On the ukulele (as with guitar), the idea of movable chords is that the shapes you learn for open chords constitute patterns. By adding a barre, you can move the shapes up the fretboard to form new chords. For example, you can take the C shape, move it up 2 frets, and get a D:
If this is a new concept for you, may I recommend my booklet on movable shapes for ukulele (PDF).
In this post I want to talk about the patterns—the relationships—for moving these patterns around the fretboard. Bear with me while I explain this notion.
On the concert uke, there are basically 5 shapes for playing movable major chords:
In addition to making it easy for you to move a C shape to a D shape (for example), this means that there are 5 ways to play any given major chord. Here are 5 ways to play a C major chord:
There's a relationship—a kind of circle—among these shapes in terms of how you can move between these different ways to play the same chord. I'll show you the diagram and then illustrate how it works.
Here's a different, more formula-like way to indicate the same thing:
C shape + 3 frets = A shape
A shape + 2 frets = G shape
G shape + 2 frets = F shape
F shape + 3 frets = D shape
D shape + 2 frets = C shape
What does all of this mean? It means that when you play a major chord using a movable shape—any major chord, any movable shape—you can easily figure out how to play the same chord using the other shapes.
I'll start by illustrating this using the C shape:
Per the diagram/formula earlier, we can make another C chord by taking the open C shape, moving up 3 frets (
C shape + 3 frets), and making an A shape:
Following the formula, to make another C chord, we can move up 2 more frets and make a G shape (
A shape + 2 frets = G shape):
Keep going. If you're making a C using the G shape, the next C chord is 2 frets up and using the F shape:
Move the F shape up 3 frets and make a D shape, and you've got yet another C chord:
Finally, move the D shape up 2 more frets and you've back to the original C shape:
I say that this pattern is circular because you can wrap around, so to speak. Start anywhere in the circle to make a shape. Move up or down the designated number of frets, make the next shape, and you've got the same chord. For example, here's a sequence of A chords starting on the open A shape. Notice that the intervals (number of frets) between each of the shapes follows the diagram/formula from earlier:
The pattern is also circular because you can move backward, i.e., down the fretboard the designated number of frets. For example, if you're making an A chord on the 7th fret using the D shape, you can make an A chord move down 3 frets to the 4th fret and switch to the F shape. (
D shape minus 3 frets = F shape)
A couple of additional notes:
- For purposes of this exercise, open chords are fret 0 (zero). For example, if you make an open A chord and want to make the same chord in the G shape, the formula says to move up 2 frets. Zero plus 2 is 2, so barre the second fret.
- Fret 12 is the equivalent of fret 0—in other words, any chord that you make by barring fret 12 is the same as the open chord. If you get to the point where the numbers take you to fret 12, just go back to an open shape.
- There are similar circular patterns for other chords—minor, 7ths, etc. I'll put those together in the fullness of time. Teaser: the patterns—the number of frets between chords—is the same for minor chords as for major chords; in other words, you already have the circular pattern for minor chords.
And finally, why is it useful to know this thing? Obviously, you don't sit around moving from shape to shape for any given chord when you're playing.
For me, this has helped a bit as I try to visualize where the chords are on the fretboard. When I initially started with movable chords, it felt a bit like they were just scattered around on the fretboard. ("I know there's a C chord in an A shape, but where is it?") I could look them up in the "dictionary" of the movable chords booklet, but as I worked with the shapes it became clear that there were patterns to how the different fingerings for the same chord were related. So I just sat down and worked it out.
I think this is probably an interim measure for learning out the locations of chords. I imagine that after many, many, many hours of practice, you just know where the several C chords are, and the A chords, and the G chords, and so on, and you don't have to calculate it. In the meantime, I keep a sticky note on my music stand with this major chord circle.