No Hassle Chord Changes

With all the intricate and dexterous actions that evolution has equipped our hands for it’s left us woefully unprepared to play an Fmaj7 chord on the ukulele. It’s made plenty of chord changes a pain in the arse too.

Laziness to the rescue! You can change the fingering of a chord or use a different inversion to make changes much more straightforward.

Here are a few tricky chord changes that can be simplified with a bit of rejiggering.

A to D

Here’s an obvious refingering. If you use your second, third and fourth fingers to play it you can keep your first finger tucked behind.

The Sucker Way

AD

The Smart Way

AD2

Video Comparison

Em to B7

In chord charts the B7 is almost always shown played with a barre. But it doesn’t have to be. Switch the notes on the g and A strings and you get the Em chord shape with everything moved across one string.

The Sucker Way

EmB7

The Smart Way

EmB72

Video Comparison

G to B7

Another B7. This one doesn’t actually have a B in it. But thanks to crazy ear-shenanigans your brain fills in the B for you (here’s Vi Hart explaining it as well as why chords and scales are as they are).

The Sucker Way

GB7

The Smart Way

GB72

Video Comparison

Anything to Fmaj7

If anyone tells you to play Fmaj7 the 2413 way throw your ukulele at them and run away. They are not your friend. In the first take of my trying to play the chord you can actually hear my wrist cracking as I attempt it.

The Sucker Way

Fmaj7

The Smart Way

Fmaj72

Video Comparison

D7 to G7

Like the B7, this version of D7 doesn’t actually have a D. But it is way easier to play. This version is often called the ‘Hawaiian D7’ for reasons that elude me.

The Sucker Way

D7G

The Smart Way

D7-G2

Video Comparison

Links

Ten ways to play an E chord
How to Play Ukulele Chords – my ebook on chords and chord theory.

View Comments

34 Comments

  1. mcp October 8th, 2014 7:02 pm

    So those work okay for simple strumming but what if you are using finger picking rolls?
    Also, if I could get all three fingers in one fret like that D, I wouldn’t need tips on making chord changes easier. Conversely I don’t find the regular Fmaj7 so bad. The others are handy to have around though. Thanks a bunch.

  2. Richard Holmes October 8th, 2014 7:20 pm

    Thanks, good info.

    As pointed out in the front matter of Jim Beloff’s “Daily Ukulele”, if you play G with 243 instead of 132, you get much easier changes to G7 and E7.

  3. John October 9th, 2014 6:40 am

    @mcp
    You’re looking for the hair in the soup real hard. These are practical tips that give uke players a broader repertoire to play from.
    If you have no problem with the regular Fmaj7, great. But keep it to yourself.

  4. wastad October 9th, 2014 9:38 am

    wow -maths porn – that womans awesome

    thanks for the link

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_0DXxNeaQ0

  5. Woodshed October 9th, 2014 11:27 am

    mcp: They should work for fingerpicking as well. Depends on the exact situation since different inversions will sound different.

    Richard: Thanks! That shape is pretty difficult for me though.

    John: I’m glad mcp didn’t keep it to themself. I think that’s the first time I’ve seen someone who is fine with that shape.

    wastad: Yeah, she’s got a lot of great videos. I’m not smart enough to understand most of them but still…

  6. Jill October 9th, 2014 1:15 pm

    Fmaj7 – thanks for this one. Although I’m enjoying using the Ukulele Aerobics book I just can’t understand why they introduce the awkward version of Fmaj7 in the third week and then they suggest moving up to make Gmaj7 (which ia a bit more manageable since the frets are a bit closer together). I’ve been learning the ukulele for over a year and haven’t needed to use Fmaj7 yet.

  7. Woodshed October 9th, 2014 1:33 pm

    Jill: Glad it helped. That’s an insane way of playing Gmaj7! 0222 is so simple.

  8. Geniebeanie October 9th, 2014 1:47 pm

    Youke are my hero :-)

  9. Burt Kahn October 9th, 2014 2:24 pm

    At age 76, I started playing the ukulele primarily to accompany players of the mountain dulcimer, one of the instuments that I play. The mountain dulcimer is a diatonic instrument usually tuned to the key of D. So there is a lot of chord changes from D to A to D. Your simple, yet ingenious method to finger the A to D change is brilliant. Also, by lifting the third finger, one can play a D7 chord.

    Thanks for an inspirational lesson. It prompted me to purchase your chord progressions book.

  10. Woodshed October 9th, 2014 3:06 pm

    Geniebeanie: Thanks! That’s very kind of you.

    Burt Kahn: That’s great! I’m really pleased you found it useful.

  11. John October 9th, 2014 3:58 pm

    Hi Al,
    I will agree with mcp about getting three fingers on one fret for D. I just lay my middle finger across gCE on the 2nd fret. One of the best things I discovered/taught myself.
    Otherwise I would have binned the instrument trying to squeeze those fingers in. I don’t see how you manage.

  12. TonyS October 9th, 2014 5:58 pm

    Nice summary of tricky but common changes for those new to the uke. Thanks, Al – it’s doing the round at my club and has been much appreciated.

    But I’m encouraging people to learn just a smidgen of music theory – just a wee bit – and then they can work all this (and more) out for themselves!

  13. Liz J October 9th, 2014 6:07 pm

    Great post! These will be great to learn for my ukulele group. Playing different inversions of the same chords gives the sound some color.

  14. Ron Hale October 9th, 2014 6:26 pm

    I assume you’ve worked this stuff into DUMMIES, Al.
    This is the sort of info that belongs in (not just)
    beginning methods.

    Maybe you could write THE SUCKER’S GUIDE TO THE UKULELE. A spoof. A parody of a lot of what’s out there.

    But, it probably would echo most charts, books,
    and so forth, and some huckster of such a real tome might send lawyers after you.

    But, doesn’t it make you wonder about all the books, charts, etc., that just recycle the same
    user-unfriendly tips endlessly?

    Now, I’ve always used my thumb on the G string
    for the D chord. Not recommended for anyone
    else, but, especially on a smaller uke, space
    is at a premium.

    And, scrunch-time is the mother of ukulele chord invention.

    Don’t know why chords with open-string(s)
    alternatives are usually shown officially
    as bar chords. I see this as a crime against
    ukulele beginners.

    These people are devoting time and effort to learning and they have to do finger yoga. Not
    a proponent of the ‘You can play the uke in 5 minutes’ school, but there’s no need to scare
    folks off, either.

    Especially when, as shown in this posting, such
    fright is unnecessary.

    Isn’t the simple A minor shape an accepted substitute for Fmaj7? Mel Bay uses it in
    his/its uke chord book. And then you can
    use it as a bar form of the Maj7 chord up the
    neck.

    Glad you bring up the (neglected) Hawaiian D7. This should be the first D7 taught to people, and I
    have never understood why it isn’t.

    People seem enamored with the bar shape and see the Hawaiian way as a simple way for those who
    just cannot master the big, bad, bar version.

    Don’t know if I’ve ever seen a Hawaiian actually use it. Again, using it is telling the whole
    ‘ukulele world that you cannot play the REAL
    chord.

    Well, when you have just four strings and the chord(s) you’re dealing with has more than
    four notes, something has to give.

    A good book for learning and understanding movable
    chord shapes is Mel Bay’s UNDERSTANDING UKULELE
    CHORDS.

  15. Phredd October 10th, 2014 9:47 am

    This is one of my favorite posts of all time. Instantly useful. Thanks Al!

  16. Woodshed October 10th, 2014 11:07 am

    John: It is a lot easier on a tenor. On a soprano I usually cover the g and C with my index finger then have my middle finger on the E.

    TonyS: That’s great! Totally agree. A bit of theory can be very useful.

    LizJ: Thanks very much for spreading it around!

    Ron Hale: I think that D7 isn’t in the beginner books because it’s strictly speaking a D7 (since it doesn’t have a D in).

    Phredd: Thanks so much!

  17. Liz Panton October 12th, 2014 6:34 pm

    I love these, Al! Especially the G to B7 – I didn’t know that shape would work as a B7! :-)

    When I am trying to work out which versions of chords to use, I fiddle around with the transitions to and from each chord, aiming to try and keep “one foot on the floor”, ie. at least one finger on the same string, throughout each transition. Sometimes by swivelling, sometimes by sliding, sometimes by “stepping” and sometimes by . . . don’t know if there are proper terms for these . . . . a couple of day later . . . returns after asking around . . . it seems that what I am talking about, and it saves an interminably boring explanation, is called “pivots and guide fingers” :-)

    I try to encourage the new learners in sessions to take this approach. It is so much easier, and faster, to find the next chord and to navigate transitions smoothly if you don’t fling your hand up off the fretboard and then hope it lands around about the right place for the next chord.

    It also encourages people to think about the arrangement in terms of the flow, rather than chords as a series of disconnected elements.

    I will also rearrange songs so that chord transitions are easier. Objections like, “but that is not how it was originally written” or “that is not how it goes” (ie. the version by X that I know or prefer goes) do not wash with me! If a tweak here and there make a song playable by the majority at an informal session, the ones who can play better can do their versions if they want, so no harm done and some variety added.

    Related to that point, IMHO, D7 as 2020 sounds a lot better in many instances than 2223 (numbering G C E A from left to right). Some people have objected to me (and I have seen it said online too) that 2020 is “wrong” because it does not have the root note D in it.

    (I wrote this comment off-line and see that in the meantime Ron Hale has picked up this point and that you have replied).

    I found this excellent explanation on the Curt Sheller site of why 2020 is is just as “right” as 2223 and, even better, that is is known as “the Hawaiian D7” (I see that has been mentioned too – could it be something to do with slack key playing? I have not found any explanation of why it is called “Hawaiian D7).

    https://www.curtsheller.com/lessons/lesson_pages/movable_ukulele_chords/D7.php

    The examples that I would have added to yours Al are all examples of what I now know are called “pivots and guide fingers”.

    For example, two ways that I have found it easier to shift from G7 to B7 without lifting my hand completely of the strings.

    1. G7 to B7 using the index finger as the “guide finger”:

    1.1 Play G7 the usual way, 0212 with middle finger on C string, index finger on E string and ring finger on A string

    1.2 then slide index finger on the E string to the 2nd fret

    1.3 play B7 as 4320.

    2. G7 to B7 using middle finger as the “guide finger” (I find this better if B7 is then followed by E7):

    2.1 play G7 0212 as above

    2.2 then slide middle finger on C string from 2nd fret to the 3rd fret

    2.3 then barre at the second fret with index finger to play B7

    2.4 then slide middle finger on C string back to where it started at 2nd fret, pivoting on middle finger during the slide so that your hand is in a comfortable position to play E7

    2.5 play E7

    If I use my index finger as the “guide finger” moving from G7 to B7, I find I am then a bit more clumsy moving from B7 to E7, ie. using my middle finger as the “guide finger”. I am not sure if this is because I am swapping guide fingers during the sequence, or fumbling the change in hand position more doing it that way, or maybe a bit of both.

    When I found out that “pivot fingers” was a real term a little bell jangled in my head so I searched my computer and found a half-finished “Lazy Ukers” cheat sheet I had started this time last year! I didn’t know then that “pivot fingers” was the correct term for what I was describing (I had started off calling it “swivel-fingers” but decided that did not really work for the ones where you don’t actually swivel your hand around on the pivot). And I didn’t know that “guide fingers” is the correct term for what I was calling “slidey-fingers”.

    The first “pivot fingers” one I found for myself was in moving from C to Em. If you place your index finger on the A string at the 2nd fret while you are playing the C chord 0003 with either your ring finger or pinkie on the C string at the 3rd fret it is dead easy to switch to the Em because your index finger is already in place :-)

    Now that I have found my “Lazy Ukers” cheat sheet, and know the correct terms, I will finish it – Lazy Ukers Rule! :-)

  18. si October 13th, 2014 1:25 pm

    I love these sorts of tricks. My go-to that usually makes people go “neat!” is G->Em:

    Keep G fingered and put your pinky down on the 4th fret of the c-string, instant, superfast Em.

  19. Woodshed October 14th, 2014 8:09 am

    LIz: I actually prefer the terms ‘swivel fingers’ and ‘slidey fingers”! Good luck with the cheat sheet.

    si: Thanks. I should add that to the list.

  20. Keith October 23rd, 2014 10:34 pm

    Love that sub for the Fmaj7! I recently tabbed a song that had one in it for our club and I just put it down as Am — no need for our beginner strummer a to worry about it. Now I have another one to try out. The Am is actually a sub for Fmaj7 that does not include the fundamental note ‘F’…it turns out you can almost always drop the fundamental and / or the 5th and you won’t lose too much “information”. Thirds and 7ths are much less expendable AND you may not be able to get away with a sublime this if you are playing Jazz or Classical music, because the dropped note it’s just plain required in some songs. Check me on that one!
    Whoever said the Hawaiian D7 should be taught first is RIght On. You can always use this form of a 7th chord and it sounds great for most stuff on guitar. It, incidentally can be barred right on up the neck as well with good result. I wouldn’t use the other in place of an A7 on a guitar unless I was playing blues and working in higher registers…it just doesn’t sound as mellow. And isn’t how it sounds still the most important issue guiding our selection for a sub? Yes, I know you are going to say playability and being able to play something is better than not at all on the ukulele! I love this article!

  21. Patrick Goggles October 30th, 2014 2:33 am

    For my D chord I’ve always played 122. Not for any particular reason other than I find it difficult to get three fingers on it, and impossible for one.

    Something that has always boggled my mind however, is the G-chord. I taught myself how to “play” the ukulele and not quite understanding what the numbers meant on the chords for finger positions, learned G as 231. Once I learned how it was “supposed” to be played, I tried it for a little bit and hated it. Perhaps it’s because I’m still fairly basic, but nothing seems easier to transition to on 132. Many chords though seem incredibly easy to transition to from 231, Gm, Em, As, and F. What is beneficial the 132 position for G?

  22. Woodshed October 30th, 2014 8:07 am

    Keith: Am is a good sub for it. But I do love a chord that has two notes one fret apart.

    Patrick Goggles: The main reason I don’t use 231 is that it feels really awkward to me. 132 feels far more natural to me. Might just be personal preference.

  23. Brantoken November 12th, 2014 3:33 pm

    untalented people like myself sure could use more stuff like this. I am teaching myself in a UKe Vacuum with may detractors( including my wife) .

    Please help the retched poor souls like myself we need all the help we can get( with pictures and cord charts ,as I did admit that I had no talent).

  24. paul d. December 4th, 2014 10:02 pm

    I’ve been looking for something like this ever since I took up the uke two years ago. My pinky is barely 2″ long and the left one has been broken and now arthritic – so – any chord requiring more than a 3-fret stretch is impossible on my tenor and baritone uke and difficult on my concert and cheap soprano. The tenor is my favorite go-to uke because I tuned my concert uke to a B flat where C would normally be because I’ve had trouble with B flat with GCEA tuning.

  25. Woodshed December 5th, 2014 8:40 am

    paul d.: I’m sorry to hear about that. I’m really glad you found the post useful.

  26. Janne May 14th, 2015 2:58 am

    Em-B7 – thank you! Now I can finally get somewhere playing “Sake-yo” without having to pause a second for the barre chord each and every time.

  27. Graham June 12th, 2015 2:28 am

    Looking for a smart way of going E to B7. Dance the night away.

  28. Woodshed June 12th, 2015 5:23 pm

    Graham: That is a tricky one. You could just play the top three strings of the E chord and mute the g-string with your thumb or middle finger. That’ll make for an easier change to the 4320 version of B7.

  29. Paul D June 12th, 2015 5:25 pm

    IMHO, anybody who can play an F Maj 7 (I can’t even get close)doesn’t need any tips. I need all the help I can get. Now if I could only finger pick…

  30. Keith June 12th, 2015 11:22 pm

    I was baffled by the “one fret apart” comment, but now I see you meant a half step or the interval of a minor second….the iother nteresting thing here is that the ukulele now gains a second re-entrant tuning effect when that chord is played — it sounds like alternating picking of the strings….very interesting bit of dissonance, which the maj 7 is supposed to have.

  31. dave February 24th, 2016 9:58 am

    Wow! I love this! Just started out learning the ukulele- the first song i’m learning is ” can’t help falling in love” which has Em and b7- I was having difficulty baring b7, and was getting frustrated-then i discovered your method!it is perfect for going from Em to b7!!! Thanks a million
    Love your site

  32. Woodshed February 24th, 2016 11:01 am

    dave: Thanks! Glad you found it useful.

  33. Tony September 28th, 2017 7:50 pm

    I think this is a great resource. I picked up a baritone uke in February, coming from guitar (12-string specifically). I’ve always had a hard time with barre chords on the guitar given the width of the fingerboard, even though the action is somewhat easy.

    I’ve much easier time on the uke, mine tuned GCEA (low G). Barre chord are easier and I’ve been experimenting with chord fingerings and shapes, finding that some shapes are better for a chord depending on the CHORD PROGRESSION. For example, I use a barre chord shape for G when playing “Puff the Magic Dragon”, because the progression goes from G to Bm, and there’s a G to Em as well. I encourage everyone to look at the songs and learn alternate ways to play the chords (as shown in the article) that work well with each song. Peace…

  34. Woodshed September 29th, 2017 1:03 pm

    Tony: Thanks! Good advice.

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