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Color Tones and Chords MEMBER LESSON
Published: 2013-10-07 Updated: 2016-01-05 00:00:00 • 2442

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Color Tones and Chords

by Curt Sheller, Curt Sheller Publications

The most important notes or chord tones in a chord are the notes that contribute most to the actual sound or color of the chord. For a major or minor triad the third of the chord performs this function. For other chords any note that makes it different from other chord types with the same root are the color tones.

This information is critical when creating your own melody and chord ukulele arrangements and are limited to four, three or two strings to harmonize a melody.

This lesson is a more for less type of lesson exploring what notes are actually important in chords. The best place to start with this concept is 4-part chords and the Big Six Core Chords.


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For the core 4-part 7, maj7 and m7 the color tones are the third and seventh of the chords. The root or letter name of the chord and the fifth for these three chords are the same. Here are the notes of a 7, maj7 and m7 chord using C as the root for each:

  • C7 is C E G Bb the 1 3 5 b7 of the C major scale*
  • Cmaj7 is C E G B the 1 3 5 7 of the C major scale
  • Cm7 is C Eb G Bb the 1 b3 5 b7 of the C major scale

As you can see the C and G are the same for all three chords and don't actually contribute to the color of the chord.

For the remaining three of the big six chords: the half-diminished seventh (m7b5), diminished seventh (dim7) and augmented seventh (aug7) chords all but the root contribute to the color of the chord.

  • Cm7b5 is C Eb Gb Bb of the C major scale
  • Cdim7 is C Eb Gb Bbb of the C major scale
  • C+7 is C E G# Bb of the C major scale
  • The names of the notes of any chord can be derived from the major scale based on the chord's root.
Exploring Color Tones

From the four voicings of the 7, maj7 and m7 chords in the Big Six series of lessons find and only play the thirds and sevenths of the chords - the color tones.

As you might be able to figure out – knowing the names of the notes in ALL your chords and the notes of the fingerboard will go a long way when exploring this approach to chords. You pretty much can not apply any of this without knowing the notes of the fingerboard and at a minimum the 15 major scales.


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Just browsing over both books, they look fantastic! I'm a guitarist and uke player for over 25 years and was thinking about writing a ukulele book but you've already written what I think are the best, most comprehensive and thorough books I've ever seen for the instrument. I just might end up buying every book you've written and I'll be giving my highest recommendation for your books to my friends and students. Thank you so much for taking the time to write such great books! — Peter Rhee

Aloha, Curt, All I can say is WOW! What you have accomplished is simply incredible! All the best — Glen Hirabayashi, The Aloha Boys

Folks, if you haven't stopped by Curt's site, do so right now! ..And get his books, they are fantastic. This guy knows his stuff and is able to pass it along too. — Alan Johnson Proprietor, The 4th Peg

I can highly recommend Curt's Uke books — I have four of them and they are excellent. — fatveg — Portland

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