Ahhh, the humble forefinger. Where would we be without it? Excellent for so many things, picking your nose, scratching your ear, prodding an errant cat. It's also pretty important for playing the ukulele too. Yet some people actively encourage others to avoid it. Why is that?
There is one thing that comes from the armchair advisors of the ukulele world that could give the 'Just play an E7, it's the same as an E chord' brigade a run for their money, and that is those who actively avoid playing any chords that have a barre in them. As bizarre as that sounds, it is sadly true and I spotted a pretty lively discussion on social media recently in which some players were advising a beginner to either avoid songs that used barre chords totally, to play 'cheat chords,' or to (shudder) use a capo instead. Well, the news from Got A Ukulele towers is that I would advise the exact opposite.
Beginners may not like to hear that, but much the same as I advise when it comes to the E chord, I would say 'don't avoid it, put it higher up on your practice schedule'. The reason is simple. By avoiding it or learning to compensate you will be missing out on so much that can be done with the uke.
Contrary to the belief of some, barre chords are not 'impossible' as some people say (and i've had spats with people online who have said exactly that. People who have said 'No Barry, it IS impossible and you are wrong'. No I'm not. With practice, you WILL master the use of the barre and I promise you that it will pay you dividends in spades in many more ways.
Sadly the same people who like to promote the use of 'cheat chords (i.e. chords that are similar and work in some cases but NOT all) are those who think the E chord is 'impossible' or rather 'just too much damn hassle to learn'. But really, it and they are not. It comes I think from the worrying trend of people actually believing the much spouted phrase that the 'ukulele is easy'. You see, by saying the instrument is easy often enough, people start to believe it, but they also start to assume that nothing is allowed to be be difficult with the uke, that there must be a 'cheat' for everything, The 'how dare you Mr Tutor tell me to do something that actually requires even the slightest bit of effort' brigade. You can see where I am going with this.
Take another example. I saw a post today from someone suggesting that the answer was to play the Baritone ukulele as it makes the E chord a breeze. It does indeed. In standard Baritone tuning a G chord is fingered the same as an A chord on a regular uke. But of course this suggestion totally misses the fact that in Baritone tuning other chords that are simple in GCEA tuning become harder. It's a crazy notion that again comes down to a desire for things to be easy and an expectation that having bought a ukulele that you too can be a virtuoso over night. You can't!
I'm not sure who is to blame, but the media are high on the agenda. I'm afraid that learning any musical instrument requires something that may horrify some people. A bit of practice and effort. The ukulele owes you nothing and is not something designed to be easy just because people tell you so. Like any instrument, with effort comes some reward.
Now this is not me suggesting you learn some bizarre, minimally used chord that requires the stretch of a silverback gorilla to fret... I am talking about a major chord, of which there are only seven! To avoid the E chord (or the B chord for that matter) is ruling out huge amounts of music and / or forcing you to play in more unnatural keys. But there is something else at risk here. Something as important.
The use of forefinger barre is not something that was just dreamt up to specifically make you struggle with a particular chord. It's just the way some chords work best. But the barre opens up SO much more with the ukulele as it will also take you on the road to learning to transpose chords (i.e. being able to throw the Capo away) and into playing other moveable chords / inversions. This will teach you how to play all sorts of chords in other positions on the neck. Being able to barre is a huge part of doing that. In fact lots of the really simple chord shapes can be used to play other chords all over the neck IF you barre them.
For example. Let's take the C chord. One finger right? One of the easiest on the uke (0003). But do you know that chord shape can be moved to give you other chords elsewhere on the neck. Imagine the C chord fingered at the 7th fret. I don't mean 0007 - that would be useless, but using your forefinger to effectively move the nut position down to the 4th fret you would have 4447. And that's another E chord! It's still a C shape but the forefinger is moving the nut for you. And this works with all sorts of chord 'shapes', In fact knowing how to move the shapes for C, A, G, F and D with a barre if necessary will allow you to play pretty much every major, minor and 7th chord in existence in other positions on the neck. Still refusing to learn to barre?
Well I suppose you may read this and continue to feel that this isn't for you and you will do without those developments. Fine, that is your right, but you are seriously missing out based on a fear of something that just needs some effort and practice to master.
I've not met an accomplished guitar or ukulele player who would say they found every chord easy when they were learning. Everyone finds some of them hard. But they practice them, master them, and then look back and wonder what all the fuss was about. It's one of the joys of learning a musical instrument, especially when it starts to 'click'.
So please stop with the 'just play an E7', or the 'use a capo' and learn to love your forefinger! And certainly, please stop telling other beginners to avoid certain chords.. (and shame on the couple of ukulele clubs I know who either avoid songs with E chords in them or transpose them into other keys.. I mean, it's like learning the piano with all the black keys removed)...
Yet another rant from
Got A Ukulele, but this one probably gets my goat more than any other. One day we may have the ukulele taken more seriously I suppose but that is not going to happen if the players continue to perpetuate the myth that they are 'easy and, worst still, encourage other beginners to avoid doing anything even slightly difficult..
ps. In case you were wondering - the chord in the image above is a D7 played, yes... with a barre.
pps - and after all that - if you STILL don't want to develop your playing, then that is fine. Ignore all this if you must. But please, an E chord is an E chord. If you want to play an E chord, play an E chord. That involves a barre. Simple as that..
© Barry Maz