Ukulele Barre Chords and Inversions – Bosko’s CAGFD System

There’s more than one way to play any chord. You can find different versions of every chord up and down the neck (known as ‘chord inversions’). And it’s well worth using them. Playing different inversions makes any song more interesting. Particularly if you’re playing with other ukuleles. Having different people play different inversions will open up the sound.

The other day I posted this video of Bosko talking about the CAGFD system with Jim D’Ville – which is the way he thinks about chord inversions. It’s a tricky concept to get across in a short video so it did cause a bit of confusion. He has a full explanation here, but I think it’s a really useful way of thinking about inversions so here’s my shot at explaining it.

For the sake of this post, I’ve simplified the CAGFD system down to FAC. Partly because those are the most useful chord shapes but mostly because it sounds a bit like a rude word. I’ve focused on the major chords here. If you think this post is useful and you want me to tackle the minor and 7 chords in the same way, leave a comment. I had a hard time working out how to explain things clearly in this post so if there’s anything you don’t get, ask in the comments and I’ll try my best to straighten it out.

Making Moveable Chord Shapes

Any of the simple chord shapes you know can be changed into a moveable chord shape (any chord where there are no open strings). All you have to do is replace the nut with your index finger.

Once you have a moveable shape you can move it up and down the fretboard and it will always retain its flavour (major, minor, 7, whatever).

F Shape

Take the F chord. First off you need to free up your index/pointer finger. To do that use your ringer finger to fret the g-string at the second fret and your middle finger to fret the E-string, 1st fret. So you have this:

Move both those fingers up a fret (so your ring finger is at the third fret and middle finger is at the second). Then barre across the first fret with your index finger so you get this:

If you imagine the index finger as the nut, you can see you’re using the same shape as the F chord.

You can move this shape up the neck and it will always be a major chord.

A Shape

You can do the same thing with the A chord shape. Start by freeing up your index finger by using your middle (C string, first fret) and ring finger.

Then move everything up one fret and barre across the first fret with your index finger so you end up with this:

So it’s like an A chord shape with your index finger taking the place of the nut.

This time your barre finger is only holding down the A and E strings so you can do a half bar like this if it’s more comfortable for you:

C Shape

The same thing goes for the C chord shape. Fret the A-string, third fret with your pinkie. Move it up a fret. Barre across with your index finger and you get this:

Note: You don’t have to hold your middle and ring fingers like a total wazzock as I do in the picture.

Major Chords – FAC

Once you’ve got the chord shapes, next you need to know where on the neck to play them.

Each of the shapes has the root note (the one the chord is named after e.g. the root of the F chord is F, the root of Cm7 is C) in a particular place. It’s in the same place no matter where you use the shape.

All you have to do is match that note in the chord chord with the position of the note you want on the fretboard.

F Shape

The root note in the F shape is on the E-string.

A Shape

The root note of the A shape is on the g and A-strings. (Both the notes are exactly the same – play them together and you won’t able to tell the difference).

C Shape

In the C shape the root notes are on the C and A strings.

Fretboard Knowledge

Learning all the notes on the fretboard is a daunting task. 12 frets and 4 stings gives you 48 notes to memorize.

But you can use the FAC shapes just by knowing the notes on the A and E strings. And to start with just learn the notes that crop up most often in ukulele playing. That cuts your learning down to a more manageable 10 notes.

A-String

E-String

If you need a chord that isn’t one of those most common notes it’s pretty easy to work out from what you do know. E.g. E is one fret below F, Bb is one fret above A etc.

Putting It Together

Here’s an example using the C chord.

Start out with the C chord that we all know.

The C shape has the root note on the A-string. And, checking against the diagram, the A-string, 3rd fret is a C note.

Moving on to the A shape. The A shape also has the root note on the A-string. So you make the A shape making sure you’re playing the A string at the third fret.

The F shape has the root note on the E-string. And the C is at the 8th fret on the E-string. So make the F shape so that your middle finger is fretting the E-string at the eighth fret.

Note that your index-finger barre is at the 7th fret here.

All those C chords are completely interchangeable. Wherever you see a C on a chord chart you can use any of those that take your fancy.

And that’s what you do to find inversions of any chord:

- Pick one of the chord shapes.
- Find the location of the root note of the chord.
- Match it to the note on the fretboard.

If you found this lesson useful, please do consider getting a copy of Bosko and Honey’s Ukulele Safari CD – currently all the money from the CDs is going towards the Japan & Pacific Disaster 2011 Appeal. Alternatively you can donate directly to the Red Cross:

American Red Cross
British Red Cross
Red Cross Australia

View Comments

42 Comments

  1. Dan April 6th, 2011 6:47 pm

    This clicked something in my mind. I am at work so I cannot play with it right away – but I think a lot of things just made sense to me.

    <— mind blown.

    Thanks!

  2. Jet86 April 6th, 2011 10:16 pm

    This is really helpful. You should add a link to it in the improver uke lessons section.

  3. pepamahina April 6th, 2011 11:49 pm

    This is so freakishly lucid, sensical, and useful I don’t know what to do with myself…I’m just kind of running around like a little squirrel! You should have heard me squee when I first played a D chord using the A shape with the root on the note D on the A string, and then double squee when I realized that the kind of tricky B flat major chord I’ve been playing in a fancy finger picking version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” from my “Fingerstyle Solos for Ukulele Book” is just the F shape with the root note on the B flat note on the E string. It’s like I’ve been trying to understand a mysterious code and you just handed me a sweet little pair of decoder glasses and said “here, try this kid.” I particularly appreciate how you have presented each idea in such a logical progression, and the truly great thing about this lesson is that it helps me to learn both chords and single notes at the same time without making either task too large and intimidating. I don’t know what to say Al, I could just kiss you so hard right now! A thousand times, thank you!

  4. Ron Hale April 7th, 2011 1:01 am

    Some chord thoughts, AL:

    No doubt I’m part of a small minority, but
    my first chord consideration is to (almost)
    never finger a chord above 5th position, especially on a soprano. The air is getting thin up there and it’s hard to breathe. You’re also in danger of sounding like a music box and as much as I love them, I’m not playing one of them. The ukulele already is small and high-pitched enough to induce fits of giggles in the uninitiated (or actual ukers, for that matter)
    without being made to sound like something you bought your mother for her birthday because you couldn’t think of anything else to get her (belived me, I know about that).

    Next, the photo of you fingering 1 1 1 4 brings up another issue, namely just what do people do with their non-fretting fingers when they’re playing chords. Now I know you’re supposed to keep them as close to the neck as possible so they can fly into action rapidamente, but I’m afraid mine are sticking out as far from the neck as possible like naughty little boys and girls. Mind you, it’s not like they’re miles away and take hours to get back into the fray.

    As far as major chords are concerned, your FAC is an improvement on CAGFD. The D shape is useless for me above the third fret, and of very little use on the first three. Let’s be honest about that shape – we don’t like it for major chords.

    And the G shape turned into a bar major chord is awful. The other day Jeff mentioned in a post that the 1 3 4 3 G# chord was still a challenge to him. I commented that he should forget about it, never bother fingering it again. I called it a theoretical chord, in that yes, it follows the rules and is a real chord, but only the insane bother playing it. Saw it in an Ian Whitcomb song book and he should know better. There are lot of chords that no one wastes time over.

    Learning the root notes for these chords is important, but also tricky. They can chage when the chord form changes. For example, the roots of the A-form major chord are on the 4th and 1st strings, but change that to a 7th chord and the root is now just the 1st string.

    I’m trying to learn the roots and 5ths of chord shapes for what passes on the uke as a bass-note strum, think a country sort of strum(note strum(s),note strum(s)) and it’s tricky. The roots and 5ths can be on any strings at all and you just have to learn them.
    Falling into a comfortable rhythm is difficult (at best).

    The point being that learing the roots of chords is immensely important. And not just for bar chords, for open chords, too. You’re not just learning a bunch of chord names which you can always forget, and the system will fall into place soon enough once you get into it.

    Wazzock is new to me. Can’t pronounce it, but I like it.

  5. Jim D'Ville April 7th, 2011 2:04 am

    Al, thanks for posting the interview and your detailed explanation.

  6. Benji April 7th, 2011 2:17 am

    Brilliant stuff….very well explained…thanks all. :)

  7. Eavorclear April 7th, 2011 4:30 am

    I knew all this already, but it’s still very, very, VERY helpful. I don’t know the minor or 7 chord shapes, though, and I think it’d be even better if you’d post those as well. Thanks!

  8. Gary Peare April 7th, 2011 6:43 am

    Fac-ing good

  9. Gary Peare April 7th, 2011 6:47 am

    Ron H: Title for your first CD.

    Never Mind the Wazzocks

  10. George Stone April 7th, 2011 8:02 am

    Excelent Daniel’s video, great Al’s explanation
    Just the way I teach it! Mostly of the people I teach don’t have musical knowledge, so this is a way to make them logical all this.

    Ron, G# 5343, easier than 1343, or can just mute 4 string and play only X343, and have more, I play soprano too, but sometimes til the 12 fret, XD

  11. Dean Denham April 7th, 2011 9:32 am

    Thanks for this post, Al! Of course, everything people know about these chords such as how to make a C into a C7 or A to Am or A7 is applicable to the moving bar chord. Ron Hale, this is where you see that the G chord played as a bar chord is related to the F shape and that a D is related to the C shape.

    Also thanks for plugging Bosko and Honey’s CD for the Japan Disaster Appeal.

    Cheers

  12. Ambient Doughnut April 7th, 2011 10:01 am

    I’ve been going through Bosko’s CAGFD system already so this is all pretty clear to me. Simplifying it to the CAF is definitely a good idea to get started though. I would say that although the G and the D major shape aren’t as easy to use some of the variants on them are – G7, Dminor etc. The G#7 is essential for playing ‘The window cleaner’ for starters! :o)

  13. zym April 7th, 2011 11:38 am

    Good Stuff

    it would be great if you had this info available as a PDF for folks to print out

  14. zym April 7th, 2011 3:15 pm

    or, work out the rest of it, and sell it as an ebook ;)

  15. Cappers April 7th, 2011 4:33 pm

    Great post Al. Good idea to concentrate on the FAC chords, those are certainly the most useful. Good explanation on where the root notes are as well. Something similar for 7th and minor chords would be great as well in the future, give us some time to digest this post first though. Thanks :)

  16. prozack April 7th, 2011 10:55 pm

    this, similar to Bosko’s system, is the greatest ukulele resource i have ever found

    http://www.ezfolk.com/uke/Tutorials/1four5/music-theory/ukulele-chord-forms/1-uke-chord-forms.gif

  17. lindydanny April 8th, 2011 12:54 pm

    Although, I do like the the method, I couldn’t set through the entire video. Maybe it’s just me, but this guy comes across to me as sort of pompous. The way he is describing it you’d think he invented it and we should bow down.

    In truth, this system has been around a while. I’ve seen it presented online in several places along with in the book “Fretboard Roadmaps”.

    That said, I’ll repeat that I like the content. His delivery was a bit… I’ll stop.

    ~DB

  18. Woodshed April 9th, 2011 8:28 am

    Dan: Thanks. Glad you found it useful.

    Jet: I will definitely do that. Thanks.

    pepamahina: I’m very pleased to hear it since I wrote the post for your benefit!

    Ron: The best thing to do with your non-fretting fingers is keep them as close to the fretboard as possible. Preferably above the string and fret they’ll be playing next so you can change chords quickly and smoothly.

    Jim: Thanks for doing the video and inspiring it.

    George: Yeah, I don’t think I ever use the G shape.

    Dean: Thanks.

    Ambient: Yes, the G7 shape is definitely worth learned.

    zym: I was thinking of fleshing it out and adding it to the How to Play Ukulele Chords Progressions ebook.

    Cappers: Thanks very much.

    prozack: Thanks for the link.

    lindydanny: Bosko doesn’t seem pompous to me at all. And he certainly isn’t claiming to have invented the system. He says in the video who he got it from.

  19. Ron and Jeanne April 11th, 2011 4:41 pm

    Thank you, Al. We’ve been learning uke theory from a number of different sources. This pulled it together nicely and broke it down into more workable pieces. We would very much like to see your post on the minor and 7th chords using this system. We did order a copy of your music theory book from Amazon, but we’ve rec’d a message saying that it will not be shipped to us until August:( Thanks to Bosko, as well. We’ve ordered a copy of the CD and very much appreciate that all the money is being donated to the Japan and Pacific Disaster Appeal. We look forward to listening to the CD on our own ukulele RV trip down to Florida next month:)

  20. Bosko and Honey April 12th, 2011 4:01 am

    Thanks again Al!
    Haha! Actually lindydanny is right! Bosko really is pretty pompous :)
    Just wanted to mention this video was put together by Jim D’Ville (bless him!) from footage he shot in our backyard in the hours before leaving for the airport. It was never meant to explain the whole system, but to be an introduction to the idea.
    Of course we’d save the full info for a video of our own :D
    Cheers from B&H and thanks to everybody (200 downloads of the diagrams from our site since this post)!

  21. Woodshed April 12th, 2011 7:19 am

    Ron and Jeanne: Yes, it’s going to be a while before Ukulele for Dummies is out. It’s not even entirely finished yet.

    Bosko and Honey: The video definitely did the job of getting people interested in the system.

  22. Lindy Danny April 14th, 2011 3:47 pm

    I’ll concede that he wasn’t pompous the second time I watched it. I must have been in a different mood the last time I watched it.

    I will point out that I find it funny how many theories that apply to guitar are completely missed by ukulele players. I know, ukulele guitar. But, because of the tunings (even in re-entrant) much of the millions of theories on how to play guitar transfer very well to ukulele. Players limit themselves when they try to put too much separation in the two.

    ~DB

  23. Lindy Danny April 14th, 2011 3:48 pm

    * That’s supposed to read “ukulele does not equal guitar”. Sorry*

  24. Markus April 19th, 2011 7:09 am

    I had just begun to pick this up myself but this helps a lot! Minor chord shapes would be a great deal of help also. Thanks!

  25. Woodshed April 19th, 2011 8:38 am

    Markus: Thanks. Glad you found it useful.

  26. Luna April 26th, 2011 4:03 am

    Can you explain the uses of capo-ing the ukulele too?

  27. Woodshed April 30th, 2011 9:39 am

    Luna: I’ll definitely keep that in mind.

  28. The0R4NG3 June 15th, 2011 9:15 pm

    Is this in “Dummies”? Because after this I’m pretty sure that I have all of the background stuff in the bag! Still buying the book though…

  29. Woodshed June 16th, 2011 8:48 am

    The0R4NG3: No, it isn’t. But I may well expand it and include it in the chords ebook.

  30. Simon June 5th, 2012 2:25 pm

    Very helpful.
    Thanks

  31. Woodshed June 6th, 2012 10:59 pm

    Simon: You’re welcome. Glad it helped.

  32. Wally Jones December 20th, 2012 2:05 pm

    Wow! What an incredibly clear explanation. I think limiting it to FAC makes a lot of sense, and I might be able to really use it in practice. I have been using the G shape to play G# without trying to barre the G string (just not playing it) but I just tried it with the F shape and it’s much easier and sounds great. This opens up sooo many possibilities. Thanks.

  33. Woodshed December 21st, 2012 10:18 am

    Wally: Thanks very much! I’m really glad you found it useful.

  34. Scott Gifford May 3rd, 2013 4:06 pm

    VERY useful to me; I’d looked at the CAGFD material, but it was too advanced for me. FAC, on the other hand, gives me just enough revelation to get me headed up the neck. (I’m already using the C shape to play the Monkee’s “Steppin’ Stone”, which is big news for someone who’s been “Mr. Capo” on the guitar for his entire life…) Anyway, yes, please, I’d love to see you tackle minors & sevenths in the same way – muchas gracias!

  35. Woodshed May 4th, 2013 2:13 pm

    Scott: That’s great! Glad you found it useful.

  36. BrianT August 7th, 2013 4:45 pm

    I had stumbled on this on my own but your explanation is very good. I also appreciate you pointing out the root notes.

  37. Nanna September 20th, 2013 11:59 am

    I’ve tried this and I don’t know if I just have weak hands or something but when I barr a chord it just sounds bad, especially if I can only barr it with one finger. I can hear by the sound that I’m not pressing down hard enough, but then when I do I can only go on for like 5 seconds before my hand just cramps up. I tried the tips with keeping my finger straight and so on, but it’s still being a pain. Is this something that will fall into place with practice or am I simply doing something completely wrong?

  38. Woodshed September 21st, 2013 6:25 am

    Nanna: It does take a lot of practice. I wrote some barre chord tips here.

  39. frances June 11th, 2014 5:24 am

    This is so very fab! Thank you.

  40. Woodshed June 11th, 2014 7:48 am

    frances: Glad you liked!

  41. Amaury July 29th, 2014 12:36 pm

    These are great ways of teaching thank you !
    But I don’t understand how we’re supposed to know the root of the chords
    ( excuse my english, I’m a french speaker )

  42. Woodshed July 30th, 2014 8:04 am

    Amaury: Thanks! On the chord charts in the post the root note is the one with the red circle around it.

    Then you match that up with the note on the fretboard. There are a bunch of diagrams showing the notes. Like this one.

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