View Full Version : Baritone Playtime and "Accidental" Transposing

Ukulele Eddie
11-09-2014, 07:19 PM
In the year I've been playing, I've gravitated from tenor to concert because it feels more comfortable for me to play. Even though I love Ukes with depth to their lower registers, I never spent anytime learning much about Baritones because I didn't want to have to learn all new chord shapes. However, I was really taken with the sound of the baritone at Jake Shimabukuro's concert I recently attended. So I managed to borrow a baritone Uke for a day to play around with it. I always thought I'd have to learn all new chords to play the few songs I know. As I first started to noodle with it, I found myself playing one of the songs I know (Will You Love Me Tomorrow) using the same finger positions I use on my GCEA ukes. To my surprise, it sounded fine, just lower. Wait! How can this be?

Without any musical background, I simply couldn't understand why I didn't need to play a baritone C and F and G7, etc. I'm using the same finger positions but playing completely different chords. By using the same finger positions I've learned, I'm actually playing G and C and D7, etc. on the baritone. Why does this sound right?

I wrote the chords out for the song and then looked up the corresponding baritone chords for the same finger positions. Then, mapped them out using the Circle of Fifths. Well, tickle me pink, all I've done is "accidentally" transpose the song from the key of C6 to G6 (is this down a fourth?), right? I had no idea I could play songs I already knew on the Baritone without learning new chord shapes. Intriguing.

So I tried several songs (don't know all that many yet) and most sounded fine. However, a few sounded really terrible and unrecognizable. Haven't quite figured out why it works with some songs but not others. But I'm eager to continue to baby step my way into music theory. Having a financial/analytical mindset and not so much natural "feel" for music (I work pretty hard for the modicum of progress I've made!), I keep finding myself asking, "why?" certain musical things work the way they do.

Somewhat similar to the Baritone experience, I recently put a low G on my Clara just to experiment. Some songs I know sound fantastic, others sound like crap.

So, are there any tips on how to have an inkling which songs will sound good or bad in an alternate tuning, or does one simply need to try it?

Any recommended reads for tip-toeing my way into basic music theory?

Thanks, Eddie

11-09-2014, 08:10 PM
I went to a workshop recently where they talked about chord inversions, basically playing your chords in other positions, further down the neck. And really, there's only so many chord shapes, you just move along. If a song isn't sounding right, maybe figure out what chord is not working for you and move further down the neck to play it and see if it comes good.

I'm sure there's far better musicians than I with better advice.

11-10-2014, 01:38 AM
Soprano ukuleles and baritone ukuleles are similar, in that the INTERVALS between the strings are the same. They have fundamentally the same tuning, except one's a little higher than the other.

It's important and useful to ultimately think of music in INTERVALS (instead of absolute pitches), because they capture what's essential. Forget the names of notes, they're not that important. What's more important is: how much higher or lower is the current note compared to the PREVIOUS note?

Every single song that you can play on the soprano, you can play on the tenor or baritone with the same chord shapes. You'll be playing the song a bit lower (and so in a different key), but it is the same song.

The only limiting factor is your vocal range. It could be that the song is now too low for you to sing along with (because your voice doesn't go so far down).

There are no exceptions here. You can move chord shapes from one ukulele to another, and you end up with the same song. (But NOT to the mandolin or the tenor banjo, for instance. That's because these instruments are tuned in different INTERVALS.)

When you look further into music theory, you'll see that intervals are very important. For instance, take the regular major DO-RE-MI-LA... scale. This scale looks like this: 2 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 2 - 1. That is, the intervals between the notes are: 2 semitones, 2 semitones, 1 semitones, 2 semitones, etc.

You can START this scale on any note you want (C, G#, D, Bb, whatever), but you're playing the same intervals, so you're playing basically the same scale. This is called the IONIAN MODE.

Now, you can also start at the SECOND position of 2 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 2 - 1. If you start on step TWO, then you get: 2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 2 - 1 - 2. Again, you can start this scale on any note, it doesn't matter. You're playing the same pattern. This is called the DORIAN MODE.

Now, from these 'modes', you can create chords. The chord created from the IONIAN mode is a major chord, while the chord created from the DORIAN mode is a minor chord.

I've probably said too much already, but if you continue looking at modes and scales and chords, you'll see that music's ultimately built out of intervals. Transposing a song UP or DOWN doesn't change the intervals between the notes or chords. When you transpose a song to a different key, or to a different instument, it's the same song you end up with.

11-10-2014, 11:35 AM
I went thru the same thing when trying out a viola- (I dabble with fiddle) I could play tunes I know on fiddle on the viola,and it sounded fine-like your experience,I found that it just sounded lower. I also play baritone uke in addition to soprano,and didn't know this!

11-10-2014, 01:01 PM
If you're finding that songs you used to play on your high-g ukes don't sound as nice on baritone, try stringing your baritone high-d to, as Gdansk explained, get the intervals between the strings to be the same. In fact it's exactly what Jake does on his bari.

I recently strung up both a bari and a tenor that way, so that i can take advantage of all of the "regular" arrangements in my books and still play it with that lower bari sound. Makes it easier for me to invest the time in learning a piece for regular uke so that I can play it on bari as well.

mm stan
11-10-2014, 02:23 PM
I too am liking the concert size better for comfort and playability, got one Main squeeze coming soon :)

Ukulele Eddie
11-10-2014, 04:16 PM
Thanks, all.

Gdansk, thanks, thinking of intervals is helpful. My vocal range is non-existent, so that's not yet a factor. ;-)