UD#13 Ukulele: Music Theory Abacus II

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UD#13 UKULELE: Music Theory Abacus II
from Ukulele in the Dark w/ Guido Heistek

Last week we looked at how to use a fretboard chart and the shapes we know on the ukulele to explore the rules of music theory. This week we will look at:


•how to deal with sharps and flats.

•how chords are created and why the notes are laid out in the way they are.

•7th chords.


How to Deal with Sharps (#)  and Flats (b)


You’ll notice in the fretboard diagram to the right that there are some white spaces on the ukulele fretboard chart. These notes are given names by using sharps and flats.


Let’s look at the first fret on the A string,the note between A and B. It can either be called A sharp (A#) meaning the note just above A or it can be called B flat (Bb) meaning the note just below B. The second fret on the E string can either be called F# (F sharp) or Gb (G flat).


You’ll run into sharps and flats when you are spelling out the notes in chords so it’s useful to know how to use them.





A chord is three or more notes played at the same time. Chords are created from scales. We can create a chord starting on any note in a scale. The note we start on is called the ROOT NOTE or 1 note. We then add alternating notes above the root. Creating a kind of leap frog pattern through the scale. The simplest chords, major and minor chords (C, Cm, G, Gm) have only three notes. Seventh chords (G7, Am7, Cmaj7) have 4 notes.


Let me show you how it works….


Here are two octaves of a C major scale (I go through the scale twice).


C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C


If we make C the ROOT NOTE, then add an E and G above it we get a C chord.


C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C


C chord = C, E, G


If we make G the ROOT NOTE  and add a B, D and F above it we get a G7 chord.


C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C


G7 = G, B, D, F


For reference each note in a chord has a name.


The note we start on is called the ROOT NOTE or 1 note.

The next note is called the 3 note.

Then comes the 5 note.

In the case of seventh chords there is also a 7 note.


These numbers make sense when we look at how the notes in a chord lay out alphabetically. If we make the Root the ONE NOTE, then it makes sense that the other notes would be 3, 5, and 7. Example G7= G(1) , B(3) , D(5) , F(7)  G is the ROOT, B is the third note from G, D is the fifth note from G etc.


So the notes in a chords are laid out in this order:


ROOT  |  3 note  | 5 note  | 7note


Here are some chords with their notes jumbled up. Please put them back in the correct ROOT, 3, 5, 7 order. The first one is done for you.


Chord:                      notes                                  root        3 note     5 note    7note

C=                       E       G     C                             C               E           G            –

Dm =                   A       F    D

D =                     F#      D      A

Dm7 =                 C      F        A        D


Here’s a chart containing the answers for the above exercise and some other common chords:


Chord:            root                    3 note            5 note         7note

A                    A                          C#                  E                –

Dm                 D                          F                   A                 –

D                    D                          F#                 A                –

Gm                 G                          Bb                 D               –

G7                  G                          B                   D               F

Dm7               D                          F                   A                C

Gmaj7            G                          B                   D               F#




When naming the notes in a chord the letter names that you use should follow the root / 3 / 5 pattern. For example the notes in an A chord should be written A, C#, E. Not  A, Db, E. C# and Db are the same note but in this case C# is appropriate. If A is the ROOT NOTE then it looks strange to call the 3 note Db because the letter D is the FOURTH letter after A. The three note should be some kind of C note. In this case a C#.


OKAY! Armed with all this new information, let’s get back to exploring music theory. Use the same approach that we used in last week’s newsletter

to do the exercises below. I’ve included the chord diagrams just in case you don’t know the chord shapes. Please use the fretboard chart above. Have fun!


Exercise 1:


a) See if you can figure out what notes are in the major and minor chords below.

b) See if you can figure out the rule regarding which note (root, 3 or 5) changes in order the make a chord major or minor. In other words. How is a G chord different from a Gm? How is a A chord different from a Am? Etc.


1. G (G major)

2  Gm (G minor)

3. A (A major)

4. Am (A minor)

5. D

6. Dm


Exercise 2:

a) See if you can figure out which notes are in these seventh chords

b) Try to answer these questions: How is a Gm7 different from a G7? How is a Gmaj7 different from a G7?


1) C7

2) Cm7 (C minor seven)

3) Cmaj7 (C major seven)

4) G7

5) Gm7

6) Gmaj7


Answers at the very bottom of the page!





Exercise 1:

1. G (G major) NOTES: G, B, D
2  Gm (G minor) NOTES: G, Bb, D
3. A (A major) NOTES: A, C#, E
4. Am (A minor) NOTES: A, C, E
5. D         NOTES: D, F#, A
6. Dm       NOTES: D, F,  A

Answer: The difference between a major and a minor chord is that in the major chord the 3 note is one fret or “semi-tone” higher than in the minor chord. So if you take any major chord and lower the 3 note by a fret you get a minor chord of the same letter name.

A —> Am  = three note C#—-> C

Exercise 2:

1) C7 notes: C, E, G , Bb
2) Cm7 (C minor seven) notes: C, Eb, G , Bb
3) Cmaj7 (C major seven) notes: C, E, G, B
4) G7 notes: G, B, D, F
5) Gm7 notes: G, Bb, D, F
6) Gmaj7 notes: G, B, D, F#

b) In a Gm7 the 3 note is a fret or “semi-tone”  lower that in a G7. In a Gm7 the 7 note is one fret higher than in the G7.

Please share!

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