Teaching Ukuelele Jazz Chord Progressions

pedagogy corner Dec 21, 2020

Jazz ukulele might feel out-of-reach for many students, especially those who are just starting out, perhaps with an online beginner's course for ukulele. But is there a way for us to enjoy the magic of ukulele jazz chord progressions without turning our fingers into a Twister game? The answer is YES with the magical G minor (Gm) chord!

When we discover an easy lesson that has students making complex-sounding music in no time, it’s like a gift from the pedagogy heavens! 


Chord Twins

Chord "twins" are two chords that have the same shape on the fretboard plus the sweet relationship of tonic (I) and dominant (V) and they are here to save the day!

If you’ve checked out any of the Booster Uke program, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about. There are a number of great sounding chord partners that you can use to play a wide range of musical styles with just one chord shape

There are a number of great sounding chord partners that you can use to play a wide range of musical styles with just one chord shape

Since the holidays are upon us and jazz seems to trickle into our playlists more than ever at this time of year, it's the perfect time to throw in some ukulele jazz chord progressions! Let’s look at how we can create some jazzy chord twins with just a slide and a jump. 

If you're keen to learn jazz on the ukulele, then be sure to check out our online course, Ukulele Jazz, a comprehensive course of Jazz ukulele lessons where you can learn improv and 12 Jazz standards!


The Porter Twins - G Minor Chord

James calls these fancy fellas the "Porter Twins" after the great songwriter Cole Porter. Boy, do they sound amazing.

Get your students started by learning this chord shape in its most common position at the bottom of the fretboard (sometimes referred to as "home position") which will give you a G minor chord. 

You can then slide that shape up the fretboard so that your index finger falls on the third fret. Ta da! You’ve got a brand new jazzy chord: C6! Yes, that familiar sound that we know and love with our open-string tuning gets a lift by finding a new inversion in this position.

Now you can simply take your new C6 chord and jump each of your fingers over a string towards your face. Your index finger still sits on the third fret but now it finds itself on the second string and the rest follow suit. Now you’ve got a G9 in the mix. Wow!

Practice moving between these two chords in sets of 4 or 8 and what a sweet sound they create. This I (tonic) and V (dominant) relationship makes them perfect for any number of 2-chord songs but can give them that something special. A perfect song to try this with is the classic Careless Love, which you can find in Booster Uke. 


The Tapping Game

As with learning any new ukulele jazz chord shape, a game you can play with students to give them some practise is the Tapping Game. Counting in sets of 8 beats, play the chord on beat 1 each time around, then tap your fretting hand on your corresponding knee before bringing it back up to play the chord again, reducing the number of rests each time. A full explanation of this fun, skill-building game can be found in Book 1 of the Ukulele in the Classroom series. (It's free, by the way!) 

Check out the December 23rd Uketropolis podcast as James will take you on an even deeper dive into this harmonic duo’s potential plus a fabulous new jazzy holiday tune to use them with. Off you go with your new jazz hands! 

Cynthia Kinnunen is a music educator from Guelph, Ontario and is also part of the Uketropolis Team. www.cynthiakmusic.com


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