Five Best Ukulele Chords

What Makes a Good Chord?

When I’m analysing a chord progression I like to think of it in terms of a story. With each chord being a new mood and scene and pushing the story forward.

For example, play a simple chord progression like C – F – G7 – C.

The C chord is the family at home all safe and settled. The F chord moves somewhere unfamiliar with the kids wandering off into the woods and finding a gingerbread house.

Then the G7 chord is pivotal. It’s the part that has you on the edge of your seat waiting for what comes next. If you stop a progression on the G7 it’s ending the story, “Then the witch grabbed the annoying kid and marched him towards the oven. The End.” There’s a tension that you need to resolve.

That propels the progression back to C. Taking you back home where you can feel safe and settled.

A good chord is one that tells its part of the story. You can read a whole lot more about this in the book I wrote about chords. But here are my favourites. Let me know yours in the comments.

Dm

Dm

The saddest of all the chords. I don’t know why but it makes people weep instantly.


In a Progression

Dm – A7 – Dm – Gm – Dm – A7 – Dm – A7 – Dm


Dm Progression MP3

Some Songs that Use It
Karen O – The Moon Song
Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
Basia Bulat – Sparrow
Beirut – Gulag Orkestar
Bright Eyes – First Day of My Life

C (with an E on top)

C

C is the most common chord so it’s good to spice it up sometimes. For this inversion of the chord (which I’ll refer to as C/e) you just move your finger up from the 3rd fret to the 7th fret.

The high E gives it a bit of sweetness at the top end. And makes it sound less final than the usual C chord. So it’s a good place to start a chord progression which heads towards the final C.

In a Progression

C/e – D7add9 – Fmaj7 – C


C/e Progression MP3

Songs That Use It

Death Cab for Cutie – Talking Bird

Fmaj7

Fmaj7

Fmaj7 gets overlooked a lot. Probably because it’s usually rendered in chord books as 2413 (presumably by either people who’ve never played the chord or shadow puppet masters). The vastly easier way of playing it is 5500.

I find Fmaj7 a very hard chord to pin down. It’s relaxed but it has a melancholy edge to it. It has the sweetness of a standard F chord. But it also has the tension between E and F notes. Hold down the chord and play the C and E strings together and you’ll hear how dissonant it is.

In a Progression

Fmaj7 – Gm7


Fmaj7 Progression MP3

Some Songs that Use It
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Caetano Veloso – O Leaozinho
Lightspeed Champion – Tell Me What It’s Worth

Cdim7

Cdim7

My favourite property of diminished chords is that all the chord inversions up the neck have the same shape. For example the Cdim7 (or Co7) has these inversions:

Cdim7s

So all these chords have the same notes. Just in a different order. The notes on the first chord (going from the g-string to the A-string) are: A – Eb – F# – C. On the second chord it’s: C – F# – A – Eb. On the third: Eb – A – C – F#. And finally: F# – C – Eb – A.

Same notes, different order. Try this with any other chord shape and you’ll get completely different notes.

I regard it as the ‘girl tied to the train tracks’ chord. It’s a nervous chord. Full of peril.

In a Progression

Here I’m just playing the inversions of Cdim7 going up the neck in sequence.


Cdim7 Progression MP3

Some Songs that Use It

Caug7

Caug7

This is what I went with for my favourite chord. It’s just C7 with the G moved up one fret. You can also play it like this.

It has a double dose of tension with the 7th note and the raised fifth. If I play it I can’t get on with my day until I play an F chord afterwards. That makes it a great chord to add to the end of a progression to propel you back to the home chord.

In a Progression

Here’s an 8 bar blues with the Caug7 at the end moving you back to the start of the progression.

F – F7 – Bb – Bb7 – F – C7 – F – Caug7 – F


Caug7 Progression MP3

What’s Yours?

Let me know your favourite chord (or chords) in the comments. Especially if there’s one you think I’ve overlooked. I enjoyed putting this post together and might well do a follow up in future.

Links

How to Play Ukulele Chord Progressions

View Comments

27 Comments

  1. Jim D'Ville April 23rd, 2014 10:33 pm

    Nice post, Al. You and I think a lot alike. My favorite place in a progression is the IV. I do, however, also like a good I+5 at selected moments.

  2. John Baxter April 24th, 2014 3:09 am

    I agree with Fmaj7 played as 5500, I use it instead of the 2413. My favorite chord is Am7 in the second position: 2433. Every chord book I see has it as 0000. Most chord sheets use 0000. The first position version is my least favorite chord, but 2433 is one of my favorites, and is great as a movable chord for many tunes.

  3. Isaiah April 24th, 2014 3:57 am

    E7

  4. Liz April 24th, 2014 6:41 am

    Wonderful post, Al! Thanks! Not really a chord progression, but I love the opening to Eddie Vedder’s Rise, the way he works with such simple C and G chords. There’s a chord I love – but can’t remember right now, will check it out as soon as I have time.

  5. Liz April 24th, 2014 6:42 am

    There’s a chord I love – sorry, chord progression…

  6. Woodshed April 24th, 2014 7:43 am

    Jim: Thanks!

    John: Nice one! I certainly agree it sounds better. It’s also way more difficult to play so I think that’s why it’s in all the chord books that way.

    Isaiah: Love that chord!

    Liz: It’s amazing to me when people can do that. Take a really simple chord progression and make it sound totally unique.

  7. Karthik April 24th, 2014 8:18 am

    My favorite right now is Bbadd9 (Bb, D, F and C), played 3213 on the Uke. It sounds great when fingerpicked too. I love the progression Bbadd9-F/c-Dm7-C that comprises the second half of Postcards from Italy, especially when I use hammer-ons.

    I’ve had your chord progressions book for two years now, and I’ve gotten as far as the chapter on tricks the Beatles used… twice. I can never remember the notes to all but the C major scale chords, and end up having to write most scales on paper and do your prescribed pick-a-note-skip-a-note exercise. That is still a step away from figuring out how to play it on the Ukulele, so I’ve given up for now and resorted to memorizing chord tabs.

    Incidentally, the book is excellent, but one thing that still confuses me is the difference between chords like C7 and Cmaj7, and how to use your method of finding chords from the scale to calculate them.

    (Excellent article, by the way. It reminded me of the weekends I spent poring over your book!)

  8. Jeff April 24th, 2014 12:21 pm

    I was thinking very much the same as Karthik, except I like 3210 which is a M7 chord: CM7 on GCEA and FM7 on DGBE tuning.

    I have to agree with the Dm selection of 2210. So simple to play and such a rich sound. (Am on my bari.)

    Barred 7ths are fun because they can be slide up and down to get more sounds in the blues
    1211. 2322, etc. or 3334, 4445, etc.

    These can also me adapted ala Mark Occionnero, 1211 can easily become 1213, 1231, 1212. (There’s Karthik’s fav again.)

    As are barred 9ths, like 1222, 2333, 3444.

  9. Tim Keough April 24th, 2014 1:58 pm

    Very, very cool post! I especially like the sound examples. I really love open sounding chords. A good while back I wrote a post about my favorites. If it is appropriate here is the link. http://ukulelesecrets.org/2011/06/09/ukulele-secret-7-pretty-up-your-cfg-plus-bonus-chords/

  10. Andreas April 24th, 2014 3:32 pm

    Ha, I am going to tell that story about the witch and the chords in my ukulele class next week (first session). My favourite is still E7, because it was the first chord I came across that I thought I could not have played on a recorder. And Dm7 right before G7, of course.

  11. Steve Blair April 24th, 2014 5:49 pm

    I call maj7 ‘love chords’.

    Cmaj7 is so darn easy and sounds gorgeous, and moving up, the 1113 pattern is simple. Not many songs use them, but the ones that do are so lovely.
    Plus, the quick C-Cmaj7-C7 transition is so sweet.

    Most minor7 chords are incredibly simple too.
    Am7 through Dm7 are just bars. Even Dm7 in 2213 isn’t too hard (Dm + pinky, or middle finger for the 2s) Then Em7 0202 and Gm7 0211. The bars are great in Hawaiian reggae songs like ‘Drop Baby Drop’.

  12. Woodshed April 26th, 2014 6:51 am

    Karthik: I’m going to be updating the chords book at some point so I’ll work on those parts.

    Jeff: Mark is a total chord master! I love watching what he does with chord progressions.

    Tim: Absolutely appropriate! Thanks.

    Andreas: I hope it goes down well.

    Steve: That’s an excellent way of thinking about them.

  13. Aaron April 29th, 2014 11:13 pm

    Hi Al great post, i rlly like the Caug7 chord and i will be playing the blues using that progression from now on :-)

    I like e7 it fits with lots of progresions and keeps that blues style due to the Seventh, I like the progression below
    C E7 F D7 C A7 D7 G7 this gives you the 2:19 blues song, or 5 foot 2 C E7 A7 D7 G7 C.
    Regards Aaron.

  14. Liz J April 30th, 2014 1:00 am

    Love this post and it’s comments.

    I love the C/e – Cadd11 – F progression in Talking Bird (demo) by Death Cab For Cutie, the high notes give that song the right amount of melancholy sweetness.

  15. Woodshed April 30th, 2014 10:41 am

    Aaron: Classic chord progression!

    Liz J: I’d completely forgotten they used that chord. I’ve added it to the post. Thanks!

  16. Aaron April 30th, 2014 12:52 pm

    Cadd11 what does that look like as a chord?

    I had a look at Tim’s chords too, nice sound to them, chuffed that I can now play Romeo and Juliet too.

    By the way Al the Fmaj7, Gm7, Fmaj7, Gm7 is also the start to Wichita lineman by Glen Campbell

    Aaron

  17. Woodshed May 1st, 2014 7:05 am

    Aaron: 0008 is what I’d usually go with.

    I didn’t realise that! Thanks.

  18. Greg May 5th, 2014 2:28 pm

    I’m fond of the FMaj7 (5500) as well. Sounds good even on a slightly out of tune uke. I use it when I play a snippet of “Under the Milkyway” by the Church (2000 ddud, 0200 uuuud, 5500 ddud, 0232 u, 0202 u, 0232 u, 0202 u, 0232 d)

    If you use the following fingerpicking pattern (C-E-G-A-G-E ie. i-m-p-a-p-m) and play the chords 4446 and 4544 you play a nice section of the “Sprout and the Bean” by Joanna Newsom

    Try using the above picking pattern with the chord 0546 (Fm9) and alternate it with 0545 and you get a nice mysterious sound. Continue with 0544 and 0543 if you want.

  19. Woodshed May 6th, 2014 6:53 am

    Greg: Thanks very much! Those are great.

  20. Coral May 9th, 2014 6:52 pm

    Wow—I just found your site. Love this post and there’s clearly much more to see here. There went my weekend, in the best possible way!

  21. Woodshed May 10th, 2014 1:20 pm

    Coral: Thanks very much! I’m glad I could help waste your weekend!

  22. John June 2nd, 2014 7:17 am

    Hi Woodshed,

    I truly like the variety of your posts on ukehunt. As a beginner (8 months now — but not pregnant!), I value your expertise and uncomplicated manner.

    One progression (sic) I like is with Cmaj7 – Gmaj7 with some pace. I feel like I’m riding a galloping horse on open plains.

    John

  23. Woodshed June 2nd, 2014 7:33 am

    John: Thanks so much! I’m really glad you’re enjoying them.

  24. booksniffer July 2nd, 2014 5:09 pm

    Just as a heads-up:I’ve been trying to read this particular article in two different browsers (first Firefox, then Chrome) but it looks really weird in both of them, with text lines ending mid-sentence (or mid-word even) on the right hand side.

    Something gone wonky with the formatting?
    I’d blame my computer, except that nowhere else on Ukehunt this seems to happen.

    Selecting and copying the text into a word document sort of seems to fix it, but of course then I lose all the handy clickable links (might still do that though, since I love a good chord progression).

  25. Woodshed July 3rd, 2014 7:45 am

    booksniffer: Yikes! Don’t know how that happened. Should be fixed now. Thanks for letting me know.

  26. booksniffer July 5th, 2014 9:52 am

    Thank you!

    Great article. :-)

  27. Woodshed July 5th, 2014 10:35 am

    booksniffer: You’re welcome!

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