Simplify Chords: Tricky Ukulele Chords and how to untrickify them

Ukulele players, let’s simplify chords! Here’s how to make those complicated, complex, and confusing ukulele chords EASIER to play.

May Singhi Breen Ukulele

Simplify chords on your ukulele to make complex songs easier to play.

Ever wish you could simplify chords — especially when you find a song that seems like it should be so simple to play, yet the chords shown are crazy “F#m7b5” kind of chords?

At the Ukulele Union get-together last night, we did “I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” a great old song that most people know. It's familiar, it's easy to sing–so why the crazy chords?

Well, first of all, the chords aren't really all that hard–they're just unfamiliar. Once you get to know 'em, any chords can be your BFFs forever.

(Think how much you hated D7 at first…)

Secondly, there are some tricky tricks you can use to simplify chords on the uke till you're more comfortable with the full versions.

Here are the ukulele chords used in “I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm:”

I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm Ukulele Chords
Yikes — those are some terrifying chord names!

1: Simply Chords, Step One: Analyze

Diminished chords seem to throw a lot of people off. (The second chord above is Eb diminished–that's what the dim stands for).

There's no real trick here–just learn the shape. But there is some consolation: every single diminished chord you'll ever play is exactly this same shape! Yep, the same four fingers on the same four strings, just moved to a different fret for a different chords.

So learn the shape once and you've mastered the chord for eternity.

2: What About Those Kookoo Crazypants Chords?

Here's the trick: If a chord has numbers or letters after the minor sign (usually a lower case m), you can usually drop those letters or numbers–just play the minor.

Example: Dm7. Drop the 7 (which falls to the right 0f the minor), and just play a Dm.

Example: F#m7b5. Wow, what a name! Same rule. Drop everything after minor–that's the “7b5” and just play an F#m. (But — important — see step 3 below; the shape is more important than the name).

It's not going to give the full, rich, bone-broth of sound, but it will be close enough for now.

OK, I Gave You the Trick I Promised, BUT…

Take another look at those chords. They just aren't that hard. They are unfamiliar.

They also add depth and color to the song. The arranger put them in for a reason. Yes, you can leave them out, but you'll sacrifice a certain something.

3: Simple Solution: Build Your Unfamiliar Chord Off a Familiar Chord

  • Dm7. It's just a Dm with a note added on the first string–use your little finger, and you're done.
  • F#m7b5. Despite the crazy name, it's just a D7 shape, with on note added on the third string. Reach over and enjoy the musical bounty!

Make Your Songs Suit YOU

Simplify as much as you need to in order to learn a song. But once you get the basics, see if you can add those more complicated chords back in. Yes, it's a question of practice–but at least you're working on songs you love, so the practice might actually be fun!

Video: There are a thousand versions of “I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” but I'm partial to this one in the video above, by the Mills Brothers.

Need more help with ukulele chords?

This post is one of many on the topic of Mastering Ukulele Chords. More (much more) right over here.

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