In part I we started the ukulele chord system by learning which notes are used in a chord. Now it’s time to find those notes on the ukulele fretboard. First we’ll have a look at which notes are where on the fretboard. Then, we can search for the chord notes. We will learn that a few shapes are sufficient to play all chords.
the notes on the ukulele
On a piano keyboard you’ll see the notes in sequence. On a fretboard of a string instrument like the ukulele it’s a bit more complicated. But not much.
The picture below shows the notes on the ukulele fretboard. For now we assume you’re using the standard C-tuning (G-C-E-A). The third string is the C-string. Every fret up the fretboard is the equivalent of moving from one piano key to the next, regardless of its colour (black or white). So moving from fret to fret along the C-string we find the note sequence from part I: C-C♯-D-D♯-… The open string (without fingering any fret) is a C, fretting the first fret is a C♯, and so on. For the other strings the sequence is the same, except for the starting note. So for example on the E-string you start with an E, and from there follow the familiar sequence E-F-F♯-G-G♯…
As you know by now, the C chord consists of the notes C-E-G. We’ll have to find a way to play those three notes on the ukulele. The easiest way is usually to stay close to the top nut. The open G, C and E-string are all notes from the C chord. The open A-string doesn’t belong to the C chord, so we move up the fretboard along the A-string until we find a C, E or G. So A-A♯-B-C. At the third fret we find a C note, which is part of the C chord. So if you fret the A-string at the third string and play the other strings open you have your C chord. Of course you already knew that, but with this method you can find any chord you like. Just try to make sure you play all notes from the C-chord (so C, E and G). For example, you could also fret the E-string at the third fret, but then you play G-C-G-C, missing the E-note.
Another way to find out how to play a C chord is to find all C, E and G notes on the fretboard. In the previous picture we marked all notes, in the one below we’ve marked only the notes of the C chord.
To play the C chord, just pick one of the marked notes on each string and strum. Easy! You can pick any combination you like, but try to make sure you have at least one of each (a C, an E and a G). Also make sure you’re fingers can reach them. If you look up some C chord forms in a chord table, you’ll see all possible ways to play this chord fit within this template.
chords on a ukulele
The easiest way to play a chord is usually by using open strings, so unfretted strings. For the C chord you would use the open G, C and E strings, because those notes are part of the C chord. You have to fret the A-string (for example at fret 3), because the A isn’t part of the C chord.
Fretting all strings might be a bit more complicated, but has lots of advantages. Have a look at this C-chord, where we picked the first fretted note from the C chord on each string:
Since we’re not using open strings, we can move this shape along the neck of the ukulele. For example, if you move this shape two frets up the fretboard (towards the body), all four notes move up two steps. These are exactly the notes of a D chord! The D note is two steps higher than the C, and for the D chord you have to take 4 and 3 steps (see part I). So all three notes of the D chord (D-F♯-A) are two steps up from the C chord (C-E-G). You can use this trick for all chord shapes without open strings. By moving this single shape along the fretboard you can play any major chord! The only problem is that you may end up very high on the fretboard. In part III we’ll see how you can use three to five moveable shapes to play any major chord in a number of ways, and at different positions along the neck. In later parts we’ll do the same with minor and other chords.