From Guitar to Ukulele
Guitar and ukulele may be more similar than you realize
If you're a guitarist who has never held a ukulele, what could you possibly understand about ukulele? Lot's actually! There are striking similarities between guitar and ukulele—sometimes a one-to-one relationship, sometimes a transpositional overlap that's not immediately apparent to all.
Baritone uke equals guitar
The four strings of the baritone uke are the same as the four high pitched strings of the guitar (strings one through four). If you have some chord and scale vocabulary on guitar, then you already know these chords and scales for baritone uke.
Various sizes and tunings: tenor and soprano uke
Ukuleles come in various sizes. There are a few common tunings. Each of the most common tunings are essentially the same of the highest four strings of the guitar.
Here's a a confusing snag that throws people off track when first exploring chords: many ukulele chord diagrams for tenor or soprano ukulelelook nothing like guitar chords; well, some look familiar but the letter name doesn't match. For instance a ukulele G chord looks like a guitar D fingering. These matters make ukulele seem like an entirely different. But it's not.
Peculiar as they may seem — those ukulele chords are exactly the same as guitar chord fingerings. It's just that the roots (and individual letter names) are not what you'd expect.
NOTE: For the rest of this article, when we speak of ukulele, we'll be referring to the popular tenor and soprano uke, which share the same tuning: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukulele
Getting a useful perspective, interactively
We'll put this in perspective by applying a handy transpositional twist. Soon you'll grasp the similarities between guitar and ukulele, discern the differences, and you'll be able to leverage your guitar knowledge, which will quickly enable you to explore, play chords and play chord progressions on ukulele.
Interactive Guitar to Tenor/Soprano uke comparion
Here's a link that will take you to an instrument comparison page on Sound Thinking:
It shows how tenor/soprano uke are the same as a guitar with a capo on the 5th fret. For some people, this is all you'll need.
Tempering your ethusiasm
OK ... my admonition is complete. So let's jump in! But please note that I've really dashed off the following discussion, and it surely needs editing and improving. So preceed with caution.
Coming to Grips
Here's a side-by-side comparison of a guitar D chord and a Ukulele G chord. Physically they look the same. The colored fingering positions are identical. However the letter names are different:
On the left, we have the guitar D grip. When we apply a guitar 'D grip' to ukulele, the result is an ukulele G chord. (We'll use the term 'grip' throughout this article to refer to a fingering shape, without respect to note names, letter names or key.)
The notes in the guitar D diagram are D, F# and A, which is a D chord. When we examine at that same finger shape (or grip) in the ukulele G diagram we see that the notes are G, B, and D, and indeed those are the notes in a G chord. Conversely, from a ukulelist's point of view, when we apply an ukulele 'G grip' to guitar, we get a guitar D chord.
Why is this so? Each ukulele string is tuned a perfect 4th higher than guitar (four letter names higher):
Strings number: 6th 5th 4th 3rd 2nd 1st
--- --- --- --- --- –--
Guitar strings: E A D G B E
Tenor Ukulele strings: n/a n/a G C E A
Accordingly, since each string is four letter names higher, each individual chord tone is a 4th higher than on guitar ... and just as the individual chord tones are a 4th higher on uke, when we apply a 'guitar chord grip' to the ukulele, we get a chord that's four letter names higher. Ergo, a guitar D grip produces a G chord on ukulele— just count up four letter names (D E F G) and you've transposed. Add four letter names to any guitar grip and you know the real ukulele name for that grip.
But this is hard, and you probably just want to play. So that's enough thinking for now!
In order to easily explore the ukulele, we're going employ some tranpositional magic and set aside the music theory. We'll get back to those nitty gritty theoretical details in due course ... and at that time I'll explain some important details, for instance, you'll see why a guitar F grip produced a ukulele Bb (rather than a simple B chord.) You may already understand this ... if not, just let it go for now.
OK. Get ready to take the easiest possible route to get you playing uke. Let's transpose some ukulele chord charts. After we do, ukulele chords will make perfect sense.
Transposing chords automatically
Here's the trick. If you transpose the chords of any ukulele chord chart you can play ukulele as if it was a guitar, except of course you have two less strings, and many previously untenable chords are now manageable.
Transposer will perform the tranpsositional calculations for us in a split second. First you need to find or create some text-based ukulele chord charts, run them through Transposer. Then you're on your way, and view the ukulele from a guitarist's perspective.
NOTE: This article is unfinished. sorry, but I got side tracked. Feel free to read on, but I don't guarantee coherency or logical flow. This is basically a first draft.
Here are some online resources for text-based ukulele chord charts:
There are lot's of ukulele resources online. Here are a few:
Transposing ukulele chords manually
So let's try out some transpositional logic. First, remember than an ukulele is tuned a perfect 4th above guitar. So ...if you play a Dm grip on ukulele, what chord do you get? You get a G minor— G minor is a perfect 4th above D minor. It's easy to count your way to the correct answer. You start at D and simply count four steps up the D major scale: 1,2,3,4: D, E, F#, G. Works every time. When you play a guitar fingering on ukulele, you can figure out the ukulele name by counting up a fourth (five frets) from the guitar chord name.
Transposing guitar chords manually
What if you want to play a D chord on ukulele? What guitar grip should you use? Start at D and count backwards four steps down the D scale: 1, 7, 6, 5; D, C#, B, A. The answer is an A grip. When you want to play a ukulele chord, you can determine the required guitar grip by counting down a fourth. If you don't like counting downwards, you can count up a fifth. (We just saw that if we count downwards four steps from a ukulele D we get a guitar A grip. If we count five steps upwards from D, we get the same answer: D, E, F, G, A.
I know all that counting seems like a lot of mental effort. You could proceed like this, mentally transposing every chord. But if you don't want to get caught counting on you fingers in public, you could try to establish a lasting mental image. You could make a set of flash cards and test yourself daily. Or like most people, you could patiently rely on extended exposure, and wait a ' ukulele lobe' developes in your brain, where ukulele chords are remapped to the corresponding guitar grips.
The third diagram shows the guitar with capo of the fifth fret, and though we think of that shape as D, it actually sounds a G chord.
Guitar and ukulele chordal similarities exist because both instruments have similar, essential identical intervals between strings. The four strings of the ukulele are tuned with the same intervals as strings 4 through 1 of the guitar ( ... although there's a slight reentrant difference, which I'll explain shortly.)
The capoed guitar connection
Here are the notes of strings 4 through 1 of a standard tuned guitar — with a capo at the 5th fret! — shown in treble clef notation. The notes are GCEA:
Here are the open strings of the ukulele:
The obvious difference is the ukulele's high reentrant G, which is an octave higher than the 4th string of the guitar at the 5th fret (where is is capoed.) Reentrant tunings are rather uncommon. The term simply means that the notes are not in straight ascending order. Other instruments that use reentrant tunings are: five-string banjo, Cuatro, and Charango. In a sense, even 12-string guitar is reentrant.
Because of the reentrant G the actual intervals of tenor C6 uke are: a descending perfect 5th, a major 3rd and a perfect 4th. However, the octave shift is relatively inconsequential as we study chord fingerings. Therefore, we can think of the tenor uke intervals as shown in the guitar tuning: a perfect 4th, a major 3rd, and a perfect 4th.
A moment of doubt
As we seen, with a capo at the 5th fret, the guitar and and uke are practically tuned identically! So, if a capoed guitar and uke can are so similar, why even bother ukulele? Why not just play guitar capo 5?
A great deal of the ukulele's charm stems from two factors that guitar cannot reproduce: it's sweet, hollow tone, and its reentrant high G. These two elements make it an entirely unique instrument. Plus everyone looks friendly when they hold a uke ... and it's easy to travel with. And it's small size makes it a good fit for kids and people with small hands So now, with our uke enthusiasm reestablished, let's continue on.
Seeing the ukulele's inner guitar
We've seen how guitar is like ukulele. But to apply your guitar knowledge to uke we need to envision the reverse, and see the guitar in the uke fingerboard.
To be continued ...