“Cheat chords” part 1

one-finger F photo

The GRÜBS have a history — about as old as the band itself — of trying to introduce the ukulele to beginners through relatively low-stress classes, workshops, jam sessions, and private lessons. Since May 2016, the Wood County District Public Library has been doing the heavy lifting of organizing and hosting a “ukulele club” on the third Sunday of each month, where we can teach, coach, and/or jam with whoever shows up. (FYI: The next one is November 20, 2016, at 3pm)

One of the great things about playing in a group, as I’ve mentioned before, is that you don’t have to play everything, and you don’t have to play exactly what everybody else is playing. In fact, most of the time, to make the music sound more interesting, you shouldn’t play what everybody else is playing.

And one of my favorite things about the ukulele is how easy it is to make surprisingly sophisticated sounds with it. Because of its unusual tuning (with the first and fourth strings usually only one step apart), it’s sometimes even easier to play complex ‘jazz’ chords on a uke than simple ‘folksy’ ones.

So … at one point during yesterday’s club meeting, when I was having a little trouble keeping up with the chord changes in one song, I decided to try simplifying the task for my left hand.

In this case, instead playing D, C, and G the standard way, which involves a lot of finger movement …

fretboard diagrams

I “cheated” by playing variants of these chords that only use the second fret (and some open strings, of course), like this:

fretboard diagrams
D6, second fret on all four strings; C major 7, second fret on string 1; G major 7, second fret on strings 1, 2, and 3

These substitutions won’t sound right in every song, or in every style, but when they do work … Zowie! Look at all the advantages:

  • D6 and Gmaj7, as one-finger “barre” chords, are easier to play than the standard D and G chord shapes;
  • It’s much easier to change from one of these chords to another;
  • They all sound super-jazzy! (So this just might be a way to breathe new life into a few tired old songs in the key of G).
fretboard diagram
F add 9 (first fret, string 2)

Later on in the meeting, we were about to play a song in the key of C (with C, F, and G chords), so we introduced one of the GRÜBS’ signature EZ beginner chord shapes, which we usually call the “one-finger F chord”.

This same chord can also be used, in some situations, as a one-finger substitute G that sounds really fancy. (A jazz theorist might technically call it G11, or G9sus4, but you don’t need to worry about what to call it; if it sounds good, just play it!)

Using this cheat, you can play along with lots of three-chord ’round-the-campfire folk songs in the key of C using only two different chord shapes (the usual one for C, and the one I just showed you for both F and G) … and they both require the use of only one left-hand finger!

By the way … If it sounds good, it isn’t really cheating.

Footnote: Theoretically-complex chords are sometimes easier to play than “simple” ones on the guitar, too; my approach to finding easy alternate fingerings was inspired in part by Andy Chamberlain’s guitar lessons. His main audience is contemporary Christian worship musicians; however, I’ve found that a lot of his musical advice is very practical and widely-applicable.