Feb 14

Teaching Kids The Ukulele: UkeGeeks In The Classroom

Sometimes one really can’t see the forest for the trees, especially if you’re the park ranger. Take, for example, this awesome idea from grade-school-uke-club-organizer-extraordinaire Charisse:

“I host (volunteer) a ukulele club at my kids’ school.  I’m teaching 3-5th graders how to play ukulele and I find myself making lots of song sheets for them. [I plan to] “trick” the chord maker into printing blank chord pics above the lyrics. It’s been a good learning tool for the kids to have to write in the fingering for the chords, but my handwritten diagrams are so messy.”

OK, that’s awesome! And turns out it’s easily done. Here’s how.


Continue reading →

Nov 12

“Chord Magic” – Unleash Your Fretboard with Four Chord Shapes

Following the break at Saturday’s Pluckin’ Strummers we got a quickie lesson that made my head spin by dint of its simple, power-packed awesomeness: namely, that you only need to learn four shapes to play every major chord!

I’d already experienced the fun of “moveable” (or “closed”) chord shapes and though I’d picked up some patterns they were mostly a random set of awkward finger poses. Now, however, they suddenly made sense!

Read this article: “Ukulele Chord Magic”!

(yes, it’s on a site for renting a Kauai vacation home, but isn’t that all the more reason to respect how well done the lesson is?)

Here’s your executive summary: Each chord “family” — Major, Minor, 7th, Augmented, whatever, it makes no difference — has only FOUR chord shapes!


Four major chord shapes. Four minor, etc. All you need to practice is moving them up and down the fretboard.

Spicing up a song with alternative chord “voicings” is suddenly easy.

(Note: If you don’t recognize a few of them (like your “G” major) remember that Major chords are, by definition, only three notes (the “why’s” and “how’s” of chord construction and theory are beyond me, and thankfully, irrelevant for playing them). This means that since the uke has four strings we’re doubling up on one note. Sometimes we’re lucky and can choose a simplified fingering, giving our fingers a break while still covering the three required notes. So we have options. That’s why the “G” chord shape is, to my original eyeballing, unrecognizable as being identical to the F#’s, but it is!)

Anyway, invest the fifteen minutes. Pour a coffee and settle into “Ukulele Chord Magic”!

(Note #2: Why begin with “seventh chords”? Because, while you might want to begin with the majors, the spacing on the seventh chords is clearer and better illustrates the technique and its simplicity. I discovered this while making the colorized diagrams shown above.)

(Last Note: the diagrams show the standard 12-frets found on soprano ukuleles — your tenor uke has substantially more, so you just keep repeating the patterns!)

Aug 12

Fingering Diagram versus Tablature


Just as pictograms preceded our phonetic written language, every ukester quickly learns to read “fingering diagrams” before learning tabs.

Fingering Diagrams are just pictures of the ukulele’s fretboard, zoomed-in, showing where to place your fingers. They’re awesomely intuitive!

Tablature (aka “tabs”), on the other hand, aren’t immediately obvious, being a hybrid of diagram (the four lines are, in fact, your uke’s four strings) plus written instructions (the column of numbers indicating the fret to press on each string).

Whereas a fingering diagram shows where to place your fingers (which frets to press down) tablature tells you which frets to press.

That’s it — that’s the difference!

The “trick” for either method is to know the orientation: if you can locate the G string you’ll be fine.

For fingering diagrams hold the ukulele away from your body, but facing you — this will place the G string on your left (the A string’s to your right). See top picture.

Now, still holding your uke at arm’s length, rotate it counter-clockwise 90° to a horizontal position — this puts the G string on the bottom. This is how the lines in tablature are drawn; “A” at the top, “G” on the bottom (see bottom picture).

Now all that’s left is jotting down which frets to play, so, using the simple, triangle shaped G chord as our example we’ll begin with the “G” (bottom) string:

  • the G string is played “open” (you don’t press any frets at all) so we write “0
  • on the C string we press down the second fret, so we write “2
  • on the E string we press the 3rd fret, so, yup write “3
  • finally, the A string. We need to press the second fret, so, sure, write “2

Congrats! You can read tablature!

By the way, this is how chords are written, G string to A string, so we wind up saying a G chord is:


Why use tabs? Well, it’s a very compact way of writing lots of chords (or single notes), but more on that later.

Aug 12

Low G versus Standard “Reentrant” Ukulele Tuning


I think this really illustrates nicely the benefits and challenges of switching from a re-entrant tuned ukulele to one with a Low G string.

The pluses are:

  • a deeper sound (even if it’s just a little bit);
  • often your major chords have a fuller sound (still doubling a note, but an octave apart is possible);
  • a greater range — five extra notes’ worth!

On the other hand…

  • some easy picking patterns become more difficult (the low G really stands out);
  • most tabbed songs (for solo uke) assume a high g and you’ll need to do some on-the-fly thinkin’

At one point I would have included the string itself as a negative: until quite recently most low G strings were wrapped wire, just like a guitar string, and tended to wear out quickly. Not so now with Aquila’s reds or the Worth nylon low Gs.

All told I enjoy the sound my Low G (over reentrant tuning) adds to my mediocre playing.

Range Comparison, Part 1: low G v. high g Fretboard Mapped to Piano

A couple more visual aids on “Low G” versus ukulele’s standard reetrant (High G) tunings, here’s the ukulele strings mapped onto a piano keyboard, low and high G, illustrating the odd (but nice sounding) re-entrant tuning versus the more intuitive “do ray me fa” progression available with a low G string.

If you’ve ever wondered why sometimes you see the strings written gCEA, well, that’s a common way to indicate low g

(unless I just got that reveresed… hmmm, I should Google that) 

Range Comparison, Part 2: Range on Piano Keyboard


Range comparison, re-entrant ukulele tuning (high G) versus Low G for typical soprano ukulele. You can see that a low G string extends your range by five extra notes (G, Ab, A Bb, & B).

(Note: Range mapped onto a piano keyboard because, even if you don’t play, it’s nice to see relative positions laid out on physical objects — we’re visual critters after all. The black keys are the sharps and flats.)

(graphics from a never completed video I’d begun over a year ago. Sigh. Perhaps some day… )