30 July 2010

Guitar Player's Guide To The Ukulele

If you're a guitar player looking for new opportunities to sneak in some more practice time then a ukulele could be a good option to try. It's small size makes it easy to slip into a small bag so you can have it available almost any time and any place to practice on.

I recently took my ukulele along on my holidays and got in some useful practice working on fretboard skills and playing some fun songs. I even taught my 12 year old daughter a couple of chords and showed her how to play her current favourite pop hit on the ukulele.

If you already play a little guitar then you won't feel too lost on the ukulele once you've learned a few basics of how the instrument is laid out. Let's take a look at the ukulele's neck and fretboard so you can see how familiar it can be and then get started with a few basic guitar chords on the ukulele.

Anatomy Of A Ukulele

The shape of a ukulele is basically that of a miniature guitar. A closer look at the neck quickly reveals that it has only four strings instead of the six on your guitar. These strings are usually nylon. The fretboard has 12 frets that are obviously smaller than the frets on a guitar.

For us guitar players, the fortunate thing is that the ukulele's four strings are tuned in the same way as the bottom four strings of our guitars. The notes - going from the top to the bottom string - are G C E A. So in effect the open strings are equivalent to those at the fifth fret of the guitar.

One thing I found with the four strings is that there is less room for vertical movement in scales. To find notes you have to move horizontally, those notes you found a string or two up are now a few frets up or down the neck. Playing around with scales and chords like this helped me to see new patterns and relations on the fretboard.

So now we know how the ukulele's fretboard is laid out let's get right on and learn a few basic chords to play.

Basic Ukulele Chords For Guitarists

Learning to play a few ukulele chords is very easy for guitar players. Many of your familiar guitar chord shapes work on the ukulele. But because you start at the equivalent of the fifth fret these same shapes result in different chords.

Here are a few example chord positions to give you the feel for this.

C Maj - G maj guitar chord shape without the 5th and 6th string bass notes
A  |---|---|-3-|---|
E O|---|---|---|---|
C O|---|---|---|---|
G O|---|---|---|---|

G Maj - D maj guitar chord shape
A  |---|-2-|---|---|
E  |---|---|-3-|---|
C  |---|-1-|---|---|
G O|---|---|---|---|

F Maj - C maj guitar chord shape without the 5th string bass note
A O|---|---|---|---|
E  |-1-|---|---|---|
C O|---|---|---|---|
G  |---|-2-|---|---|

A Maj - E maj guitar chord shape
A O|---|---|---|---|
E O|---|---|---|---|
C  |-1-|---|---|---|
G  |---|-2-|---|---|

A Min - E min guitar chord shape
A O|---|---|---|---|
E O|---|---|---|---|
C O|---|---|---|---|
G  |---|-2-|---|---|

D Maj - A maj guitar chord shape
A O|---|---|---|---|
E  |---|-3-|---|---|
C  |---|-2-|---|---|
G  |---|-1-|---|---|

D Min - A min guitar chord shape
A O|---|---|---|---|
E  |-1-|---|---|---|
C  |---|-3-|---|---|
G  |---|-2-|---|---|

Transposing Guitar Songs To Ukulele

With the chord shapes above it should be quite easy to transpose many of your favourite guitar songs to the ukulele. You have two basic options.

Option one is to play the same guitar chord shapes on the ukulele. A song in the key of D on the guitar with chords D, G, A becomes a song in the key of G on the ukulele with chords G, C, and D.

Option two is to map the guitar chords to their equivalent ukulele chords and keep the same chord and key names. Applying this to the previous song in D major you use the A guitar chord shape to play the D on the ukulele, the D guitar shape for the G and the E guitar shape for the A.


The ukulele is a handy practice tool for guitar players that is easy to carry or store almost anywhere. You can learn a lot about your fretboard, chord and scale shapes through practice on it. Best of all ukulele's are cheap so you can keep one in your car, in your office, and make use of all those little practice slots that crop up.

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Photo by midnightcomm.


Muzz said...

Erm the tuning on a uke is GCEA not CGEA, Yet you have the chord shapes of GCEA tuning?
A ukes strings arent in order its an old tuning scheme reffered to as reentrant.

Just thought i should point that out. Cool blog otherwise.

Gary Fletcher said...

Hi Muzz, thanks for pointing out the typo. I fixed it.

Anonymous said...

The note sequence is still off on the chord diagrams. The fingering is fine. Otherwise, very nice blog. Thank you!

Gary Fletcher said...

Oops! Fixed those chord diagrams, thanks for dropping by, and for pointing out the error.

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