View Full Version : GCEA vs DGBE. Shapes vs Chords.

06-15-2015, 10:57 AM
Hi All,

I am experimenting with DGBE tuning (low D). Instead of buying a baritone I have restrung a tenor with the middle four strings from a classical guitar set. So far so good and I'm now experimenting with this tuning versus my standard GCEA (low G) setup.

Suppose my favourite song is in the key of C, has the chord progression C F G C throughout and that I love the sound of this progression on my low G uke. It just sounds awesome to my ear.

Now suppose I play these same first position shapes on my DGBE uke. Because all the strings are tuned the same 5 frets lower on this instrument this shape progression sounds the same but is of a lower frequency. Yes it sounds lower but is still obviously my favourite song and so I'm happy. Keeping the shapes the same keeps the sound.

Now suppose that instead of keeping the chord shapes constant I decide to keep the key and the chords themselves constant. So I need to transpose over to a different set of shapes coinciding with the chord progression C F G C on a DGBE tuned instrument. These new shapes are the same as those of the first position progression F Bb C F on my GCEA tuned uke.

So I play this new shape progression on my DGBE uke (and I play it again on my GCEA uke with fundamentally the same sound but at a higher frequency as discussed above) and to my ear it sounds awful. Keeping the key and chords the same has changed the sound.

So to me it seems that the progression of shapes is more important than a progression of specific chords when trying to create a unified sound across differently tuned ukes so baritones and sopranos should both play a C F G C shape progression when being played together.

But then I read that whenever one is playing with other instruments (generally speaking now) then everyone should play in the same key which would mean low D baritones playing F Bb C F shapes whilst sopranos play C F G C shapes.

Which of the above is correct ?

It is an interesting experiment if anyone has the necessary tuned instruments to hand. But if one only has a single tuning to hand just try comparing the sound of a C F G C shape progression to a F Bb C F shape progression to see how differently a C F G C chord progression sounds between a baritone and a soprano uke.

Thanks for any thoughts.



06-15-2015, 03:52 PM
I can't answer that directly. I *can* say that whilst learning guitar from songbooks with chord diagrams above the music, I encountered many in keys that were unsuitable either to my fingering skills or my vocal range. Transposing those to friendlier keys became routine. And sometimes I'd hit a song that I could play authoritatively in one key but I just couldn't sing there, so I had to work out a good-sounding alternative fingering -- or maybe even a retuning. (I've always hated capos.) On some, I'd keep the better-sounding key and sing a harmony line instead of the given melody. There's always a workaround.

Parallel to your problem, I find that moving some familiar songs from guitar to standard-tuned soprano or tenor uke, shifting my singing up a 4th, while dealing with re-entrant tuning and having fewer strings to exploit, is a pain. I must decide which part of the sound is more important: the instrument, or my voice? Voice usually wins that one. If the disconnect is too great I'll just use a more suitable axe. Some pieces just can't be force-fit into a one-size-fits-all solution.

Patrick Madsen
06-15-2015, 06:28 PM
Yes, you must play in the same Key when playing with others. Your right, a chord shape is a chord shape but is a different chord when using an instrument tuned differently.

If a chord doesn't sound right to you, try a different chord shape on the fretboard. For example, in the key of C it's 0003.It can also be 5433 and also a G shape up to the 7th fret. You can figure it out from there. Try different positions up the fretboard, it changes the whole ambience of the chord. I rarely use first position chords unless fingerpicking.

06-15-2015, 07:23 PM
The sound of a chord is affected by the selection of notes and also the voicing of the chord. If your uke is tuned CGEA and you play the third fret on the first string with the rest of the strings open - that is a C chord. It is also a C chord too play 5433 (from the 4th to 1st string). Both are a C chord, but each is a different voice. When you change the tuning of the uke you change the voicing of the chords. The same chord will sound somewhat different. As players get more advanced they pay more attention to things like voicing of a chord.