View Full Version : Adding ornamentation to a song

05-14-2016, 12:27 AM
Hi all,

Any resources or tips you'd recommend on how to add ornamentation to a song? I have little kids at home and am often playing either jigs for them to dance to or songs with relatively few chord changes and want to start messing around with adding some extra notes/flavor.

Somewhere I got the idea that one of Aaron Keim's books goes into this but when I look through his stuff online I can't see where he does.

Any thoughts?

05-14-2016, 12:44 AM
I would look at guitar books for the same style/genre. One of the difficult things about taking up the ukulele, IMO, is the lack of good songbooks and method books. There are tons of "Jumpin' Jim" type of books, which are simply the vocal melody lines - but they're not detailed ukulele parts. Whereas for guitar you can get anything you want: note-for-note transcriptions, chord melody arrangements, stylistic method books, theory, etc.

I have a large collection of guitar material gathered over 30 years, and it's been very helpful for ukulele - with minor adjustments needed due to the ways the instruments differ, obviously. But that in itself is educational and fun.

Don't worry, some forum regular will helpfully chime in that only babies and beginners need to be 'spoon fed'.

05-14-2016, 12:50 AM
Fred Sokolow's Jazz book for ukulele presents the basic principles of chord substitution and illustrates how they are applied. He presents songs with simple chord accompaniments and then presents an improved version and explains why he made the changes, the principles behind the changes. So, where there was one chord over a series of measures there is instead a series of chords that may contain a nice harmonic or diatonic ascending or descending line that adds musicality to the song.

Another simpler way to augment simple chords is to interchange various voicing of the chord. Look at Roy Sakuma's great chord book which basically shows four voicings for each chord. If a C chord is held over several measures play a first position C and then go down to a C chord at the seventh fret and one at the third. Your ear will have to guide you as to what sounds best.

05-14-2016, 08:11 AM
I find it really hard to play un-ormented music. Here are a few off the top of my head.

A couple "slurs."

1) Just slide the chord down one fret and back up. Simple as pie. It doesn't matter terribly if it's 3-note or 4-note chord. Just sound the open string anyway. You can do this at the beginning of a passage by starting one fret low and sliding up in rhythm. Or play triplets ( chord - flatchord - chord ). It can persist through the song or drop in periodically.

2) Same thing but start with all the strings OPEN and hammer on the chord. Again, sometimes a little dab will do you. Sometimes it sounds great all the way through.

3) If you don't already have it, get a grip on damping. Damping gives music it's "voice." It's easy to do...just takes some practice.The quality of the damping is usually the difference between sounding amateurish or not.

A favorite of mine. As an example, A rhythmic transition from a G to a G7th chord in 3 steps (and on the beat) : 1) Play the G. 2) Move the 3-note G down one fret 3) play the G7.

I hope these are a few answers to the question you're asking. This kind of movement gives music it punch. Sometimes it creates a subtle ( I don't know...what's the term? ) "sub" rhythm? Alter Ego? It's one of the musical things that makes people say, "Heh! (S)He's good!" Once you put ornaments into your music you'll definitely feel like you've got some extra jump. Good for you in feeling that need in yourself.

Good luck and happy slurring

05-14-2016, 08:41 AM
Thanks everyone! Pointspergame, that was super helpful! 2 questions, can you talk more about what damping is and how you are thinking of it in terms of ornamentation?

05-14-2016, 08:55 AM
Chord substitutions as mentioned above.
Here's a good article by forum member Brad Bordessa

You can also embellish with an occasional arpeggio or fancy strum.

05-14-2016, 11:53 AM
Hammer on and pull offs:

Hammer on: sound and open string then quickly put a finger down. Pull of is just the opposite, sound a string and quickly lift a finger off.

Or just add or drop a finger on successive strums.

All can create interesting effects.

05-14-2016, 02:37 PM
Damping is, basically, stopping or muffling or muting the sound. I think you can find multiple examples on youtube even for the ukulele specifically...sorry I can't track it down for you myself just this minute.

Strum - then Lay your right hand against the strings to stop or muffle the sound- strum / damp, --- repeat

Best for 4-finger ( "closed" ) chords: strum -- release left hand finger pressure so the sound becomes muffled or inaudible -- repeat.

You can also strum and damp with a spare left hand finger ( like the pinky ).
There's no right or wrong. Whatever works. I don't even think about how I'm damping anymore. My hands just do whatever they need to get the sound to "dampen"

On a piano this is the equivalent of playing a chord, then releasing the keys, if that helps with the idea. Or playing a chord with the pedal down, then releasing the pedal.

How you let the notes ring vs. how long you damp ( though the two together add up to two beats ) is where you get to "voice" that chord and inject a subtle rhythm on top of the rhythm.
Try a simple swinging exercise: Long, ringing chord, short damped chord, long ringing chord , short damped chord...etc. As if you're saying "Tooooooooooooos - day " over and over... a long, long "Tues" and a short, cut-off "day."

Might sound elaborate in words, but it's pretty basic and you'll get it right away.

Best of luck