Playing melody on the bass strings

ckoppelman

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I've reached a new plateau of playing which I think I need some help with.

I've worked really hard in the past year to get to a place where, with practice on a given song, I can integrate melody and chords into my ukulele playing. I can even take it from standard notation and chords to music. I do a pretty good Battle Hymn of the Republic and Dreidl Dreidl these days. I am super proud!

But I can only do that sufficiently on the 1 and 2 strings. I play a baritone, so that means I can go from B to the next D or E before the notes start sounding too high, which is honestly not as much as I'd like. I would love to play some lovely songs that go the full range of the instrument, but anytime I pick a melody note on a low string, I run into one of two problems. Either I pluck the full chord and the melody note gets drowned out by the high strings, or I only use the top strings to play my chord, and it sounds empty. Part of the issue may be that when I play a chord, I'm plucking all four strings together, and not strumming. Another part may be the strings -- I have not changed the strings from purchase, and the store strung the uke with seemingly unmatched strings. I think my E string is quite bright in comparison to the D.

So the question is -- How do I fill up my chords while preserving the melody on the low strings?

Relatedly, I'm effectively self-taught on integrating melody and chords -- I've generally been putting the chord on the up-beat or sometimes on the 2nd/4th. There are probably many other ways to do this that I would love to know!
 

merlin666

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It sounds like you want to address several issues but have them all mixed up. It seems the uke does not have its original string set so first step should be to find out what strings are supposed to be on the uke and install these so you know what it is supposed to sound like. Then next step is to learn to read tabs and get some tabs for baritone uke to learn how to utilize the range of the instrument. So once you have these fundamental basics in place then you can move on.
 

ckoppelman

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It sounds like you want to address several issues but have them all mixed up. It seems the uke does not have its original string set so first step should be to find out what strings are supposed to be on the uke and install these so you know what it is supposed to sound like. Then next step is to learn to read tabs and get some tabs for baritone uke to learn how to utilize the range of the instrument. So once you have these fundamental basics in place then you can move on.

They may not be factory original (they are store-original), but I have read a lot about baritone strings and some folks prefer to string them with sharper strings on the high strings. What do you mean "supposed to sound like" here?

Regarding tablature, I CAN read tabs. I haven't found great resources for tabs that include both melody and chords together. Do you have suggestions?
 

Brad Bordessa

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The human ear hears the highest note best. So if you're playing a melody on the low string and cover it up with higher harmony notes, you'll always struggle to hear it. If you want to play solo arrangement style, you usually only play low notes when you need them and they don't get harmonized.

I recommend James Hill's The Ukulele Way if you can transpose from GCEA. He covers all of this and much more.
 

merlin666

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They may not be factory original (they are store-original), but I have read a lot about baritone strings and some folks prefer to string them with sharper strings on the high strings. What do you mean "supposed to sound like" here?

Regarding tablature, I CAN read tabs. I haven't found great resources for tabs that include both melody and chords together. Do you have suggestions?
Most ukuleles from luthiers or factories come with specific strings that reflect the way the uke is supposed to be like by design as a new instrument. Some people change these original strings for various reasons for example if they like a softer or harder feel. So when this was done the uke then reflects the personal preference of the string changer which may not be useful for other people.

As for tabs there are many threads here that discuss the many resources available for baritone ukes, so a search might be useful.
 

ckoppelman

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The human ear hears the highest note best. So if you're playing a melody on the low string and cover it up with higher harmony notes, you'll always struggle to hear it. If you want to play solo arrangement style, you usually only play low notes when you need them and they don't get harmonized.

I recommend James Hill's The Ukulele Way if you can transpose from GCEA. He covers all of this and much more.

Thanks! This is really helpful!
 

Ondrej

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I was also interested in it. Play fingerpicking. It is important to play the bass more strongly.
I wrote my own songs. Maybe they'll help you.
 

ckoppelman

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Thank you, this is what I needed to see and hear. "Play the bass strings harder" or, in some of your work, "play the treble lighter" does keep the melody clearly on the D/G.

I really enjoyed your compositions, too (particularly the piece around 3:00). Thanks for sharing!
 

Ondrej

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Thank you, this is what I needed to see and hear. "Play the bass strings harder" or, in some of your work, "play the treble lighter" does keep the melody clearly on the D/G.

I really enjoyed your compositions, too (particularly the piece around 3:00). Thanks for sharing!
I gladly helped.
Thank you for complimenting my compositions.
 

ckoppelman

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To people in the future who are curious about this topic, I have landed on "Scarborough Fair" in E minor Dorian as a simple and straightforward piece that likes the melody to mostly hang out on the bass notes (while dipping into high strings occasionally). The chords are straightforward and at the top of the fretboard, and I know the tune well enough to know what I'm doing right/wrong. Also, it's one of the prettiest songs I know.

As Ondrej said above, it's really about playing the melody note more forcefully than normal (and on the rhythm). (Thanks, Ondrej!)

I've noticed that when I spend a lot of time on the D string, it sounds smoother if I alternate plucking between thumb and index finger. I do it on high strings, too, to minor effect, but alternating my plucking fingers seems to have an enormous effect on the D string (where my fingers push in opposite directions). Somehow the sound is able to roll fluidly between notes and sound as if I'm using two strings.
 
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Thank you, this is what I needed to see and hear. "Play the bass strings harder" or, in some of your work, "play the treble lighter" does keep the melody clearly on the D/G.

But the question is "how to play the bass strings harder?" My answer is - use the thumppick. This tool enables you to stress the first note you hit, i.e. the lowest one, which is then clearly heard over the treble chord notes.