How to Transition Easily Between Chords on Ukulele Using Alternate Fingerings


The smoothest fretting-hand movement from chord to chord in ukulele playing relies on the most logical fingerings of chords. Since most chords can be fingered in more than one way, players have to be open to using alternate and sometimes unconventional fingerings. To facilitate the following discussion, grip numbers, instead of traditional chord diagrams or frames, will be used to describe chord shapes. 

There are several advantages of this form of notation: Creating a grip by hand is as easy as writing numbers, whereas drawing a chord diagram—or even inputting one in notation software—can be more labor-intensive. Compared to a chord diagram, a grip takes up little space on paper and easily allows for alternate fingerings of the same chord shape. 

The Grip System

The grip is a set of four numbers, arranged horizontally to represent—from left to right—fret numbers on the G, C, E, and A strings, respectively. The number zero indicates an open string. Grips are placed above or to the right of chord symbols (wherever is most practical, space-wise) and need only be included to accompany the first appearance of any unfamiliar chord symbol, as shown in Example 1. When a grip includes one or more double-digit fret numbers, all of those numbers are separated by hyphens, to avoid confusion (Example 2). Otherwise, hyphens are not needed.


Alternate chord fingerings ukulele lesson music notation examples 1–2

Fretting-hand finger numbers are added above fret numbers whenever a specific fingering is recommended. As in chord diagrams, 1, 2, 3, and 4, represent the index, middle, ring, and little fingers, respectively, and the number zero indicates an open string. Alternate fingerings may be stacked above the initial row of finger numbers, if desired—in Example 3, for instance, see the two Dm7 fingerings in bold.

Alternate chord fingerings ukulele lesson music notation example 3

In a grip, when a single finger number appears over two or more different strings, a barre is implied, as in Ex. 3, where finger 2 forms a partial barre on the first chord, and finger 1 or 2 forms a full barre on the Dm7.

Chord-Fingering Guidelines

Smooth chord transitions are characterized by minimal fretting-hand movement, with no interruption of tempo and no break in sound. In order to achieve this effect, 1.) avoid lifting your fingers off the strings if at least one slider (a fretting finger that moves from fret to fret on the same string) is available and 2.) if possible, use a stationary finger, i.e., one that remains fixed on the same fret and string in successive chords.

In Examples 4a–d, two or more alternate fingerings are stacked above the bottom row of fret numbers for each chord symbol. Slider and stationary finger numbers are in bold print. Play through each optional fingering and experience the differences. And no matter what you play, always remember this: in chord transitions, a quiet fretting hand is the idea.

Alternate chord fingerings ukulele lesson music notation example 4