Music Theory for Ukulele

This page contains some music theory lessons geared towards ukulele.

However, take a minute to read the following. It might save you TONS of headache and trouble:

Music theory is often over-taught for the ukulele. Most people just want to jam some songs and don’t need to know a lot of what is pushed as “important” by many teachers and players.

I’m going to take this space to sort music theory concepts in a rough order of importance from my perspective.

Other teachers and players will prioritize different aspects since everyone processes things differently.

✅ Immediately useful and worth learning:

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  • Pitch
  • Chromatic scale
  • Steps
  • Natual notes and enharmonic notes
  • Major scales
  • Scale degrees
  • Relative minor
  • Transposing
  • Time signatures/counting

📉 Less vital but still useful for some:

  • How to build chords
  • Diatonic triads
  • Intervals

🆓 Often can be absorbed passively:

  • Minor scales (use relative minor)
  • Key signatures (inseparable from major scales)
  • Chord inversions (just shuffle the notes around!)
  • Arpeggios (“melted” chords)

🤷 Meh/Only if you want:

  • Reading standard notation
  • Circle of 5ths
  • Chord extensions

❌ Overkill subjects most people won’t need:

(The moment you DO need these tools is the right time to learn them, not before.)

  • Solfège
  • Avoid notes
  • Modes
  • Chord progression formulas
  • Quartal harmony
  • Diatonic 7ths
  • Inverting intervals
  • Altered chords
  • Altered scales

This leaves you with a much more focused pool of subjects to study.

I have put the high-priority music theory subjects together in the most sensible manner I can think of for ukulele in a short workshop called, Street Theory. Learn more by clicking the button below:

street theory music theory video workshop cover thumbnail
▶️ Video Course

Understand the basics of practical music theory for the ukulele.

The workshop is my best, most organized, and up-to-date offering on music theory. That said, if you want to teach yourself through free resources, here are some decade-old lessons and links from when I was probably 18 or 19!

I make no guarantees to how “smart” these lessons are in their progression. Like I said, they’re old.

Notes

The notes of Western music are a good place to start.

Here are some visuals of the chromatic scale on the fretboard.

Scales

Once you know that B and C are neighbors along with E and F, you can start:

Constructing Scales

You can also quantify scales from a more advanced perspective using:

Modes for ukulele

Chords

From a scale you can create a chord.

Constructing Chords

Diatonic Harmony (aka Chord Scales)

If you think of triad chords as three offset scales, you can figure out exactly what chords naturally occur in any key:

Diatonic chord scales

Changing Keys

Finally, you can move the pitch of a song up or down to fit the range of the instrument or your voice. This is called:

Transposing

Some people transpose on the fly by using a capo.

Other Theory Lessons

Resolving 7th chords with the circle of fifths

A word of warning.

It’s very easy for “Western thinking” people to get caught up in trying to riddle a song out like a math problem. Don’t fall into this trap. Music is art. If you try to put it in a box it’s going to make your life difficult.

You can find all of this ukulele music theory information condensed into a one page reference sheet here.

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