BY JIM BELOFF
It’s all about the G. Those who have taken my advanced-beginner workshops know that the biggest “aha” moment of the class comes when I talk about the G chord. I introduce it with the arrangement of “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” from my songbook Daily Ukulele, but you can practice with any song where the first chord is G. Before the students start playing, I confirm that everyone knows how to play a G chord. Most everyone does. Then I ask what fingers they use to make it. Virtually everyone uses their index, middle, and ring fingers like most of the beginner books and DVDs teach. (Ex. 1)
In the middle of the song, there is a simple and common chord change from G to G7. (Ex. 2) I ask the class how many fingers they can re-use from their G chord to make a G7 chord. Correct answer: none. All the fingers used to make the G have to be lifted and repositioned to make the G7.
Next, I suggest that they try something that may seem awkward—make the G chord with their middle and ring fingers and their pinky. (Ex. 3) It feels odd, but I ask them to humor me. Having made a G chord this way, now how many fingers can they re-use to make a G7? Answer: two. The middle and ring fingers stay put, but simply by lifting the pinky and putting down the index finger on the first fret of the E string they have transitioned from a G to a G7. (Ex. 3 and 2) I then take it one step further, suggesting that they replace every G chord with a G7. They can even leave their index finger where it is since the pinky at the third fret cancels out the first fret.
WHAT’S ALL THE FUSS?
If you’ve never had a problem switching between G and G7, you may wonder why I’m making a fuss. The answer is something I refer to as “zen ukulele.” The point is not to change how someone plays their G chord, it’s to open the player up to using his or her fingers more efficiently to allow for easier chord transitions. For example, by playing a G chord with your pinky, you can move to an E7 by dropping your index finger on the G string’s first fret and lifting your pinky. (Ex. 4) A Hawaiian D7 chord (Ex. 5) made with the middle and ring fingers can easily drop (one string each) into a pinky G.
Most important, though, get used to using your pinky as soon as possible. The reason why books teach the G with index, middle, and ring fingers is because those are the strongest fingers. The pinky is the weakest finger and in the beginning it’s only natural to try to avoid using it. On the other hand, many of the sophisticated, jazzy chords that many players love require four fingers. My advice is to get your pinky in the game as soon as possible so it can carry its weight with those richer, more interesting four-fingered chords.
It’s no overstatement to say that the Pinky G can be a revelation for advanced beginners. It opens them up to the idea that the fingers used to make certain chords are not fixed and should take into account the chords that come before and after. To me, the secret to a long and satisfying relationship with the ukulele is the ability to play any song with any number of chords. Moving gracefully and efficiently from one chord to the next is critical to achieving that goal.
A personal anecdote: When I was just starting out on ukulele, there was a moment when I looked down at my chording hand and noticed I was playing a C chord with my pinky. (Ex. 6) Knowing that many of us learn to play a C chord with our ring fingers, I was fascinated to think that my hand had over-ruled my head and decided to make a C with my pinky. Then it dawned on me: It was like my hand had already determined that using my pinky to make a C chord was more efficient, since I could more easily transition from it to a three-fingered chord.
So, humor me.
Give the Pinky G and Pinky C a try. Who knows, it might open you up to all sorts of new possibilities.
Jim Beloff is the author of The Ukulele—A Visual History and arranger and publisher of the Jumpin’ Jim series of ukulele songbooks, including the best-selling Daily Ukulele.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Ukulele magazine.
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