Building Chords from Scales on Ukulele | Chord by Chord Lesson 11


Welcome to Chord by Chord, a beginner’s guide for the ukulele. In the previous lessons you learned several chords and how to play them on the instrument. Now we’re going to take a deeper dive into understanding what those chords are made of.

We talked about three main types of chords that are the most common in popular music: major, minor, and dominant seventh. The major chord, or major triad, is constructed of three notes from the major scale—the first, third, and fifth. So for a C major chord, go to the C major scale (C D E F G A B), and take the notes C (1), E (3), and G (5). On the ukulele, an open C chord is played with the fifth (G) on string 4, the root (C) on strings 3 and 1, and the third (E) on string 2, as shown in Example 1.

Now we’ll check out at an F major chord. If F is the first note in the F major scale (F G A Bb C D E), then A is the third note and C is the fifth, and an F chord is spelled F A C. So the F chord you’ve been playing all along (Example 2) is built from the third (A) on strings 4 and 1, the fifth (C) on string 3 and the root (F) on string 2.

Let’s look at one more major chord, G. In the G major scale (G A B C D E F#), G is the first note, B is the third, and D is the fifth. Therefore, a G major triad is spelled G B D. An open G chord on the ukulele includes the root (G) on strings 4 and 2, the fifth (D) on string 3, and the third (B) on string 1, as shown in Example 3.

On to minor chords, the difference in construction between a major triad and a minor is very slight. As we’ve discussed, a major chord is built from a root, a major third, and a fifth. A minor chord includes these same three notes, but the third is flatted—that is, lowered by a half step, or the distance of one fret on the ukulele.


Example 4 shows a D major chord  (D F# A). To make that D chord minor, find the third (F#), which is on string 2, and lower it by a half step (F), moving it from fret 2 to fret 1 (Example 5). As you can hear, the difference is pretty dramatic. For Example 6, do the same thing, but with a G chord. The third, B, is found on string 1, fret 2; just play the note Bb instead to make the G chord minor.

Let’s move on to some dominant seventh chords—remember, just a major triad with the addition of a flatted seventh. Take that D chord from Ex. 4. To make it a D7, we’ll need to add the flatted seventh. The seventh note in the D major scale (D E F# G A B C#) is C#, so the flatted seventh is C. The easiest way to turn an open D chord into D7 is just to play the open C string as depicted in Example 7.

Note that the D7 shape in Ex. 7 is rootless—it doesn’t contain the note D—but it still sounds like a D7 chord because it has the essential notes of the third (F#) and the flatted seventh (C). However, if you’d like to include the root, you can play the nearby shape shown in Example 8. This shape is a little tricky, since you have to bar strings 4–2 at the second fret with your first finger, adding the C on string 1 with your second finger, but with a bit of practice, you can make it sound really clean.

Now take that open G shape and make it a G7 chord. In the G major scale, the seventh is F#, so your flatted seventh is F. To transform G to G7, play the first-fret F on string 2, rather than the third-fret G, as demonstrated in Example 9. Try the same thing again for an F chord (Example 10). The flatted seventh is Eb, so to turn F into F7, just add your third finger to string 3, fret 3, for the Eb note. 

In the next and final lesson in this series, we are going to do delve more deeply into chord voicings and explore how to create various chords all the way up the ukulele neck.

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