How To Play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (Boss Level Unlocked)

March 21, 2024
How to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star - Image of a Red and Blue Star by Daniel Olah

When I first became a parent, I was going mad hearing kid songs over and over. So, one thing I did to help keep my sanity was to transcribe the melodies of these songs. Then, I’d create my own solo bass arrangements of these songs.

One of these songs was Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Learning how to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the bass guitar was a fun challenge to make it sound interesting.

The melody of this song is simple and the chords and cadences that go along with the it are also basic. But, I still learned a ton from this exercise.

In this guide, I’ll break down the arrangement that I came up with for this iconic nursery rhyme so that you too can learn how to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star as if you wrote the song yourself!

We’ll touch on:

  • Chordal Movements
  • Inner Voice Movements
  • Melodic Embellishments
  • Chord Substitutions
  • Simplifying the Melody
  • Motifs
  • Tritone-Substitution
  • Voice-Leading

Yes. All of this from a simple kid song! Get ready to unlock boss level.

Let’s get started.

My Arrangement of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Here’s a solo bass guitar arrangement I made of the tune “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” by Jane Taylor. I believe it was a poem originally published in 1806. Anyway, in the next sections, we’ll cover some basics of the whole song and then dig into my thought process and some of the musical devices and techniques I’m using. With a little practice, you can starting using and applying these concepts to your own arrangements.

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When I hear kid songs all day, arranging helps keep my sanity

Let’s Play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

While having sheet music for reference can be helpful when learning to play a song for the first time, I personally recommend learning to play the melody or song without music notation or tabs and just use your ears, even if you’re a beginner.

Using your ears will get the melody under your fingers faster and you’ll remember what you’re playing. So, if you can… ditch reading sheet music.

Let’s Start With The Very Basics

As far as the melody of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, it’s very easy. And, all of the notes can be found in a major scale.

To keep things simple, we’ll learn this song in the key of C, so all of the notes will be from the C Major scale.

  • The opening interval for the words “Twinkle Twinkle” is a perfect fifth (the notes C-C-G-G). 
  • Then for “Little Star” you have the notes A-A-G.
  • For “How I Wonder What You Are” you have the notes: F-F-E-E-D-D-C. Notice for this phrase, you’re just descending a C Major scale starting on the fourth (the note F).
  • For the next phrase “Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky” you’ll play G-G-F-F-E-E-D and repeat those notes again. Notice, this phrase is also descending a C Major scale, but this time starting on the fifth (the note G).
  • Then, for the final “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” you’ll play the same notes you previously played for these words.

Before we move on, internalize this melody and get it under your fingers.

What are the chords and the cadences?

The melody often holds clues as to what the chords of a song are. But first, a musical cadence is a sequence of chords that brings a phrase or piece of music to a sense of conclusion or pause.

Before diving into any wild chord substitutions, you need to know the very basic harmonic essence of a melody.

Here’s how I come up with my basic chords and cadences when I’m writing a solo bass arrangement.

  • Sing the melody.
  • While your singing the melody, just start playing either C (the Root or I chord), F (the Fourth or IV chord), or G (The Fifth or V chord). Side-note: Roman numerals are often used to refer to chords.
  • Allow your self to feel how a bass note of a Root, Fourth, or Fifth feel agains the melody.
  • This is how you’ll figure out (with your ears) where the cadence’s are and the basic chord progression of the song. You’ll also start hearing and feeling when a chord needs to change. This is the movement of a songs chord progression.

There are many paths you can take with this. Here is one way that the chords can be played:

  • For “Twinkle Twinkle,” play the root note C.
  • For “Little,” play the four chord, which is the note F.
  • For “Star,” resolve back to the root note C.
  • For “How I,” play the four chord, which is the note F.
  • For “Wonder,” resolve back to the root note C.
  • For “What You,” play the five chord, which the note G.
  • For “Are,” resolve back to the root note C.
  • For “Up a–” play the root note C.
  • For “–bove the” play the four chord, which is the note F.
  • For “world so” play the root note C.
  • For “high” play the five chord G.
  • For “Like a” play the root note C.
  • For “diamond” play the four chord, which is the note F.
  • For “in the” play the root note C.
  • For “sky” play the five chord G.
  • For “Twinkle Twinkle,” play the root note C.
  • For “Little,” play the four chord, which is the note F.
  • For “Star,” resolve back to the root note C.

Let’s take things to another level

There’s are a few melodic devices I am applying in my solo bass arrangement.

  1. Melodic Embellishments: Melodic embellishments are additional notes or musical flourishes added to a melody to enhance its expressiveness and complexity. I like to add these to the beginning or ending of phrases. That way the main essence of the melody remains intact.
  2. Chord Movements: Chord movements refer to the progression or transition between different chords in a piece of music, creating harmonic structure and flow. My take on this may not be the most popular approach, but I prefer to play the melody, then insert chords either in the beginning or ending of a phrase. The bass is a physically demanding instrument and not only is it easier to not have to play chords for every single melodic note, the melody stands out more and remains as the main focus.
  3. Inner Voice Movements: Inner voice movements refer to the melodic lines and changes occurring within the inner parts of a chordal texture, contributing to the overall harmonic progression and musical expression. You’ll often notice that I’ll play a chord, then move one of the inner voicings up and down a step to create almost like a secondary melody.
  4. Harmonic Direction: Whenever I play chords, I try to choose a direction and maintain that direction. So if the chords are traveling up my fretboard, I try to keep that direction going, even if the melody is descending in pitch. This creates contrary motion, which sounds good to my ears.
  5. Motifs: Motifs are recurring musical phrases or figures that serve as fundamental building blocks or thematic elements within a composition. For the section “Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky.” I decided to simplify the melody and play a motif instead. The ear can fill in the rest of the details and still hear the song.
  6. Tritone Substitution: Tritone substitution is a jazz harmonic technique where a dominant chord is replaced by another dominant chord a tritone away, enriching harmonic progression with chromaticism. Whenever you have a V chord, try substituting the V chord with a V chord derived from its tritone. So for this song, whenever you have a G chord, explore how a Db 7 chord sounds over the melody.

Inserting all of these techniques into a kid’s song may be overkill. But, it’s an excellent exercise and fun to do!

Now, It’s Your Turn

Playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on bass at a boss level is something that you can pat yourself on the back. Especially if you’re a parent that struggles to find time to play your instrument. Just by understanding the melody, essential bass techniques, and practicing diligently, you’ll level up your bass guitar skills and can confidently perform this well-known nursery rhyme with style and flair. So grab your bass guitar, tune up, and get ready to dazzle your audience with your stellar rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”

If you want to take your bass guitar skills to another level, keep learning.

PosidoVega

Hi! I’m Posido Vega, a multi-passionate creative. I’m an artist, bass player, jazz theory enthusiast, children’s book author and illustrator, and SEO 😅.

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