We’ve all been there. You are just starting to learn to play the ukulele and looking up some songs to play online. Only to find that they are riddled with difficult-to-play ukulele chords or chord names you haven’t heard before. This confusion only leads to demotivation.
This quick guide will show five tips for stripping down chords, sometimes even to their barest bones. You can apply this to any song and keep stripping down the chords until you can play them. I will use C as an example chord throughout the guide, but you can transfer this to all chords. I do assume that you know your basic ukulele chords, of course.
1. Remove Ukulele Chord Extensions
When looking at the Ukulele Chords Diagrams page, you’ll see a lot of names with numbers in them. For example: m7, 9, maj9, 13th, 11th… and so on. These extra notes add a jazzy feeling to certain chords, or in the case of 7th chords, it helps the song vibe.
We can divide them into four categories: major, minor, dominant seventh, and augmented chords. The gist of this life hack is to undo the substitution and return to the main chord.
- Major: C = C6, Cmaj7, Cmaj9, C6/9 and Cmaj7/9
- Minor: Cm = Cm6, Cm6/9, Cm7, Cm9 and Cm11
- Dominant 7th: C7 = C9, C13, C9(11+), C11+
- Augmented: C = Caug7, C7+, C7+5, C9+, C9+5, C+9
2. Utilize Power Chords
Power chords are one of the simplest chords to play. They are typically made up of two notes, the root note and the fifth. This is why they are commonly referred to as, for example, C5. Note the absence of the 3rd, which typically characterizes a major and a minor chord. This simplification means you can use a power chord for either. You can also use them to replace suspended and 7th chords.
- Power chord: C5 = C, Cm, Csus4, C7
3. Disregard Added Tones
Chords with “add” behind them are standard triad chords that have a note added to them. You can ignore the added note and play the root triad chord.
- Added: C = Cadd9, Cadd4, Cadd2
- Added: Cm = Cmadd9
4. Disregard Slash Notes
The same goes for slash notes. They are standard triad chords with added notes. However, the added note is the lowest bass note in this case, also called triads over bass notes. Slash chords are at a completely different level which can be difficult to even for skilled players. Ignore them and use the root chord on the slash’s left side.
- Slashed chord: C = C/B
5. Ignore Most Things in Parenthesis
Most of the time, you can safely ignore things between parentheses. This can go from single numbers to additional chords. When the chord that is left over is still too difficult to play, follow one of the steps above to simplify it further.
When you see “(no 3rd)” however, this means to drop the 3rd note to get a power chord (see above definition of a power chord). If you ignore this, you might play a major chord over a minor section. The same goes for (b5), (#9), and (b7#9).
Feel free to do multiple simplifications at once!
- D6/F# becomes D6 with tip 4, becomes D with tip 1.
- F#m7(11) becomes F#m7 with tip 5, becomes F#m with tip 1.
- Esus4/A becomes Esus4 with tip 4 and becomes E5 with tip 2.
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Feel free to contact me whenever you need more information about stiff fingers or warm-up exercises.