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Basic `Ukulele Chord Fingering
The art and science of chord fingering. Learning your basic open position chords in common keys.
We have four fingers and there're all not equal. Some shorter then others and some stronger that others. Everybody's hand is a little different. This does play a role in fingering chords. A example shows up with the first chord most ukulele players learn, a C major chord. It's a one finger chord. That one finger can be anyone of your four fingers.
The combination of fingers used play a role. Whether the fingers are on adjacent strings or skipping strings, different frets or adjacent frets, the total range of frets that need to be covered, your finger dexterity, etc...
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Photo from WikipediA
This above photo is intended to show a chord and inadvertently shows several points of bad technique:
- A – Thumb creeping above the neck and out of its support role.
- B – Palm touching the neck, which limits the range and dexterity of the fingers ability to finger the individual notes of a chord.
- C – The pinky on the frets and not right behind it. I'd be surprised if the C note on string five sounded when played. The same can be said for the other C note on string two and the index finger being on the frets and not behind it.
This following photos I'm sure where intended to show a chord and inadvertently shows several points of bad technique:
- A) Thumb too high in a non-supporting role.
- B) Too far from the fret.
- C*) Fingers not over fingerboard and out of position.
- A) Knuckle collapsed. The end knuckle of the third finger is the weakest knuckle on the hand and needs more work.
- B) "Impolite Fingering" - Finger one, the index finger is the only finger that is really capable of a Full barre across all the four strings.
- B) Too far from the fret. Right behind the fret is the position of least effort to get a clear note. Any further away from the fret and you need to press harder.
* All the non chording fingers in the above photos are out of position. Most likely to show a chord fingering – but not good fingering and really drives home the point of why photos are not the way to show a chord.
What is a Chord?
A chord is a group of three or more different notes sounded together or almost together. Note: Not all of the notes of a chord need to be played to imply the actual chord.
On stringed instruments like the ukulele, chords can be grouped into four categories for learning: Open Position Chords, Movable Form Chords, 4-Part Contemporary or “Jazz” Chords and Free Form Chords. This lesson focuses on basic open position chords and why some might be harder to play vs. other basic chords.
Basic Open Position Chords
An open position chords is one of the basic, first chords most ukulele players learn. These chords are played in the fret one, two, three and four area of the ukulele and include at least one open string.
There are two approaches to learning chords, the song based approach and learning the fundamentals approach. I'm a big advocate of building a solid base of the fundamentals. A lot of players new to the ukulele like to jump right in a learn songs.
For the song approach you pick a song learn the chords you need to learn know for the song. A song is like a recipe, the chords are one of the ingredients. Look them up, ask a friend or take a lesson or two. Then learn at least one version of each of the chords in the song.
Another approach is to learn the most common chords that show up in common keys and songs. This is especially helpful for occasions where you might have never played a particular song before or are reading the chords as you go. This happens a lot at jam sessions and club play-a-longs. You never know what songs are going to be played and would like to participate in every song. No time to look up chords, you need to know chords.
For Folk, Rock, Pop, Country and and Bluegrass common major keys are C, G, D, A, and E. S ee the Common Chord for C Major chart below.
For most simple songs the chords all are from the main key and stay in that key. There are a lot of songs with just two or three chords.
Common Chords for Common Keys
The chords for a major key all come out of the major scale for that key. If we number each scale degree of the major scale from 1 to 7 we have the chord's position and harmonic function within the key. When talking about chords these position numbers are typically indicated using roman numerals: I II III IV V VI VII. This position will help with transposing to other keys and to recognize similarities between songs and chord progressions. There a quite a few common chord progressions that are used in popular music.
Using triads, three note chords, the chords for all major keys are:
On the ukulele these triads are commonly played with one of the notes doubled. Giving us a four note chord that matches perfectly with the four strings of the ukulele. Allowing you to strum all the strings.
Common Chords for the Key of C Major and the C Major Scale
- C major
- D minor
- E minor
- F major
- G major
- A minor
- B diminished
The diminished chord rarely shows up and when it does a diminished seventh chord can be substituted for it. Diminished Seventh chords are a 4-part chord covered in a later section.
With major chords being the most common chord, the "major" part of the chord is typically not said or notated. The minor chord type is shortend to "min" or "m". The diminished notation is shortened to "dim" or a degree sign. Leaving use with an easier to read list.
Any one of the chords can be a seventh chord C7, D7, E7, F7, G7, A7, and B7. These are 4-part chords containing four notes with no duplicate notes. All but the G7 are chords outside of the key of C major but some are common.
Here are all the possible open position seventh chords. A few do not contain any open strings and their basic movable form is shown.
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