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One (Half) Step at a Time: Using Bar Chords to Transpose
By James Hill

Repetition is one of the keys to learning. Varied repetition is one of the keys to teaching. Transposition is an important skill that will add variation and excitement to your arrangements both in rehearsal and in performance.

Click here to read this article in D6 tuning (a, d, f#, b).

Transposing the C and F chords

Climbing to the upper reaches of the fretboard is like climbing a ladder: it works best if you take it one step at a time. Using bar chords to transpose is a safe way to begin moving out of the "home position" and also gives the teacher a way of adding variation and excitement to arrangements, rehearsals, and performances.

Take Alabama Bound, for instance (the free arrangement in this issue). It's a two-chord song in the key of C that uses only the I chord (C) and the IV chord (F). Once students can play the song as written, challenge them to start moving up the fretboard. Here's how to do it:

  • Re-finger. Have students play the C chord with the left-hand pinky finger (instead of the usual ring finger).

  • Move up and bar. Now move the pinky finger up one fret and "bar" the first fret with the index finger. In other words, place the first finger straight across all four strings at the first fret.

  • What's the chord? Ask students: "This isn't a C chord anymore, is it? So, what chord is it?" The answer is C#. Move it up another fret to get a D chord, and so on.

Repeat this process to transpose the F chord. Now your students can play Alabama Bound in every key!

Adding a transition chord

Add a transition chord to move more smoothly into each new key. The transition chord should be the dominant chord (V) of the new key. For example, if you're playing Alabama Bound in the key of C# (using the C# and F# chords) and you're moving to the key of D on the repeat, use an A or an A7 chord to make a smooth transition.

James Hill is editor of Ukulele Yes! and co-author of Ukulele in the Classroom, a new series of ukulele method books for students of all ages. Visit for more.