It’s great to have pretty chords that add to a song, but if you are learning to play ʻukulele, a lot of times they only lead to confusion. The DIY method of breaking down a song to its barest bones is outlined here.
This can be applied to any song that you find. (Unless it’s already been previously stripped down.)
Extensions are extra notes that add a more jazzy sound to certain chords. These include (but are not limited to) 9th, 11th, 13th, m7, m9, m11, and m13 chords. Instead of playing an extended chord, just play a 7th with the same root (G9 becomes G7, F#13 becomes F#7). For minor extensions just play a minor (or minor 7th) chord (Gm9 becomes Gm).
Undo Substitution Chords
Maj7, 6th, min6, etc… are also substitution chords. Change maj7, 6th, 6/9 to major chords, m6, m7, m9 to minor chords, and dominant chords like 9th, 11th, 13th to a 7th. There are more substitution chords, but those are the main ones.
Use Power Chords
A power chord is made up of only the root and 5th notes. The absence of the 3rd that characterizes major and minor chord means a power chord can be used for ether! Cm becomes C5 (the 5 is shorthand for “power chord”), A becomes A5, etc… Power chords can also be used in the place of suspended (sus) and 7th chords (Asus4 becomes A5, G7 becomes G5).
Ignore the “Add”
“Add” chords are normal chords (triads) that have a certain note added to them (the guys who came up with music terms were so clever it’s sickening!). Just bypass the added note and play the triad. Fadd9 becomes F, etc.
Again, slash chords just add a note to a basic triad, only the added note always becomes the lowest (bass note). This can be tough to figure out even if you are an advanced player, so just skip them. Use the root chord (to the left of the slash) and it’s smooth sailing. Em/B becomes Em, A/B becomes A, etc.
Ignore Most Things in Parenthesis
Usually a number in parenthesis means the same thing as “add”. In which case just ignore it and continue. Sometimes though you will run across something like “(no 3rd)”. In that case follow the directions (drop the 3rd to get a power chord), or you might end up playing a major chord over a minor section where a power chord would have avoided any clashing sounds.
Play a Major Instead of a 7th
Because a major chord is contained in a 7th chord, you can play a major without any bad sounds. A 7th really helps push the song along though, so practice the original 7th when you can.
Sometimes multiple changes need to be made. For example: B6/C# – tip 5: ignore slashes = B6, tip 2: undo substitution chords = B. Here’s another: C#m7(11) – tip 6 = C#m7, tip 1 = C#m. One more: Dsus4/A – tips 3 and 5 = D5.