Just learning the ukulele, and trying the D7 chord. I'm confused because there seems to be two accepted fingerings for the D7: a barre on the second fret and a single finger on the first string of the third fret, or a finger on the second and fourth strings of the second fret.

These are both D7, apparently, but they sound substantially different to my ear; the first (barre + finger) higher in tone than the second (strings 2 and 4 on the second fret).

Is there a "superior" D7 in terms of what a D7 should sound like? Is it worth forcing myself to learn the slightly more difficult barre + finger version for a "better" D7?


A D7 chord consists of:

  • D - the root note - if you leave it out the chord is ambiguous, but you might fix that by having another instrument, your voice, or the listener's imagination, fill it in. When you're the only accompaniment, however, you typically want the tonic as one of the lowest notes in your chord, as an anchor (this is why bass guitars often play root notes)
  • A - D's 5th - this reinforces the root (which is why the next step from root-note-only bass parts, is root-and-fifth bass parts), but leaving it out doesn't weaken the chord too much
  • F# - D's major 3rd. This is what makes it a major chord. An F natural would make it a minor chord. Leaving out the third altogether makes it ambiguous (known as a "power chord")
  • C - D's dominant 7th. This is what makes it a dominant 7th chord (in pop/rock/folk we generally use "7th" as shorthand for "dominant 7th" when talking about chords) If you leave it out, it's just a major chord, not a 7th chord.

Now, these four notes occur in multiple places on the fretboard:

Uke fretboard with D7 note positions marked

You can play any of them and get a note that fits in a D7 chord. You can play any combination of them and get at least a partial D7 chord. To get a full D7 chord you need at least one of each.

So, there are lots of fingerings that would get some or all of those notes, in various octaves and in various orders. These are known as inversions of a chord. Here are three:

Some D7 uke chords

The top letters are the string names, the bottom letters are the fretted note names.

The first chord is missing the D, but uses two open strings, so is easy to play. It would sound OK, especially if (for example) a bass instrument is taking care of root notes.

One reason this shape might be in your source, is that some people reach ukulele chords by starting with Guitar chords. The top four strings of a guitar have the same relative tuning as a uke (if the uke has a low G), a fifth out. So a uke D7 is the same shape as a guitar A7, but two strings are missing. On the guitar, the root note is the 5th string. On the uke, the root note is missing.

The second chord has all four notes, with the D on the third string.

The third chord barres the 5th fret and also has all the notes, although the D is on the top string, so doesn't anchor the chord so firmly. It is higher up the fretboard, so you get a different tone out of your instrument. You could sometimes play this chord, and other times play one of the other forms, to add variety to an accompaniment.

This is very common on lots of instruments. When I want to play a C chord on guitar, I choose between the shape beginners learn early on, with open strings; a barred shape on the third fret; a different barred shape on the 8th fret; or lots of other choices.

I'd suggest:

  • Play these three chords, and notice (especially if you hum the D to remind yourself of the tonic, and to fill in the missing D in the first form) that although the sound changes, the harmonic content stays the same.
  • Try making up more D7 shapes, using more of the positions on the fretboard diagram.
  • Try mapping out the notes of a different chord on the fretboard, and working out the shapes and inversions for that chord from first-principles too.
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  • Great, comprehensive answer - especially taking the time to to diagrams. – Mr. Boy Jan 6 '15 at 12:09
  • Thank you for putting the fret number next to the fret, instead of between frets (yes, people do that. I never know which fret they're numbering). – Wayne Conrad Nov 4 '17 at 18:10

The D7 chord is D (root), F♯ (major 3rd), A (perfect 5th), C (minor 7th). Any voicing that includes all four of those is correct. For example, the barre fingering is A–D–F♯–C, which is correct. Furthermore, the chord is in root position on a soprano or concert ukulele – meaning that the root is the lowest-pitched note – which is ideal for playing unaccompanied.

A chord voicing can omit some notes and still be correct, and it’s often necessary on four-stringed instruments like ukuleles and bass guitars. It’s usually safe to omit the perfect 5th and double up on the root, for example, as the root note’s harmonics will imply it. In contrast, you can’t usually omit the 3rd or 7th as their sound is essential to chord quality.

The root note is a special case, as it’s essential to harmony, but only in the bass. Therefore, if you are accompanying a bass instrument, you can safely omit the root note, but if you are playing unaccompanied, the root note is essential. Your alternate fingering, A–C–F♯–A, lacks the D root note, so it’s unsuitable if you’re playing alone, but OK if you’re playing with other musicians, as the ukulele is not usually the bass instrument.

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There are two common ukulele chords called D7. The traditional D7 chord is the barre chord:

Traditional D7 chord

This chord has all four of the D7 notes: D, F♯, A, C

The other D7 chord is a common alternative on the ukulele:

Hawaiian D7 chord

This form of the D7 chord is often called the Hawaiian D7, perhaps because it is popular in Hawaii. As others have noted, it is missing the D note. But because it is a little easier for beginners to play than a barre chord, you'll often see this Hawaiian D7 chord shown in ukulele chord charts as D7.

In many songs, either chord can be used. I use both chords: when I encounter a song with D7, I'll try them both and figure out which works best in the song. Without the high C, the Hawaiian chord sounds lower and more mellow.

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You can easily check what 4 notes are played in each chord if you know your musical alphabet. If you have the same notes in both, but in different orders, they are just different voicings of the same chord and it comes down really to choice or how they sound in each song you use them in.

Assuming your uke is tuned A-E-C-G then your first version has notes C-F#-D-A while the second has A-F#-C-A

D7 has notes D, F#, A & C so your second variant is not right to me - it's not horrible as you have no wrong notes, but you don't have all 4 notes played. In fact you don't have the D, which is kind of important :)

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  • 2
    As an aside, the uke is a pretty easy instrument to barre on compared to guitar so I'd bite the bullet and practice the technique anyway, it will be very handy not to think of barre chords as 'dreaded'! – Mr. Boy Jan 5 '15 at 23:35
  • Sure -- I'm not sure what's most correct, but my understanding of "1st string" would be like here (ukuguides.com/how-to/how-to-properly-tune-your-ukulele) where the first string is the furthest away from my face, or the A string. (EDIT) And thanks for the encouragement -- I'm going to try to learn both, I was just confused as to why they sound different but are the "same" chord. – JeanSibelius Jan 5 '15 at 23:35
  • That got me confused but I think I have it right now and edited accordingly... I don't think your easy one can really be called a D7 (if I didn't make an error) even though it will not sound awful – Mr. Boy Jan 5 '15 at 23:43

Essentially, the more traditional (especially in Hawaii) form of D7 is not really a D7; it's an F♯ diminished triad. It is usually written as D7 in notation for ukulele because it almost always serves the same function as a D7 (strong transitions to a G chord), and it is also the upper three notes of a real D7 chord and therefore sounds similar. If a piece of music ever asks for an F♯ diminished or an f♯ diminished seventh, you can play this with no problem. The barre D7 chord contains all the notes of a D7 and can only be used as such. The easier D7 is learned usually because it's easier, but the barre D7 is useful because one can slide it up and down the neck, prodicing more dominant seventh chords.

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Stringed instruments have several different places where you can play the same note.

If you look at some guitar chord charts (as an example) you can see there are many different fingerings for a given chord. Different inversions, different mixtures of open and fretted notes, different octaves involved, etc.

None of these fingerings is necessarily superior, they just give different flavors. Some can sound better in some contexts, so it's worth it to learn several different fingerings for each chord.

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