Trimming Away: How to Simplify Song Sheets (UD#52)
from Ukulele in the Dark
w/ Guido Heistek
Today I want to talk about simplifying song sheets and chord charts. Sometimes it can be handy to know how to “trim down” or simplify chords on the fly. This is particularly true when you sit down to play with others. Sometimes there’s no time to look up chords you don’t know. It can help to know what your options are. I thought I would put together a few words on this subject today.
CHORD CHART SURVIVAL:
I often find myself saying something like this to my students:
“If you don’t know how to play an F major seven chord just play an F chord instead. It will work just fine.”
Chord symbols can often be trimmed away from right to left. Let me give you some examples of how this can work.
Trimming away 6’s and 7’s:
Often the 6’s and 7’s can simply be removed from chords. Here are some examples:
Fmaj7 can be simplified to F
Bbm6 can be simplified to Bbm
Gm7 can be simplified to Gm
Cm7 can be simplified to Cm
G6 can be simplified to G
Here are the first 8 bars of the song “Georgia” as it’s written in many song books:
Let’s look at the first 4 bars of the song.
Probably you know an A7 and G7 so playing those as written will be no problem. The Fmaj7 and Bbm6 might be less familiar.
If we trim away the 6’s and 7’s the first 4 bars look like this:
A much simpler looking progression which still functions just fine. Good to have options!
Hey what about that Dm/C? (pronounced “D minor over C”)
Slash chords can cause a lot of confusion to ukulele players. In the third bar of “Georgia” we have Dm/C. It’s only really necessary to play the chord to the left of the slash. So when you see Dm/C a simple Dm chord will do just fine. If you see a C/E a C chord will do just fine. If you see a G7/B chord you can just play G7. This is the simplest way to handle slash chords. More on slash chords at the bottom of the page.
9th chords can be played as 7th chords.
Dominant 9th chords (often just called 9th chords or 9 chords) can be replaced with 7th chords.
Here are some examples of replacing 9’s with 7’s
C9 can be simplified to C7
Bb9 can be simplified to Bb7
Here are bar 5-8 from “Georgia”:
The D9 and C9 can be played as D7 and C7
With what we have learned in today’s newsletter bar 5-8 can be simplified to this:
Looks a lot simpler, doesn’t it?
So by applying the concepts in today’s lesson we went from:
Nice work! Good to have options.
If you are interested in the theory behind today’s lesson please see the bottom of the page.
ONE MORE IMPORTANT REASON TO SIMPLIFY CHORDS:
Sometimes it just sounds better! The uke is a fairly simple instrument. With only 4 strings to work with, more complex chords can sometimes sound a little “out of focus”. Playing simpler chords can “ground” the song. In “Georgia”, I would probably not start on an Fmaj7 chord. I would start on a plain old F chord and maybe use the Fmaj7 later in the tune. Just my taste. So if you have a chord in a song that is sounding not quite right to you, try a simpler one instead! It might do the trick.
I am not proposing that you shouldn’t learn how to play 6, 7, and 9 chords! The colour of these chords is an exciting world to explore. But, it may help to know that you can simplify chords if you need to…
I hope this has been an interesting installment for you. I wish you all the best in your playing. For more on slash chords and the music theory behind today’s newsletter please see the bottom of the page.
All the best,
MUSIC THEORY: Why does it work?
OK for those of you who are interested in music theory here’s why it’s possible to simplify chords in the way discussed in today’s newsletter. If you need some background on CHORD SPELLING go here: https://ukuleleinthedark.com/ud-45-what-do-the-sevens-mean/
The recipe for building a major chord is 1 3 5. A C major chord has three notes: C, E, G.
The recipe for building a 7th chord is 1 3 5 b7. A C7 chord has 4 notes: C, E, G, Bb
So the C7 chord has one note extra. So, there’s no harm in dropping that note and playing a plain old C chord instead. It won’t clash with anything.
The same basic principle is true for 6 and 9 chords.
A C6 chord has four notes: C, E, G, A (1 3 5 6). So, if we drop the 6 note we just get a plain C major chord that will work just fine. Hope that makes sense!
More info on chord recipes and chord spelling here: https://ukuleleinthedark.com/ud-45-what-do-the-sevens-mean/
I’ll talk about 9th chords a bit:
The recipe for a 9 chord (Dominant 9th chord) is 1 3 5 b7 9.
A 5 note chord! Challenging to play this on a ukulele that only has four strings. So, one of the notes needs to be dropped anyway. If you drop the 9 you get a 7 chord. So that explains why the 7 chord works as a substitute for an nine chord.
MORE ON SLASH CHORDS: This is really a subject that deserves a whole newsletter of its’ own. However, here’s a quick overview of how to handle slash chords. Slash chords are intended to show which note to place as the bass note (lowest note) in a chord. Ukuleles are tuned in such a way that bass notes are not really a consideration. But, slash chords can still be played effectively on a uke.
Dm/C tells us to take a D minor chord and play a C note as the bass note below the chord. Like I said before, bass notes are not really a consideration on the ukulele. So, on the ukulele, adding the note to the chord is adequate. For a Dm/C this means adding a C note to a D minor chord. Here is one way to do that. We add the C note on the A string.
–3— <——- C note
You may recognize this as a Dm7 chord.
Here’s another way to play a Dm/C chord. We replace the D note on the C string with a C note.
–0— <——- C note
Looks like an F chord.
Why not write Dm7 or F instead? Because for these chords the bass or guitar player will usually use a D note (the root of Dm7) or an F note (the root of F major chord) in the bass. If we want them to play a C note in the bass we have to specify Dm/C.
Sometimes there’s nothing to do:
Sometimes with slash chords we don’t have to add anything to play them on a uke. In the case of C/E a simple C chord will do. This is because there is already an E note in a C chord.
I could go on about this subject but I will leave it at that for today…G