke’s are often massed and sound louder than the lyrics, the melodies don’t really seem to help.
This is a great post and the point should be hammered home.
Thanks for the comment John – I think you’re right. I’ve listened to a few groups and I know what you mean. I think chord inversions are a big help here too. Although I don’t play with a club/group if I did I’d almost certainly look to be using chord inversions to mix it up a bit.
I teach my grade school uke students a medley of “Shimmy Shimmy Ko-Ko-Bop”, “Coconut”, and “Electric Avenue” all with just a C7 chord. We play and sing part of each song separately and then stack them on top of each other at the end with one third of the class singing “I’m going to rock down to Electric Avenue”, another third singing “Doctor!” and the rest signing “Shimmy Shimmy Ko-Ko-Bop” – they love it! It’s also a great way to warm up a big uke strum and sing group 🙂
This is a great idea Ben, I love the idea of a single chord medley.
I’ve also done it with “Chain of Fools”in the place of “Electric Avenue”. It’s a lot of fun when you get a couple hundred people all singing in three parts.
Thank you so much for leaving this comment. I tried it with my kids today – 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders. They LOVED it!! Who knew you could have so much fun with just the C chord.
Do you have a recording of that? I’d love to hear it!
This is a little different version, with “Chain of Fools”, “Coconut”, and “Shimmy Shimmy Ko-Ko Bop”, recorded at a concert in Mason MI.
Two more children’s songs on one chord (or possible)
Row, row , row your boat
So glad to find this list! I’m working with a 4 year old little boy with mild autism. Right now, one chord (C) and keeping a beat is all we are doing. But I can add the C7 songs now and – maybe – shoot for F in time. Very helpful!!!!
Hey Jody, really pleased that you’re finding it useful. Also, top marks for teaching a 4 year old! I have a 6 year old and I can’t get him to play a note.
This is one of my favourite songs from the sixties. I now will endeavour to play your version on my Uke and also teach it to my music class.
Many thanks for your efforts and sharing the results.
many thanks for your efforts to bring this song for sharing. I will play it on the uke and also share with my students in the Music class.
For one chord songs, how about:
Am – Get Up, Stand Up by Bob Marley
C7 – Baby Please Don’t Go by Them
Great shout Alice!