BY FRED SOKOLOW | FROM THE WINTER 2022 ISSUE OF UKULELE MAGAZINE
”La Vie en Rose” has a colorful history. The popular French singer Edith Piaf wrote the words to this, her signature song, in 1945, and it became an international hit. The literal translation of the title is “life in pink,” but it really means “life seen through rose-colored glasses.” Piaf got the idea for the lyric from a nightclub/bordello in which she performed called—you guessed it—“La Vie en Rose.”
Back in the 1940s, “La Vie en Rose” was covered by Tony Martin, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Louis Armstrong, and others, and it has enjoyed hit versions over the years, most notably including interpretations by Grace Jones (1977) and Donna Summer (1993). Because of Lady Gaga’s stunning performance of the song in the 2018 film A Star Is Born, it has a found a new audience.
In 1950, Mack David wrote the English lyrics included in this arrangement. He was the lyricist for many Disney songs—who can forget “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” from Cinderella?—as well as the Shirelles’ “Baby It’s You,” Elvis Presley’s “I Don’t Care if the Sun Don’t Shine,” and the themes to the cartoon series Casper the Friendly Ghost and the 1950s sci-fi/horror film The Blob.
Though it’s harmonically sophisticated, “La Vie en Rose” translates well to the ukulele and is not too difficult to play. In this lesson, we’ll tackle the song, first getting acquainted with the lyrics and chords, and then moving on to a solo chord-melody arrangement.
Half the Battle
Example 1 contains the melody, lyrics, and chords to help you get started playing “La Vie en Rose.” This arrangement includes lots of jazzy chord types: major seventh, dominant ninth, minor sixth, diminished seventh, and so on. These may be unfamiliar to you, but they are no harder to play than the simple open major and minor chords beginning players learn.
Though the chord shapes work great for strummed accompaniment, they will also help prepare you for my chord-melody version of the tune. For example, the Dm7 in bar 5 could be played in the first position, but to support the high D melody note, it’s best to voice the chord at the fifth fret.
Make sure to get all of the chord shapes in your muscle memory, and that you can switch between them cleanly while maintaining a consistent pulse. It might be helpful to use a metronome. Strum through the song a few times before moving forward—being familiar with the chords is half the battle!
The Chord-Melody Arrangement
My chord-melody arrangement of “La Vie en Rose” is shown in Example 2. If you’ve never tried this approach, here are a few tips: You want a melody note to be the highest in each chord if possible. That makes it stand out. In fact, the melody is played almost entirely on the first string in the arrangement.
You don’t have to support every melody note with a chord, but it’s preferable for each new chord change to be played at least once. For example, each of the first three bars of the arrangement start with a chord whose highest member is the melody note, followed by a series of single notes not supported by chords. That’s enough chording to get the song across to the listener.
Notice that the melodic, descending lick in the first three bars of the song is repeated in bars 9–11 and 17–19. The lick is also imitated over different chords in measures 5–7. This type of repetition not only helps hold a pop song together and make it memorable, it makes it easier to learn the tune.
I end the arrangement with a C6 chord played using natural harmonics. To produce the harmonics, instead of fretting strings 1–4, touch them lightly at the 12th fret, directly above the fretwire, with any finger. (I use my fourth.) Strum the strings, and you should get a chime-like effect—a fitting way to end this beautiful ballad.
Due to copyright restrictions, we are unable to post notation or tablature for this musical work. If you have a digital or physical copy of the Winter 2002 issue of Ukulele magazine, you will find the music on page 51 and 53.