Ukulele Beginners - Basic Ukulele Theory - part 2 - Major Chords

12 Mar 2011

Ukulele Beginners - Basic Ukulele Theory - part 2 - Major Chords

Part two in my basic ukulele theory series - this time we are looking at Major chords.

What is a chord?  Put simply, a chord is just a collection of notes played together.  You can, of course simply use a Ukulele Chord Chart and memorise your chords, but perhaps you want to know a little more than that.

In this lesson we are just dealing with Major Chords - these are the chords that are just represented by a single letter such as C, D, F and G, without any small m or 7 after them (we will deal with those in another lesson).

A chord name is always representative of the first note that is played in the collection of notes.  As such in an A chord, the first note in the chord is an A, and in a C chord, the first note is a C.  Simple!

To make up the chord, we take that first note (called the root note), and then add what is called the 3rd and the 5th in the major scale of that root note.  In my post on the theory of notes we explained how the notes progressed down the strings of the ukulele, and that each note was a semitone apart.  The 3rd of the root is 4 semitones above the root and the 5th of the root note is 7 semitones above.

So taking the C Major chord, we start with our root note of C.  The 3rd note is the the note 4 semitones above the C.  If we remember how are notes progress, the progression of notes 4 semitones above C would run as

   1         2       3        4
C#/Db - D - D#/Eb - E

Therefore our next note, 4 semitones up is an E.

To get the third note of the C chord, we continue the sequence up to 7 semitones from C, and if you follow the scale of notes you will find that takes us to a G note.

Using this theory of root, 3rd and 5th, we know that the notes in a C chord are C, E and G.

Now, there are four strings on the ukulele, tuned G, C, E and A.  To form the chord we need to ensure that we are only playing the notes C, E and G.  Helpfully with the C chord, three of the strings are G, C and E when played open (the three nearest the ceiling!!).  We can therefore play those open and know that they will work with the C chord.  Our problem string is the first string, the one nearest the floor.  If we play that open we get an A, and that wouldn't work in a C chord.  If, however, we fret that string at the third fret, we get another C.  By doing that you are fingering the most simple form of the C chord.

Let's try that again with the A chord.  Our root note for the A chord is, of course A.  The 3rd is 4 semitones above an A which is C# and the 5th (7 semitones) is an E.  We therefore need to look at the ukulele and ensure that when strummed we are playing the notes A, C# and E.

Our first string nearest the floor plays an A when open so we can leave that alone.  The second string plays an E when open, so we can leave that one alone also.  Our third string played open is a C which would be incorrect, so by fretting that at the first fret we get our required C#.  Our fourth string plays a G when open which is no good either but be fretting up 2 frets we get an A which is one of our required notes.  Playing these frets gives you an A!

Using this theory you can work out the fingerings for all of the major chords.  The simplest form of those chords is to find the easiest fingerings that create the desired notes nearest to the nut, but you can play all of the major chords in a variety of ways all over the neck, so long as the notes you are playing fit with the three notes of the chord.

Have a look at the chord chart, and the major chords and use this theory to check how this works!


  1. That's really good, with your lessons and the fretboard roadmap I'm working through and a book I just brought about theory, I'll be good at it in now time!

  2. really good text man.. thank you

  3. what about baritone players tuned dgbe?


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