Reading Ukulele Chord Notation

by Pete · 5 comments

If you’ve never played a stringed instrument, looking at a uke chord and some music for the first time can be like trying to read another language. Here’s my explanation of it all.

We’ll use the common C Major chord as an example here. This is what it looks like.

C Major Chord

C Major Chord

Chord notation is really just a image of the strings with the neck turned so the head points straight upwards. So the vertical lines are the strings from left to right G (4th string), C (3rd string), E (2nd string) and A (1st string). The horizontal lines depict the frets on the neck. Lower number frets start at the top and run down the image. Here is an image of the same C chord on an actual ukulele.

C Major Actual Image

C Major Actual Image

The string names may change depending on your tuning, I’m using the common GCEA tuning here. The frets will start at the first fret unless clearly labeled to the top left of the chord image.

Here is an example of a B Major chord played a bit further up the neck

B Major Chord

B Major Chord

Now an actual image of the chord.

B Major Chord Actual

B Major Chord Actual

Sometimes you will see numbers within the circles, this suggests which fingers you should each string. But you don’t necessarily have to use the suggested fingering, depending on the chord progression or your comfort levels, there are sometimes different possible ways to finger a chord.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Redfern December 7, 2010 at 12:05 am

Hi, this looks like a very good site, and full of good tips. The only thing with which I’d take (mild) issue is that your chord diagram suggests that you play the ‘C’ chord with your index (first) finger. Your photo shows you playing the chord with your middle (second) finger!
I’m not simply being pedantic (I hope!) by pointing this out.
I’m a great believer in choosing which fingering to use to form any chord on the basis of what chord is coming next – ‘minimising your journey across the fretboard’ , as I like to put it. So if I’m playing ‘C’ followed by ‘F’, I’ll use my ring finger to play the ‘C’, leaving my index and middle fingers ready to form the ‘F’. On the other hand, if ‘G’ is going to follow ‘C’, I’ll use my middle finger for the ‘C’ chord, ready to slide down one fret to help form the ‘G’. For that reason, I prefer not to label the fretted notes with numbers indicating the finger that should be used to play them. HTH! Paul

Paul Redfern December 7, 2010 at 12:08 am

Hmm! Should have read all the way to the end before jumping in with comments. Just read what I posted earlier as a worked example of ‘different possible ways to finger a chord’!

chris reid February 7, 2011 at 6:54 pm

i just dont understand when they have two or three or even one of those circles above the chord notation what exactly does that mean?

Pete February 8, 2011 at 9:06 am

Those circles mean they are played open. or an open string.

So you still hit those strings as part of your strum, with your left hand fingers not touching them.

Sven February 16, 2011 at 8:47 am

I am new to Ukes and stringed instrument – therefore the simple question. I have noted guitarists and sometimes Uke players have a clamping device on the neck. What is the purpose of the clamp?

I ended up with a Uke by going to music store to buy my Dad a replacement for his four stringed guitar. I explained the situation to the clerk and he ordered me a Uke. Actually what I meant to buy was a Tenor Guitar which is 4 stringed guitar bigger than a Uke but smaller than a 6 string guitar.

The clerk offered to return the Uke but I bought it anyway figuring it would be at least fun for the kids. It turns out I like it and have learned to be fairly good.

Ultimately I did find my Dad a tenor guitar, and he loves it as well. I was thinking of buying another tenor guitar and having it restrung with nygut strings to GCEA. The fingering would then be the same as what I am familiar with. Does anyone see any problems with that idea?

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