Ukulele Chords for Guitarists

From the guitar players’ point of view ukulele chords are best seen as constructed on the top four strings of the guitar. Even if you are not a guitar player who is making a switch or adding a new instrument to your arsenal the information here can still be of great use to you I am sure of it.

If all you want is ukulele chord diagrams to start with just click on the PDF downloads for:

Master Chord Chart Major Minor Dominant 7th Natural Roots

Major Chords

Minor Chords

Dominant 7th Chords

Master Chord Chart I IV V Progressions 

Handy Major Key Diatonic Harmony PDF Chart

...or go search anywhere on the Internet and you can find endless pages of chord boxes to satisfy even an advanced player. The dichotomy being that an advanced enough musician doesn’t really need chord diagrams because she or he can write them!

 If you want a great tool to work out ukulele chords for you self go to visit our friends in the Netherlands and try this chord finder app 

If you want to learn how to play hundreds of songs fairly instantly then read on my friend...

Ukulele Chords and Tuning

Basically the Ukulele is tuned to a C Major 6 chord or C6 for short. The note order is pretty consistent. This pattern will almost invariably follow 5th Root 3rd 6th.  What does vary is the implied chord root itself and the register of the pitches.

The Major 6 chords used are typically D6 C6 or G6.  Sometimes the 4th string is the lowest (linear tuning) and sometimes the 4th string is the octave above what the lowest pitch would have been (re-entrant tuning). This works out to make the 4th the second highest string. (See Ukulele Tuning Page

The Major Sixth Pattern

What this means to us guitar players is that if you know your string names and have a little chord theory under your belt you can see that the top four strings of our guitar is really just a second inversion (i.e. D on the bottom) G major 6 chord (G6)

D G B E.

Interval wise this is a Perfect 4th, Major 3rd and Perfect 4th

So if you are playing a Baritone Ukulele you’re really just playing a little guitar with out any Low E and A strings! This shouldn’t really present any major challenge if you’ve been playing guitar for a reasonable period of time. If you are playing any other ukulele or tuning thereof read on.


Ukulele Chord Transposition

Because of the tuning, ukulele chord calculating and naming from a guitarist's standpoint requires some transposition. There are several ways of approaching this task.

Of the several possibilities to cope with this issue your own brain and learning mechanisms will dictate which is the easiest for you. There is no “right” answer for this.

Method One: Run Away!

Yes that's right you heard me, one method is to run away… and hide…

The idea is that you don’t really transpose at all (in your mind). This is a type of scordatura.

You just play and name the chords as you usually would. So if you’re playing a I IV V progression in the key of C (C F and G chords) you just call them what they look like: G C and D chords. After all it doesn’t matter what you call them as long as you play the right thing at the right time. One of my students once even named a tricky chord voicing Alf! ...they eventually became friends. ;-)

Generic Transposition by Analysis (Nashville Numbering) 

A good way of communicating with a group of musicians who play transposing instruments is to name the chord harmony with the Roman numeral harmonic analysis. “Go back to the IV chord and start from there”.

Remember music theory if nothing more is all about the language and labeling of patterns so that we can communicate. 

Here is a PDF chart of the Major Key Chords containing sharps (#'s) 

So if you can get your head around the pattern you’re working in just label your chords by function (i.e. is it the I chord? IV chord? V chord?). Try to memorise the chord sequence and label it with numbers. (this is often called the Nashville Numbering System or NNS). A very common chord progression for many popular songs is the I V VI IV progression. Just look at Let It Be by the Beatles. NB: You may see VI- or vi or vi- all three mean "six minor chord". This holds true for any Roman numeral. Capital V's and I's for example are assumed to be of major quality. Where as lower case or caps followed by a minus sign relay minor quality (v or V- and i or I-).

Intervallic Transposition

Finally (although I am sure there are other methods) we have the intervallic principle. This requires a bit of mental agility. If you get your mnemonics going right it is less taxing than it first looks. 

If you want a  C you play a  G            "Wanting = go up a 5th"

If you see a    D you hear a G             "Seeing = think up a 4th"

“Want more / Think less”    re 5th and 4th

“Wanting you go up”    (More= 5th)

“Seeing you think up”  (Less= 4th)


Whether you are a guitar player or not start by downloading the (free) 

Master Chord Chart I IV V Progressions 

Pick a key and practice strumming four beats of each chord of the I IV V progression. Keep repeating slowly and evenly in time. Try to get to the point where you can get through in the order of I IV V without "glitching" or breaking time. Once you are confident that your tone is good and your notes are all ringing try a different order like say I V IV I. Then maybe I IV I V. Keep going until any random chord change can happen using any of the I IV V chords you are working in. Remember to learn the names and function of each chord you're playing (i.e. is it the C I ? F IV ? or G V?). Try different amounts of beats/strums per chord as well. Next time we will look at expanding our ukulele chord vocabulary and tackle some songs together! Happy playing!

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