So, anyway, a lot of friends and acquaintances seem to be taking up the ukulele. Mostly female. Why they don’t just play guitar is a mystery, but there you have it. I have found that once you have learned to play the guitar and understand the chord and scale forms, the ukulele then becomes transparently simple. The Guitar is tuned EADGBe with the high e being actually on the bottom, if you are talking about its actual physical position, but called high e because the pitch is higher. The high e string is the thinnest string. It is 2 octaves higher than the low E, the thickest string on the guitar. If you were to remove the E and A strings and place a capo on the fifth fret of the guitar, you would have GCEA. This is the standard tuning of the ukulele, except the G is tuned one octave higher, so perhaps gCEA. Tuning to these tones and plucking the strings you hear the familiar “my dog has fleas.” Fleas, it seems, could almost be called the ukulele’s spirit animal as the name itself implies quick movements akin to the hopping of fleas, or so I have been told by the Kahunas. With regards to the relationship between the Guitar and the Ukulele, the Ukulele is tuned to the same pitches as a Guitar with the E and A strings removed, capoed at the fifth fret with one difference: The G string is an octave higher, though some ukuleles have a thicker G string that is tuned an octave lower.
Having the higher pitched g string gives the Ukulele its characteristic sound, because when you strum down, the high note is the first note you hear, so the chord rings out. On the Guitar, Buddy Holly would sometimes strum from the bottom up, giving a similar effect. Also, Reggae Guitarists use a similar effect. You lose the lower range when you tune the Ukulele like this, but Ukuleles are tuned so high anyway that it hardly matters. If you want any effective lower range you should have a bass, or at least a guitar, to fill out your ensemble sound. On the other hand, especially if you are the only instrument providing accompaniment, just those few extra low notes might really help. Either way, the good news is that any chords you know on the Guitar will also work on the Ukulele. The 5 main major chords for the Guitar are C, A, G, E, and D. These are the chords that can be played with open strings on a Guitar in standard tuning. There is a whole school that uses these 5 chord shapes to organize chords and scales, and you could probably Google it and find some great material. I came up with it on my own, but soon found that others had noticed the same thing. I don’t know who coined the term CAGED but if anyone knows, then let me know, and I will be sure to give them credit whenever I mention CAGED.
On the Ukulele, the 5 basic chord shapes of CAGED would be FDCAG. Once you learn these chords, try playing the same chord shapes without any open strings and slide them up to various positions. As long as the shapes aren’t distorted the chord will be one of the 12 major chords that are used.
One way of writing chords for Ukulele is with a series of 4 numbers that stand for fret numbers on the 4 strings:
F = 2010 Fm = 1013 F7 = 2310
D = 2220 Dm = 2210 D7 = 2020
C = 0003 Cm = 0333 C7 = 0001
A = 2100 Am = 2000 A7 = 0100
G = 0232 Gm = 0231 G7 = 0212