We have already discussed major, minor, seventh, augmented, diminished, and suspended chords in a previous article. Of course we can always complicate matters from there.
First a quick reminder that the uke only has 4 strings, as we get into more complicated chords we run into trouble with having enough notes to actually give a proper sounding to certain chords. And because of the 4 strings many chord formations on the uke can actually be multiple chords at the same time. For example, if you play the uke with no frets on any string you get a C6 chord or you can call it an Am7. That’s because a C6 is CEGA and an Am7 is ACEG… they are made of the same notes. So essentially with no frets down on the uke we have an inversion of both C6 and Am7. However, the goal here isn’t to confuse you, it’s to expand on your chord vocabulary and enhance your playing.
Major 6th Chords
The major 6th is actually very simple, it is the major triad with an added 6th note. So the C Major scale is C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C, the C major triad as we all know is C-E-G, and by adding a 6th we have C-E-G-A. As mentioned above the C6 chord is the tuning of the ukulele with no frets down. In fact, C6 tuning is common in music that has a Hawaiian sound, lap steels guitars are also often tuned to C6. It is a chord that is often used in jazz and great to add to your uke repertoire. C6 is also a barre chord, by placing our fingers down completely across all strings on the 2nd fret we have a D6 chord, we have simply moved the C6 up a whole step.
More Info on 7th chords
We mentioned some of the basic differences of the 7th chords in the last article, but now we can further discuss uses of these chords. It’s one thing to understand the musical theory difference of a Major 7th and a 7th, it’s another aspect to know when to use them in our music.
Dominant 7th chords
The C7 or the dominant 7th is made up of the notes C-E-G-Bb. That’s a major 3rd and a minor (flattened) 7th. These dominant 7 chords are used in Blues and Rock N Roll. If you are playing a Blues riff on your uke, the dominant 7th is essential in your chord progression.
Major 7th chords
The Major 7th, or Cmaj7 consists of the notes C-E-G-B, it has a major third but unlike the dominant above it has a major 7th. Major 7ths have a dreamlike quality to them and are most often used in jazz. They aren’t an easy chord to place, but with some practice you will find them very useful. I happen to like playing the descending progression on the 3rd fret of the A string down to the 1st fret which is C (0003)-Cmaj7 (0002)-C7 (0001), and ending on the 1st fret of the E string (0010).
Minor 7th chords
The Minor 7th, Cm7, is C-Eb-G-Bb. It has a minor third and minor 7th and is sometimes used to replace the basic Cm chord. The Cm7 has a bit of a cool and mellow sound. Play Cm7 (3333) along with Eb (1333) on the uke for a cool jazzy tune, yes I know the Eb isn’t easy but practice!
There are many more 7th chords that have diminished notes and raised and flatted fifths to complicate matters even further. As far as the uke goes the Dominant seventh, raised fifth may be the most useful. C7+5 would be fingered 1001 and could be used in the progression C7+5, G,F,C. It adds a little tension to the progression.
Dominant and Major 9th chords
Once we get up past the 7ths we have to start omitting notes. The C Dominant 9 (C9) consists of the notes C-E-G-Bb-D. That is 5 notes and the uke only has 4 strings. If we finger C9 as 3233 we have the notes Bb-D-G-C, we have left out the E. Luckily that still gives us a quality sounding C9 chord. If we take the wrong note out it may no longer sound like a ninth. 9ths are often used in funk music, the C9 above played with a funky strum sounds pretty sweet
minor 9 chords
A C minor 9 consists of C-Eb-G-Bb-D, in this case the 3rd is flatted. Now because the 3rd is a minor here when we pick our 4 notes to make the chord we can only omit the 5th, the G. Otherwise it will be difficult to get the Cm9 sound. When you are trying to form more complicated chords on the uke its all about taking out the right note.
11ths and 13ths? What?
Yeah once we reach this stage it is a bit of a stretch. C11 would be C-E-G-Bb-D-F and for C13 it would be C-E-G-Bb-D-F-A. We clearly have to omit too many notes from these chords to give them a proper sound, however it is still possible to find uke fingerings for 11ths and 13ths. Generally speaking, 11ths are rarely used as they clash with many other chords, but 13ths are used in funk and jazz. When voicing a 13th on 4 strings we use the root, 3rd, 7th, and 13th. I did find an interesting jazz progression of G13 (0412) and Dm7 (2213), these chords played back and forth go well together for some funky jazz.
As you read about these chords it is ok to not initially understand every aspect, the key is to notice how we are building each chord. That is why I mostly stuck to chords in the C scale so you can see how simply they are stacked. Music theory is really not as difficult as it seems, the more you work on it the more it makes sense. Introducing more complicated voicing’s is a natural step in becoming a better uke player. You will see some of these advanced chords in songs you play online, especially if you like older jazz and pop standards. It’s good to know where they are coming from when you play those songs, don’t just play the fingerings/tabs, understand why it is made up of those specific notes. Also when writing your own music and progressions, remember these chords above are meant to be used sparingly. They are suited for transitions, short riffs, tension, and other brief moments. For the rest of your music stick to the basic major and minor chords!