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‘Ukulele Chord Shapes
“If you have questions about ukulele chords, Chord Shapes has the answers.” ~ James Hill

How To Play Intervals/Double-Stops On The ‘Ukulele

Intervals are a great way to fill out melodies and solos on the ‘ukulele. Two notes are better than one, after all! (Actually, it totally depends…)

An interval is the distance between two notes. But in a more slang-y way, ‘ukulele players often call two notes played together an “interval.” (Two notes played together are also known as a “double stop.”)

Intervals on the ukulele

Theory:

The name of an interval is determined by how many notes you pass in the scale going from the low note to the high note. For example, if you are in the key of C, your scale looks like this:

C D E F G A B C

From C to E is a third because it’s a three-note gap (counting where you start and end). C to A is a sixth. Find the name of any interval in a similar manner.

To get more nitty-gritty and specific you can call an interval things like: perfect, minor, major, augmented, and diminished. All refer to the specific distance between the notes. Let’s look at them all, in order:

  • Unison: Two of the same pitched notes – C and C.
  • Minor 2nd: One fret apart – C to C#.
  • Major 2nd: Two frets apart – C to D.
  • Minor 3rd: Three frets apart – C to Eb.
  • Major 3rd: Four frets apart – C to E.
  • Perfect 4th: Five frets apart – C to F.
  • Augmented 4th/Diminished 5th: Six frets apart – C to F# (a “tritone”).
  • Perfect 5th: Seven frets apart – C to G.
  • Minor 6th: Eight frets apart – C to Ab.
  • Major 6th: Nine frets apart – C to A.
  • Minor 7th: Ten frets apart – C to Bb.
  • Major 7th: Eleven frets apart – C to B.
  • Octave: Twelve frets apart – C to C.
Here is a full PDF of all the interval shapes. A small m stands for minor, a big M stands for major, and a P for perfect. These are all movable shapes. For high-G users, just use the shapes on the three bottom strings. A low-G is needed to reach some of the bigger intervals on page 2 (more on this later).

Intervals PDF

You can get “compound intervals” by stepping outside the range of one octave. These are 9th, 10th, 11th, etc… intervals. They are basically the same as above, but with an extra octave between the notes that can open up the sound.

For more on this, get a book on music theory from your library (yes, they still have those!). I want to say I remember Harmony & Theory being a pretty good book, though any will do the trick; theory is pretty dry stuff no matter how you cut it.

Finding The Patterns

To find where the intervals fall onto the ‘ukulele’s fretboard, use the scale of the key you want to play in. Play a note. Then (using notes from the scale), count up to the interval you want to play. All consecutive interval shapes will just be one scale tone above the last on each string.

For instance, 3rds in the key of G line up like this:

G A B C D E F# G
B C D E F# G A B

Your starting note would be in the top line. Count up 3 notes (including where you start and finish) and you get the harmony note in the bottom line. Shift the lower line of notes appropriately to find the other double-stop pairs.

For reference, here are some scale maps that you will need to find the intervals in this manner.

Scales On The ‘Ukulele

Once you find the shapes, it’s pretty easy to move them around to find the sound in a key. There are two shapes that happen on each string pair for any interval. Some shapes occur on two sets of strings since the G and C strings are the same distance (interval – a major 3rd!) from each other as the E and A strings. Also, G and E match C and A (a major 6th).

For instance, to play thirds on the E and A strings you have two shapes (which also work for the G and C strings). But move to the C and E strings and you’ll use two different shapes. This is all because of how the ‘ukulele is tuned.

Putting Them To Work

Any note in a melody can be harmonized. How you do so can dramatically change the sound. 3rds and 6ths are usually the most consonant and pleasant sound on ‘ukulele, but you can use any interval to get different flavors.

Also changing the color is which note in the interval is used as the melody. For instance, I can harmonize Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star in 3rds in the key of F with the melody as the highest note, like this (melody in bold):

A |--------3--3--5--5--3-----1--1--0--0-----------|
E |--1--1--5--5--6--6--5-----3--3--1--1--3--3--1--|
C |--0--0--------------------------------4--4--0--|
G |-----------------------------------------------|

But I could also make the melody the lower note in the interval and get a completely different sound. Like this:

A |--0--0--8--8--8--8--8-----5--5--3--3--1--1--0--|
E |--1--1--8--8--10-10-8-----6--6--5--5--3--3--1--|
C |-----------------------------------------------|
G |-----------------------------------------------|

For consistency to the ear, once you play part of a melody in 3rds, you probably will want to play the rest with 3rds. If you use some 6ths, stay close to that 6th sound.

The Funny Harmony Shift

But I lied about the tab above. It’s not all in 3rds! Can you see where? It’s mostly 3rds, but not all!

Unfortunately, as nice as they sound all by themselves, 3rds and 6ths don’t always fit like a glove. They are 75% reliable, but you’ve got to be clever the other 25% of the time. This means moving to a different interval to fit around some chords. Enter 4ths and 5ths. These intervals will fit around some parts of a chord when the others won’t.

You’ll have to experiment what sounds good with all the other intervals, but for 3rds the root note of the chord you are playing over should be harmonized with a 4th interval anytime it’s the highest note in the interval (1st example). If you’re not sounding the root note of the chord you are playing over, go nuts with the 3rds and don’t worry about changing anything. Actually, if I was playing over a Bb chord in this example, the 3rd harmony makes it fit over the chord. But only because the highest note isn’t a Bb!

Look at the second tab example. The 4th interval is used for the second “twinkle” since it is an F note and the chord I’m playing over is F.

So ballpark exception when working with 3rds: use a 4th when harmonizing the root note of the chord you are playing over and it’s also the highest note in the interval.

Similar idea, but different “avoid” interval for 6ths: use a 5th interval when harmonizing the 5th note of a chord and it’s the highest note in the interval.

I’m sure the rules change when you play the melody as the lower note in the interval, but I can’t give you all the secrets! Experiment and use your ears.

How To Play Them

3rd Intervals:

Are played on two adjacent strings: either the A and E strings or the G and C strings.

A |--2--Or-----3-----------------------|
E |--3--this:--5--AND...---------------|
C |-----------------------2--Or-----3--|
G |-----------------------3--this:--5--|

Just move the shapes around to fit the scale notes on both strings. An F major scale in 3rds would go…

A |--0--1--3--5--7--8--10-12--|
E |--1--3--5--6--8--10-12-13--|
C |---------------------------|
G |---------------------------|

3rds on the middle strings are either of these two shapes:

A |---------------|
E |--2--Or-----3--|
C |--2--this:--4--|
G |---------------|-

Continuing from there you would get a D scale in thirds:

A |---------------------------|
E |--2--3--5--7--9--10-12-14--|
C |--2--4--6--7--9--11-13-14--|
G |---------------------------|

6th intervals:

A 6th interval is the inverse of a 3rd. Move the highest note of a 3rd interval down an octave and you get a 6th.

They are usually played on the 1st and 3rd or 2nd and 4th strings, but you can also play them on adjacent ones. 6ths look like this:

A |--3--Or-----5-----------------------|
E |-----this:-----AND...--3--Or-----5--|
C |--4---------5-------------this:-----|
G |-----------------------4---------5--|

Again, you will move the shapes around to fit the scale.

The shapes for adjacent strings are more of a stretch. The two outer sets make sense to learn, the middle set is a hand breaker so I won’t include it:

A |--7--Or-----8-----------------------|
E |--3--this:--5--AND...---------------|
C |-----------------------7--Or-----8--|
G |-----------------------3--this:--5--|

4th Intervals:

Here we start moving into slightly more obscure “patch job” shapes. By themselves they often sound too smooth and open, but in context with 3rds and 6ths they can make a line fit like a glove.

A |--1--Or-----3-----------------------|
E |--1--this:--2--AND...---------------|
C |-----------------------1--Or-----3--|
G |-----------------------1--this:--2--|

An A minor scale in 4ths on the bottom two strings would go like:

A |--0--2--3--5--7--8--10-12--|
E |--0--1--3--5--7--8--10-12--|
C |---------------------------|
G |---------------------------|

On the middle set of strings (C and E), the shapes change a bit:

A |---------------|
E |--3--Or-----5--|
C |--2--this:--3--|
G |---------------|

So a G major scale in 4ths would go:

A |---------------------------|
E |--3--5--7--8--10-12-14-15--|
C |--2--4--6--7--9--11-12-14--|
G |---------------------------|

5th intervals:

These are the most pure sounding of them all. Use with 6ths to smooth out the rough edges (see The Funny Harmony Shift above).

On the G and E, C and A string sets you would play these shapes:

A |--1--Or-----2-----------------------|
E |-----this:-----AND...--1--Or-----2--|
C |--3---------5-------------this:-----|
G |-----------------------3---------5--|

A Bb scale would go:

A |---------------------------|
E |--1--3--5--6--8--10-11-13--|
C |---------------------------|
G |--3--5--7--8--10-12-14-15--|

You can play those same pitches on the G and C, E and A string sets by making shapes like this:

A |--3--Or-----4-----------------------|
E |--1--this:--3--AND...---------------|
C |-----------------------3--Or-----4--|
G |-----------------------1--this:--3--|

So an Ab major scale looks like:

A |---------------------------|
E |---------------------------|
C |--3--5--7--8--10-12-13-15--|
G |--1--3--5--6--8--10-12-13--|

On the C and E strings the shapes change:

A |---------------|
E |--3--Or-----4--|
C |--0--this:--2--|
G |---------------|

10th intervals:

If you want a big sound, reach for a big interval. Because of our instrument’s small range there aren’t many options for playing these, but the ones we do have sound sweet.

A tenth interval uses a root and (count up ten notes – you will go around the scale again) a third an octave up.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
C D E F G A B C D E

This is probably the biggest interval that can be easily played in standard tuning on the ‘ukulele. These fingerings and shapes are only tenths on a low G string. An ‘ukulele with a high G will just sound a 3rd. You will be working on the two outside strings (G and A).

The two shapes that make up a 10ths scale look like this:

A |--3--Or-----5--|
E |-----this:-----|
C |---------------|
G |--2---------3--|

Here is a G scale in 10ths:

A |--2--3--5--7--9--10-12-14--|
E |---------------------------|
C |---------------------------|
G |--0--2--4--5--7--9--11-12--|

Unisons:

The unison is the most simple interval, but the hardest to play. It is made up of two notes of the same pitch played at the same time. It’s probably debatable as to whether or not it’s a real “interval,” but the idea is the same.

Here’s a separate lesson I wrote for unisons:

How To Play Unison Intervals On The Uke