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Building and Defining Chords

Moveable Chords for Ukulele

Open Chords vs. Moveable Chords

There are two basic categories of chords that you can play on the ukulele: open chords and moveable chords.  Open chords use open strings while moveable chords do not.  Since moveable chords do not depend on open strings, they can be moved up and down the neck without the quality of the chord changing (hence the very clever name, “moveable chords”).

If you play a moveable D major chord, you can slide that chord shape up the neck by two frets to make an E major chord, or slide it up one more fret to make an F major chord.  All moveable chords work this way.

Roots and Chord Names

The root of a chord is the note that the chord is built on.   For our purposes, we can think of the root as the note the chord is named after.  

For example: The root of a D major chord is D, while the root of a G major chord is G.

Using Roots to Find Chords

The chord diagrams on the right show a moveable major chord shape.  The roots of the chord are bright yellow (there are two roots in this chord, but many chord shapes only have one).  When you superimpose that chord shape onto the fretboard of the ukulele you get the major chord of that root note.

Let’s make a D major chord!

Take this major chord shape and line it up on the fretboard so that the roots match up with the note D.  Since this is a a major shape, all the other notes fall into place to form a D major chord

Let’s make a G major chord!

Now take this same chord shape and line it up on the fretboard so that the roots match up with the note G.  Once again, all other notes fall into place, but this time we form a G major chord.

It’s as simple as that!

Chord Diagrams

We’ll be using three kinds of chord diagrams to show moveable chords: Chord Structure, Fingering, and Notes.

The Chord Structure diagram shows the root, 3rd, and 5th of the chord (as well as the 7th on 7th chords).  Different chord shapes may use these notes in different combinations called voicings.  Each chord shape produces a unique voicing.  Different voicings will produce different sounding chords, so the more voicings you know the more options you have. This is why we learn multiple major and minor chord shapes.  The voicing in the example below has two root notes, a 5th on the G-string, and a 3rd on the E-string.

Just to be clear…

For this material we can usually use the terms chord shape, chord structure, and voicing interchangeably.  All three terms refer to how the chord is formed on the fretboard.  

The Fingering diagram will show a suggested fingering to use for each chord shape.  You may  find other fingers on your own that also work well.  The fingering in the example below uses the 1st finger to hold down the bottom three strings and the 4th finger to hold down the A-string.

The Notes diagram shows an example of a chord you can play using each chord shape.  All the notes in the chord are shown.  Notice the fret numbers given to show where the chord is on the fretboard.  You can see exactly how the root lines up with the root note on the ukulele.

The following pages contain chord diagrams showing nine different chord shapes:
three major, three minor, and three dominant 7.
Once you learn these shapes, you can use them up and down the neck
to have a wide variety of chords and voicings at your disposal!