It gets fiddly playing the chords with a capo at the 7th fret. So here are the open chords if you don’t want the faff.
For a simple strum you can use this twice for each chord:
d – d u – u
The only place that doesn’t work is with the F – Fmaj7 change. If you want to keep things simple you can just play the pattern once for each of those. Or you can do something similar to the way Beirut play it:
I’m working my way through this album from the outside in. I did the opening track here and here’s the album’s closer.
This song has many of the features you’d expect of a Beirut ukulele song: it’s in waltz time, there’s a hammer-on from a second to a major third (although it’s on a D chord rather than the usual F) and there’s plenty of incomprehensible mumbling.
My recent Fluke acquisition reminded me of the video for Beirut’s Elephant Gun. While I was checking it out, I came across this impromptu performance Postcards From Italy and decided I had to work out the song.
Beirut mainman Zach Condon’s choice of ukulele wasn’t entirely voluntary. In an interview with Pitchfork he explained that after falling of a bridge age 14, “my left wrist is an inch-and-a-half shorter than my [right one] and doesn’t quite have the mobility to wrap around a guitar neck without a bit of pain.” I’d say falling off a bridge was a small price to pay for avoiding the fate of becoming a guitar player.
Postcards From Italy is divided into two halves. The first half has this riff repeated:
If you’d rather strum chords through this section, moving between F and A will do it for you.
As the lyrics shift from the nostalgia in the first half of the song to the anticipation of the second half, so the music shifts with it. There is a small correction I would make to the fingering of the chords in the chart. It suggests playing the C chord with your third finger. But using you pinkie (little finger) allows for a much easier transition into the Bbadd9. You could keep your pinky there through all the chords (creating a Dm7 rather than Dm). It creates an effective drone through the chord changes.
The rhythm for this second section is not played the same every time, but I play the basic pattern like this:
The up arrows indicated down strums and the down arrows indicate up strums (don’t look at me, I didn’t invent the system).
Here’s the rhythm played slowly, then up to tempo.
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.
The saddest of all the chords. I don’t know why but it makes people weep instantly.
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.
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:
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.
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.
I like to keep a list of songs that use just the most common ukulele chords. Arranged by the order people usually learn them in. That way you can find some songs to play no matter how few chords you know.
And here’s the updated list including some notable new additions like: