Find more ukulele chords

A year and a half after I took up the ukulele, I’m calling myself an intermediate player. Now, an intermediate should be able to do a little more than strum a few open chords with a felt pick, so here’s a chart that is helping me to find chords up the neck (I still strum with a pick ;-). Hopefully you’ll find it useful too.

Here’s the basic principle: chords are made with just a few component pitches (I may call them “notes” now and then, for which I apologize in advance):

  1. The tonic, or note with the same name as the chord in general.
  2. The dominant or fifth, exactly seven semitones above the tonic (plus/minus a number of octaves.
  3. A major or minor third, that is, four or three semitones (plus/minus octaves) above the tonic. Omitted in “power” chords.
  4. Perhaps a seventh, ten semitones above or two below the tonic. Instead of this, there are other notes that you may want to pitch in, like a 9th, a 13th, and so forth.

So I’ve taken the notes on the fretboard and colored them according to the scheme above. Blue means tonic or dominant, yellow is major, orange is minor, and green is seventh. I’ve done this for all 12 pitches from A to G#, and the result is this chart, which you can download as a PDF file. If you print it two-sided, it will fit in a single sheet of paper. If you have a ukulele with more than 12 frets, you can extend the diagrams because the colors repeat after the 12th fret, with that fret being the same as the open string.

Let’s say I want to play a C major chord. I go to the C fretboard diagram (3rd from the start) and notice that two open strings (position 0) are blue, which means that I can include them in the chord and won’t have to fret them. Cool! A third open string (E) is yellow, so I also strum this string open as long as I want to make a C major chord (not so if I want a C minor). What about the 1st string? I will fret it at any point where the marker is either blue or yellow. Not orange, which would make the chord both major and minor, with awful results, or green, which would make it a seventh. So I can put my finger on the 3rd fret, which makes the standard C chord, but also on the 7th or 10th fret. Bet you didn’t know about those two cool-sounding, and easy variations of the C chord. Well, you might, but I didn’t before I saw them on the diagram.

Another example: the dreaded E major chord. Looking at the E diagram, I see that the second open string is blue, so I get that without fretting. I need more blues and yellows. I see a yellow on the fourth string, first fret, and then a blue on the first string, second fret, but the next blue on the third string is kind of far, though I may be able to reach it if I stretch my pinky. If I can’t, I have an alternative by pressing second, third, and fourth on the 4th fret (like a D chord, two frets up), plus my index on first string, 3rd fret. Yet another alternative is barring the 7th fret (or at least first and second on that fret), and then third string 8th fret and fourth string 9th fret, making a sort of Bb chord six frets up. Finally, I can do a G-chord shape based on the 11th fret, plus fourth on the 9th fret.

Speaking of E major, I could have decided to spare a finger on the second option and let the second string ring open, but then all the notes would be blue. This would have been an E5, or “power” E chord, which is neither major nor minor. Here’s a cool YouTube video about power chords on the ukulele. Power chords do have their own special uses, and sound especially awesome with some distortion. The diagram helps me to see other power chords on A (fourth string 2nd fret, third string 4th fret, with first and second open), and C (begin with standard C major, but press also the second string on the 3rd fret). There are more, but they involve an unholy amount of finger stretching, with the possible exception of the “barred power C,” where you bar all strings and then fret first and second skipping two frets below the bar.

The diagram has colors only for major, minor, and seventh, but you can also use it to find a sixth, an augmented, or a diminished. Not that the last two matter much, since there are so few of them anyway, but still… Do this:

  1. For a sixth, press the fret immediately to the left of a green note, instead of the green.
  2. For a major seventh, press the fret to the right of the green note instead of the green note.
  3. For an augmented chord, begin with a major, but then replace each blue dominant with the note to its right.
  4. For a diminished chord, begin with a minor, but then replace each blue dominant with the note to its left.

There are a few similar tools out there. For instance, KauaiRainbow.com has the diagram below, which shows you how to get a ton of chords by learning a bunch of movable patterns.

Here you can see that all diminished and all augmented chords use the same shape. There are a few exceptions but those are for open chords, which you cannot see on this diagram because it’s for movable chords only. You can see them on my chart, though, which works quite well for chords where some strings are open while others are fretted way up the neck, with interesting-sounding results. Give it a try!

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