Perhaps the first ‘performance’ that will be requested of you from your family or friends as a relatively new ukulele player will be to do ‘Happy Birthday’. It’s one of the only songs that everyone permits themselves to sing, even if they don’t think of themselves as musical. Also, if they see an opportunity to add an instrument, well, they won’t hesitate to wheedle you into pulling out your uke and giving it a shot. Of course, as some of you have experienced, this is a situation frought with potential perils. Here are some tips and a piece of sheet music to help you navigate this situation successfully.
What is really being asked of you? Are they after your uke playing skills? Do they want a solo? Do they want accompaniment? Most likely they are asking for you to sing and strum the song. Essentially they are asking you to lead the song, just like stepping up to the microphone at a Ukebox jam to lead the room. This is easy and exciting for some, but also strikes terror into the heart of many others. The thing is, you will be asked. This week we’ll talk about that scenario. Next week we’ll talk about the instrumental ‘non singing’ version that you could pull out of your back pocket in order to be extra impressive.
Here’s how to lead Happy Birthday in the above ‘random group of adults and kids’:
Pick the right key. Don’t try the key of C. This key ends up putting the melody both too high and too low for most random group of adults in my experience. I’ve found that either the key of F or the key of G is much closer to the range that we tend to sing Happy Birthday in. If ukes are being employed for accompaniment, then the Key of G offers somewhat easier chords.
Now, as the leader, your job is to find the notes in your voice. Play the first note of the melody on your uke, and take all the time it takes to find those first notes. Don’t rush this. It’s the most important thing. Once you have your note, sing it loudly for everyone to hear. ‘Ha…… (on the right note)…. ppy…(strum your first chord)…’ then launch into it with everyone following your singing and strumming.
How to strum? Seriously, don’t worry about this. It’s not important. Do the most intuitive strum you can do based on your skill level. Strum every beat with your thumb if you want. It will work and it will be appreciated.
So here is the lead sheet you’ll need for learning the chords and the melody in the Key of G (my recommended key). The notes and the tablature are there to help you find the notes on the ukulele, but remember, this week your learning so sing the song. Use the tab to help you find the notes in your voice.