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An Explanation of Ukulele Chord Families, Using the C Family

A ukulele chord family is made up of six main chords. Each chord in the family is identified by a Roman numeral so you don’t mix them up with all the other numbers flying around. (They’re spoken as “a one chord,” “a two chord,” and so on.) Minor chords are shown in lowercase and major chords in uppercase.

The C family is the most straightforward set of chords to play on the ukulele:

  • I: C

  • ii: Dm

  • iii: Em

  • IV: F

  • V: G or G7

  • vi: Am

    Diagram of the C chord family.
    Diagram of the C chord family.

A vii° chord is also in the sequence, but that’s a bit trickier and not often used, especially on a ukulele.

Each family of chords is named after the I chord (also called the root). So songs that draw their chords from this set are in the key of C. The I chord is almost always the first and last chord in any sequence.

Chord families work so well together because each chord contains notes from the same scale. So in the C family of chords all the chords are made up of notes in the C major scale.

Each key also has a relative minor key that uses exactly the same chord set. In the case of C, the relative minor is A minor.

The basis of almost all popular music is just three chords; whether the genre is rock, pop, blues, country, jazz, or punk, these three chords are in there. If you can get your head and fingers around this fact, you have a strong basis to tackle almost any song you come across. For example, the three-chord trick in the C family are the I, IV, and V of the family. So

  • The I chord is C.

  • The IV chord is F.

  • The V chord is G7.

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