From the fall 2016 issue of Ukulele | BY ADAM PERLMUTTER
In his Jazz Age masterpiece The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald mentions a topical song, “Ain’t We Got Fun?” The satirical foxtrot, which popularized the aphorism “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer,” speaks to a growing divide between social classes in the Roaring Twenties—one that also happens to be on many peoples’ minds today.
The cheerful melody of “Ain’t We Got Fun?” belies the darkness of its lyrics, making it good fun to play on the ukulele. And the song’s accompaniment ventures beyond I–IV–V territory to include more involved chord work, especially in bars 25 through 28, and serves as a gentle introduction to jazz harmony.
If some of the chord shapes are unfamiliar, begin by familiarizing yourself with all the chord grips, and then work on switching between them in the most efficient way possible. For example, to move between the F and F7 chords in bars 7 and 8, hold the F shape and add your third finger to form the F7; in bars 9 and 10, keep your first finger barred at the first fret on the top three strings while you switch between the Bb and Eb 7 chords. Go through the whole piece like this, isolating any trouble spots, until it feels second nature to form the chords and switch between them.
Any common strumming pattern will service the song, but you might try the swinging figure indicated here in notation—a downstroke squarely on each beat, and an upstroke on the “ands” of beats 2 and 4. Instead of playing them evenly, swing those eighth notes, playing them long-short, roughly at a 2:1 ratio—an essential rhythmic feel to have at your command.
Words by Raymond B. Egan and Gus Kahn, music by Richard A. Whiting. Arrangement by Adam Perlmutter.
This article was updated in February, 2023.
Ukulele Basics – Learning and Practicing includes lessons from some of the top names of the uke-teaching world including Jim Beloff, Heidi Swedberg, Sarah Maisel, Craig Chee, Jim D’Ville and Cathy Fink. These top teachers share important tips on everything from optimal practice habits to tuning with your ears and reading music.