Notes for the beginningukulele playerAn introduction to basic music theory forthe Larry [email protected]

Notes for the beginningukulele playerAn introduction to basic music theory for Larry [email protected] placed online June 27, 2016Last revision September 25, keside PressThe Villages, FL 32163

First, Take the Uke Quiz 1.The notes of the F chord, as shown below on the fret board (reading left to right), are:a)b)c)d)2.If you score 16 or better in this 20-question quiz (without looking up theanswers), you are fairly knowledgeable about uke music theory. You can usethe Syllabus as a refresher, and perhaps pick up a few new things.If the information asked in these questions simply doesn’t hold any interest,then this Syllabus is not for you.If, however, you have a moderate to low score and you find the questionsinteresting, then you should benefit from the Syllabus.Finally, if you don’t like quizzes, or find them intimidating, but want to learnbasic music theory, then skip to the Preface. (And if Prefaces bore you, skipthat and go right to the Table of Contents, page 9).G-C-F-AA-C-F-AG-C-F#-AG#-C-F-AThe notes of the G chord as shown below on the fret board (reading left to right), are:a)b)c)d)G-D-G-BG-D-F#-BbG-D-G-BbG-D#-G-Bb1

3. The IV-V-I chord progression in the key of A is:a)b)c)d)4.A-D-GD-E-AD-F-AA-D-AThe fret board is standard-tuned to G-C-E-A. What note would be played by pressingthe first red dot (closest to nut) and picking that string higher up the fret board?AECGa)b)c)d)5.AbGG#AThe notes played picking each string (starting with the G string) when the first fret isbarred (shown by blue line) are:AECGa)b)c)d)G–C–E–AA – D – F – A#G# - C# - F – A#G# - D – F - B6. The notes played picking each string above the 4th fret bar (blue line), starting with the Gstring), are:2

a)b)c)d)7.The notes on this piano keyboard represent which chord diagram?a)8.B–E–G-CB – E – G# - C#C–F–A–DA# - D# - G – Cb)c)d)The notes on this piano keyboard represent which chord diagram?3

a)b)c)d)9. In playing a movable chord, what is the minimum number of strings that must bepressed?a) 1b) 2c) 3d) 410. Below is the G chord, played with fingers 1, 3, 2. You can go from here to the Em chordby using your fourth finger to press:a)b)c)d)G string, 1st fretC string, 3rd fretA string, 3rd fretC string, 4th fret11. If you strum all the strings open in a standard tune ukulele (G-C-E-A), you will playwhich two chords?a)b)c)d)C6 and Am7CMaj7 and Am7A7 and C7A and CMaj74

12. The calypso strumming pattern is:a)b)c)d) None of these, as the calypso strum is used in 3/4 time songs.13. The following ukulele tablature is from the song Clementine. The notes of the first twomeasures are:AECGa)b)c)d)F–F–F–C–A–AG – G – G – F – A# – A#F# – F# – F# – C# – A – AE–E–E–D–A–A5

14. Starting with the G string (leftmost in the diagram), what chord is played by tablature0-2-1-2?a)b)c)d)15. Starting with the G string (leftmost in the diagram), what chord is played by tablature0-2-3-2?a)b)c)d)The following 5 questions are True - False.16. One F# immediately following the treble clef sign (as shown) signifies key of D.17. The lowest note you can play on the uke turned to G-C-E-A, with are-entrant G string, is middle C.18. The Hawaiian D7 chord does not contain the D note.19. E7 can be substituted for E in the key of A20. The I-IV-V chord progression in key of F is F-B-C.Answers at end of Preface6

PrefaceThe ukulele is not easy but is easier than most other instruments for an adult to learn– compared, say, to the dulcimer, guitar, piano or any wind instrument. It also hasadvantages over three flute-like instruments adults are often drawn to as beginninginstruments -- the recorder, the Native American flute, and the pennywhistle. Those windinstruments are not designed to play chords, just the melody line, so they are morelimited than the uke, which can do both.For beginners, one of the best things about the ukulele is that most uke clubs are verywelcoming. In a typical club session no one can hear you (except perhaps the personsitting next to you). If you joined any other instrument group – playing flute, horn, guitaror dulcimer, for example – with the same level of inexperience, you would be outedinstantly. The uke is forgiving because it doesn’t carry far and in a jam session goodplayers or singers usually provide the rhythm and melody. In many sessions where I havefumbled on chord changes or lost the strum pattern, no one has ever noticed (as far as Iam aware).The downside of this easy acceptability is that most people who play in a uke groupget by with just strumming along, so there’s little incentive to learn about the makeup ofindividual chords, what notes are generated by the finger patterns, or why certain chordsare played in some songs and not others. People just come to play and have fun. Whichmakes sense -- the club is not a classroom.Still for the non-musician, the more you understand how the ukulele works, thebetter player you are likely to become. This idea is stated clearly by professional playerBrett McQueen, creator of one of the top uke web sites, You Should Know This StuffBrett McQueenI’ve said it before. You can get by without knowing a whole lot of theory, but theory helpsyou to articulate in your mind what you’re actually playing. It’s a language that allows youas a musician and artist to communicate the things you want to communicate.This syllabus is by a novice who became interested in how the ukulele works, andnow wants to teach other beginners. In that sense the Syllabus has a unique perspective. Ithelps that I know what we don’t know. Before playing the uke I had no musicalknowledge and played no other instrument. I am far from what anyone would call a“musician.” I am not a music teacher, but prefer to consider myself a “music explainer.”If you play the uke, and have any interest in how the instrument “works” to make music,you should find this syllabus helpful. It is also chock full of links to internet videos andother sources to enhance your understanding.To produce this syllabus I have freely used images from the internet. These imagesare copyrighted by the original creators. Thus this work cannot be used for anycommercial purpose, and should be viewed as a free teaching aid. At the same time,anyone should feel free to use my text for their own purposes.7

To get the most out of this syllabus you should have a uke tuned to G-C-E-A, a tuner(shown below, attached to the uke’s head), know at least a few basic chords, and havesome experience playing in a group setting (even if only a few times).In each section are short quizzes to help you review the material. Look for the yellowheadings QUIZ TIME. I strongly recommend you do each Quiz before proceeding to thenext section. Answers are provided after Section 10. Also included are several appendiceswith additional material. Some of this material is truly beyond beginner level, but isincluded to show how much more there is to learn about this amazing instrument.Larry [email protected] to “First, Take the Uke 8.19.20.babdcbbdddabadcFalse; it is key of GTrueTrueTrueFalse; it is F-Bb-C8


SECTION 1: NOTES OF THE UKULELEThe best way to understand your uke and the notes it can play is by reference to the pianokeyboard. Throughout this syllabus I show sections of the keyboard as they relate to theuke. You will get the most out of the syllabus if you can experiment on a keyboard – anykeyboard. If you have ready access to a keyboard or piano, great. If not, I recommendgoing online for a free piano simulator, at (If you prefer someother simulated online keyboard, that’s fine.)C25 E29G32 A34When you press a note on this simulated keyboard using your mouse or trackpad pointer,the name of the note shows at top, as in this figure from the simulator web site. Thenumbers you see when each key is pressed only refer to the keys of this particularsimulator; the notes of the ukulele tuned to G-C-E-A would be G-32, C-25, E-29 and A34.Musical ScalesAll music is based on musical scales, the easiest and most common of which is the Cmajor scale. The C major scale is played on the piano with just the white keys, as shownbelow. The C scale is C-D-E-F-G-A-B. To these 7 notes of the scale is usually included arepeat of the first note, which is then number 8.10

You can form a scale starting with any note of the keyboard. There are specific patternsto these scales. Some are major scales (one pattern), some are minor scales (anotherpattern). How the scales are formed is not important for our purposes. You just need toknow that each scale has a different arrangement of notes, in a specific order. Of themajor scales, only C major uses just the white keys on the piano. The other major scalesuse one or more black keys.Note that each black key is labeled with both a sharp (#) and a flat (b). What to call aspecific black key (sharp or flat) depends on the scale you’re in, and is not important forukulele players. Thus you can call the black key between C and D a C# or a Db; doesn’tmatter. (If you are composing music it does matter.)To repeat, the C major scale (including a repeat of the C) is:C-D-E-F-G-A–B-CBetween the eight keys of the C major scale are five more keys, all black keys. Here theyare labeled as sharps. These black keys are NOT part of the C major scale.C - C# - D - D# - E - F - F# - G - G# - A- A# - B - CI’ll show one more scale, the G major scale, and then get to the ukulele. The G majorscale includes one sharp, the F#. Here are the 8 notes of the G major scale, including arepeat of the G.G - A - B - C - D - E - F# - GNotes on the ukuleleIt’s easy to visualize the notes on the keyboard, where the sharps and flats are all blackkeys. If you go to your keyboard and alternate playing the white and black notes, you canappreciate the differences in the way they sound.11

The notes you “see” on the piano are also on your uke fret board; they are just not asobvious. To visualize the notes on the fret board let’s first look at the four strings of theukulele and relate them to the piano keyboard.Middle C is the lowest note you can play with the standard-tuned uke, which is G-C-E-A.In terms of pitch, going from lowest to highest, the notes are C-E-G-A. However, interms of order of strings, we call the tuning G-C-E-A. Picking these four strings insuccession (G-C-E-A) will give the tune noted in practically every uke book as “My DogHas Fleas.”Where is middle C on the piano? The thick green arrow shows middle C, which is thelowest note you can play on the uke, with standard G-C-E-A tuning. The highest notewill depend on the size of your uke, but generally it is two octaves up from middle C,shown by the thin green arrow.12

It is obvious that the uke has a much narrower range than the piano, or most otherinstruments for that matter. Still, it can play a large amount of popular music.Half Steps and Whole StepsA very important concept in understanding your uke is the difference between halfsteps and whole steps. A half step is simply the distance or “interval” between twoadjacent keys on the piano. Here again is the C major scale.The interval between C and C# is a half step, because those are two adjacent keys;there is no key between them. Similarly, between C# and D is a half step, and so forth.Note that there are no black keys between E and F, and between B and C. Thus theinterval between E and F is a half step, as is the interval between B and C. It follows, ofcourse, that the interval between C and D is two half steps or one whole step, as is theinterval between D and E, between E and F#, etc. Here are the half steps and whole stepsbetween middle C and the next C, easily appreciated by reference to the keyboard.Half CWhole #13

The ukulele is also made up of half steps and whole steps. The distance betweenany two adjacent frets is a half step. Two half steps equal a whole step.1st2nd3rd 4thFretFretFret FretAECGNow we have the information to take a closer look at the uke fret board. If you“pluck” any of the open strings, without pressing down on any fret, you will play the noteof that string, i.e., G, C, E or A. When you press a fret (and here “fret” means the spacebetween the vertical strips, not the strips themselves), you will get a different note;between two successive frets you will get a half step higher (if you are going up thefretboard, toward the sound hole). Thus, pressing the first fret of A string gives A#; 2ndfret of A string give a B; third fret of A string gives a C; etc.AECGA# B CIf it’s not clear why these notes are played by pressing these frets, go back to the pianokeyboard; you will see that there is a half step difference between A and A#, between A#and B, and between B and C.14

If we rotate the fret board to the right, and label all the first five frets, we get thisimportant diagram.1st Fret2nd Fret3rd Fret4th Fret5th FretUsing your tuner, do the following:Press 1st fret of A string. What note do you get when you pick the A string? A#Press 2nd fret of E string. What note do you get when you pick the E string? F#Press 3rd fret of C string. What note do you get when you pick the C string? D#Press 4th fret of G string. What note do you get when you pick the G string? BEtc.Practice this up and down the first five frets of your ukulele. Check each note with yourtuner. Remember, between any two adjacent frets is a half step. Skip a fret on any givenstring and the two notes are a whole step apart. If you play the notes on the piano or pianosimulator you will better appreciate the difference in sound between half steps and wholesteps; then see if you can appreciate the difference on your uke.QUIZ TIME – SECTION 1 –Notes of the Ukulele1) How many steps are there between F and G?2) How many steps are there between B and D?3) What note do you get when you press the 4th fret of the C string, and pluck the Cstring?4) What note do you get when you press the 5th fret of the G string and pluck the Gstring?5) How many complete octaves can a standard-tuned ukulele play?15

SECTION 2: MUSICAL KEYS AND CHORD PROGRESSIONSEvery piece of music is in some “key.” Most popular and folk songs are in one of thefollowing keys: C, D, F, G, and A. Each of these keys is based on the same-named scale of notes.Thus the key of C includes all the chords derived from that C major scale. The key of D includesall the chords derived from D major scale, etc. (When there is no qualifier of the key, such as“major” or “minor”, it is assumed to be the major key.) Many songs are written – and can beplayed – in more than one key. For example, “Clementine” is commonly played in either key ofC or key of F. Thus, depending on the music at hand, it might be played with chords derivedfrom the C major scale or with chords derived from the F major scale.Since each musical key has specific chords, it follows that the key determines which chords areplayed in the song. If the singer announces the song will be sung in C, you don’t want to play thechords that go with the key of G; it won’t sound right. The key of C plays the natural F note; thekey of G plays F#. Big difference. So everyone should be playing and singing in the same keyfor any particular song.There are several ways to note the “key” of a song. On most song sheets used in jam sessions,the key should be evident in one of two ways.1) It is printed at the beginning of the song, as is shown here for the opening stanzas of Cityof New Orleans: “Key C.” Couldn’t be any clearer than that.2) The key is denoted by the first and last chords. In this song the first chord is C, asis the last chord of the entire song. When they are different, the rule is that the last chorddetermines the likely key.16

Chords from the C Major Scale and Chord ProgressionsA chord is simply three or more notes played together. Music in the key of C will usechords from the C major scale, which is C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. Here is the C major scale onthe keyboard.You can form a 3-note chord starting with any of the notes of this scale. (The formulafor determining these 3-note chords is discussed in Appendix B.)While there are seven possible 3-note chords in this scale, three are of the utmostimportance: the 1st, 4th and 5th chords. In the C major scale, these are the C Major, FMajor and G Major chords. (These 3 chords are called either the “1-4-5” or the “I-IV-Vchords”; most sources use I-IV-V to refer to these 3 chords.)C chord is C-E-G – the “1” (or I) chordF chord is F-A-C – the “4” (or IV) chordG chord is G-B-D – the “5” (or V) chordCE GFACGB D17

Before we get to these three chords on the uke I want to again show notes obtained onthe first five frets (this was introduced in Section 1). Pressing the G string 1st fret andplucking that string will give G#; pressing C string 1st fret and plucking that string willgive C#; pressing A string 3rd fret and plucking that string will give C; etc. I highlyrecommend you become familiar with the notes on the first five frets.1st Fret2nd Fret3rd Fret4th Fret5th FretStandard chord diagrams are shown with this vertical configuration, omitting thelabeling of individual notes over the frets. Here are the I-IV-V chords of the C majorscale as they are played on the uke fret board. When finger notation is shown, as it ishere, 1 is the index finger, 2 is the middle finger, 3 is the ring finger and 4 is the pinkie.Below the chords I’ve also placed the note played by each string when you strum thechordGCECAC FAGDGBPLAY THESE CHORDS! Then, with your tuner, pick each note individually, to seewhat the notes are.18

Chord ProgressionsWhen these three chords are played in a piece of music they form what is called a“chord progression.” Most popular music is based on the I-IV-V (1-4-5) chordprogression. Why? Because this progression is most pleasing to the brain. Thatexplanation may sound simplistic, but think about it this way. Song writers didn’t decideout of the blue that I-IV-V was the best progression. It’s the other way around. When 1IV-V sounded better than most other progressions, it began to appear in more and moresongs. It’s not at all intuitive; it’s trial and error. I-IV-V is more pleasing than other chordprogressions, so is used more often.If you know the I-IV-V chord progression for each of the common keys, you knowenough to strum chords for thousands of songs.The I-IV-V Chord Progression for Key of CHere is the 1-IV-V chord progression for the key of C.Musical KeyCI-IV-V ChordsC C-E-GF F-A-CG G-B-DThe C chord (or I chord in this scale) is played with the ring finger (#3) on the Astring, third fret, as shown in the chord diagram.G-C-E-CWhen you strum you will thus play the open strings to get G, C and E, but the Astring will not play A; it will play C. Check this out with your tuner. Thus, when youstrum all four strings you are playing G-C-E-C: the C chord.***Before we get to F and G chords, do you notice the difference between a uke chord and apiano chord with the same notes? On a real piano or keyboard you can play the notes of a chordsimultaneously, using three fingers. Or, you can play them one at a time, what is commonly calleda “broken chord”: C followed by E and then G. In the ukulele, when you strum you can only hitone string at a time, no matter how fast your fingers.19

Piano:C-E-G played simultaneouslyorC-E-G played one note at a time, in succession (broken chord)Uke:C-E-G played one note at a time, in quick succession by strumming (broken chord)Thus all uke chords are, in a sense, broken chords. Still, the C-E-G of the uke is the same asthe C-E-G of the piano, and you should frequently refer to the keyboard to understand thesechords. The piano is by far the best instrument to visualize the chords you’ll be playing on the uke(or on any other instrument, such as the guitar).***Now we come to the F chord in this I-IV-V chord progression for the key of C.A-C-F-AIt is fingered as shown above in the chord diagram. When you strum you will play theopen strings C and A. The G string is pressed at the second fret to give an A, and the Estring is pressed at the first fret to give an F. Pluck these strings with your tuner in placeto confirm the notes. Thus, when you strum you are playing A-C-F-A: the F chord.The G chord is played as shown.G-D-G-B20

When you strum you will play the open string G. The C string is pressed at the 2ndfret to give a D. The E string is pressed at the third fret to give a G. The A string ispressed at the 2nd fret to give a B. Thus, when you strum you are playing G-D-G-B: the Gchord. Pluck these strings with your tuner in place to confirm these notes.The I-IV-V Chord Progression for Key of GYou can do this exercise with each of the other popular musical keys: D, F, G, and A.Let’s look at the key of G, which seems to be the 2nd most popular key, after C. Here isthe G major scale on the piano keyboard. Unlike C major, it has one sharp: F#.Here are the 1-IV-V chords for the G Major scale.Musical KeyGI-IV-V ChordsG G-B-DC C-E-GD D-F#-AThe G chord and C chord are exactly the same as the G and C chords in C major(described above). However, instead of the F chord we now have a D chord.21

The D chord is played as shown.A-D-F#-AThe only open string is the A string. The G, C, and E strings are all pressed at the 2ndfret. Thus when you strum the G string, you are playing an A. When you strum the Cstring you are playing a D. And when you strum the E string you are playing an F#.Check these out with your tuner. The result: A-D-F#-A: The D chord.Substituting V7 for V in Chord Progressions.When you see chord progressions in uke books and in printed music, you are apt tofind a “V7” chord substituting for the V chord. So called “seventh chords” are verycommon in popular music, e.g., G7, C7, D7. Each of these “V7” chords is very close tothe corresponding V chord in a I-IV-V chord progression, and is often preferred over theV chord. (This is an example of chord substitution, which will be brought up again in alater section.) Below are chords for the C major scale from Ukulele Hunt, showing G7instead of G.C Major Chords (chords in the key of C)IIVV22

A 7th chord adds a fourth note to the basic 3-note triad. Below is G7 on the pianokeyboard, along with the G and G7 chords shown in uke chord diagrams. The G7 adds afourth note, F, to the standard 3-note G chord of G-B-D.G7 ChordG D G BG D F BThe difference between G and G7 is that the latter includes an F note. Otherwise, G7and G share the G-D-B notes.F Major Chords (chords in the key of F)Below are chords for the F major scale from Ukulele Hunt, showing C7 instead of C.IIVVBelow is C7 on the piano keyboard, along with the C and C7 chords shown in ukechord diagrams. The C7 adds a fourth note, Bb, to the standard 3-note C chord of C-E-G.23

C7 ChordG C E CG C E BbThe difference between C and C7 is that the latter includes a Bb note. Otherwise, C7and C share the G, C and E notes.G D G BG D F BQUIZ TIME – SECTION 2 – Keys and Chord Progressions1) What extra note does C7 chord have compared to C chord?2) What extra note does G7 chord have compared to the G chord?3) What does the open string play on the G chord?4) What do the open strings play on the F chord?5) What is the I-IV-V chord progression for the key of F?24

Below are chords for all five common major scales: C, D, F, G and A, along withsuggested fingering. From ummies-cheat-sheet-uk-edition.html. Note that the 2nd, 3rd and 6th chords are minorchords. An explanation of how these chords are derived for the C major scale is inAppendix B. The important aspect is to focus on the I, IV, V progression for each scale.If you learn these basic I, IV, V chords you can strum thousands of songs.IIV V25

SECTION 3: THE UKE FRET BOARDDon’t Proceed Without ItThe four chords shown above (C-D-F-G) are known to just about all beginning ukeplayers, because they are so common. However, many players don’t know the notes onthe fretboard. If you want to go further in your understanding you need to know the noteson the fretboard. Or, at least, know how to figure them out. To be blunt, you won’tunderstand your uke the way you should unless you know the fretboard. Here it is,diagram courtesy of Underground Ukulele:26

How does this work? The “nut” of the uke is at the very top, just above the first fret.The 16th fret is at the bottom (one you we will probably never play). If you place yourfinger to cover any letter in the location shown and press on the string, then pluck thatstring, you will get the note shown. Thus if you press the E string at the first fret, andpluck the E string, you will get an F. If you press the A string at the third fret, and pluckthat string, you will get a C; etc. (Note: this fretboard figure uses #’s but could also haveused b’s to indicate the same notes; thus G# could be labeled Ab; C# could be labeled Db;etc. See Appendix C for the fret board diagram with sharps labeled as flats.)I recommend you memorize the notes for the first three frets at least, then learn howto figure out all the others. It’s really easy. Each successive fret is one piano key higher(including all the black keys). This is the same as saying one half-step higher. Let’s goback to the C major scale on the piano.Confirm each of the following statements by reviewing both the C major piano scaleand the fretboard diagram, then with your tuner.C to C# is one half step. You get C# (or Db) when you press the 1st fret of C string.C# to D is one half step. You get D when you press the 2nd fret of C string.D to D# is one half step. You get D# (or Eb) when you press the 3rd fret of C string.D# to E is one half step. You get E when you press the 4th fret of C string.E to F is one half step. You get F when you press the 5th fret of C string.Whoa! Why not E to E#? If you look at the piano, you’ll see there are no black keysbetween E and F, and between B and C. The reason is beyond this syllabus, but is a factyou should memorize. Think BE. After B and after E there is no black key. The next keyafter B and E is not a sharp or flat; it is C after B, and F after E.Thus, when you have a B on the fretboard, the next note up on the same string will b

9. In playing a movable chord, what is the minimum number of strings that must be pressed? a) 1 b) 2 c) 3 d) 4 10. Below is the G chord, played with fingers 1, 3, 2. You can go from here to the Em chord by using your fourth finger to press: a) G string, 1st fret b) C string, 3rd fret c) A string, 3rd fret d) C string, 4th fret 11.