Are you trying to learn a song on ukulele but can only find guitar chords? Don’t stress it — in this article, teacher Mike S. makes converting guitar chords to the ukulele incredibly easy…
I’ve played guitar all my life and have a collection of Gibson and Epiphone Les Pauls. For my birthday a few years ago, my excellent girlfriend, Linda, bought me an electric Les Paul-style ukulele.
I’d never played a uke before — ever. I had to go online to even find out how to tune the thing! Undaunted, I discovered the standard tuning is from the top string G – C – E – A. The G string is thinner than the C string, sort of like how a banjo has a thin string before the first bass string.
I suddenly realized something that made playing ukulele easy: the ukulele’s string order (GCEA) is the same set of intervals as the four thin strings on a guitar (DGBE), just up a fourth! Hey, now I can start making money with this thing!
A fourth just means a distance between notes of four letters apart. You count each letter including your starting note, like A to D (A, B, C, D = four).
This means the same chord shapes you use for guitar can be used to make ukulele chords if you simply transpose that chord up a fourth.
For example, think about a basic D chord. On a guitar, you only really need the four thinnest strings to play it anyway. When you play that same shape on a ukulele, what you get is a G chord.
Remember when you first learned the G chord on guitar? You can play a simple version of that on the last four guitar strings too, with the high E string fretted at the third fret, and the D, G, and B strings open.
Now if you play that same shape on a uke, you get a C chord. See? It’s just up a fourth!
Now think about an E minor chord. On the guitar, if you didn’t have those two heavy E & A strings you could play an Em with just one finger on the D string at the second fret and the three remaining strings open, right?
If you move that shape to the uke it’s still minor, and up a fourth from E is A (E, F, G, A = four). So what you get is an Am ukulele chord.
Of course, this isn’t limited to one-finger chords, though on a uke there are plenty of them. Take a full barre chord from a guitar, remove the first two bass strings from the chord chart, and what you’re left with is this:
This is still a major chord shape on a uke. You can make it minor, or 7th, or sus4, or anything else the exact same way you would on a guitar.
Just remember to make the root note transposition. So, an A shape on guitar = D on a uke. B minor = E minor. C diminished = F diminished, and so on.
The great thing about barre chords is they can be put anywhere, so for example, a major shape at one fret is still a major shape at any other.
Guitar players are pretty used to thinking about the various barre chord shapes as being major, minor, 7ths, or what have you, and just putting them at whatever fret they need them to produce the right chord.
Those same shapes still work on a uke, only everything is moved up that 4th.
One last thing…
Because the top string on a ukulele (G) is thinner than the next, the uke lends itself to finger picking. If you’re familiar with the claw-hammer style from guitar, where your thumb plays the three bass strings (E, A, D) and your index, middle and ring finger play the top strings (G, B, E), you’ll find finger-picking on a ukulele super easy.
You simply alternate your thumb between the uke’s G and C strings, while the index and middle fingers play the remaining E and A strings, and you don’t need to use your ring finger at all – unless you want to!
I hope you have as much fun playing ukulele as I do, it’s a truly fun and easy instrument to pick up quickly, and can be every bit as challenging as a guitar. Happy picking!
Photo by Debby ☂