I've noticed that I play a lot of chords on ukulele with larger intervals in them, and often the chord voicings have big stretches from the lowest notes to the highest notes.

Obviously, I know beginners often struggle with chord shapes, but for more intermediate to advanced players, how far can most players reach over the fingerboard? Or in more precise words, what's the practical limit on how big a chord can be before it gets unplayable to most people?

As an example, if I asked a friend to play the D above middle C and the E♭ a minor ninth above it, would that be doable?

For simplicity, let's limit the question to the standard soprano size ukulele. If you want to get specific with tunings, C standard with a high G, since that's the most common one.

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    Since the same pitch can be played in more than one spot, I would use specific fret/string (TAB) instead of the pitch names. Nov 25, 2019 at 1:22
  • @NickGrooves Actually, there's only one place to play the D above middle C on the ukulele fretboard, and therefore only one reasonable place to play the E♭. That's why I picked that example. D on the C string, E♭on the A string.
    – user45266
    Nov 25, 2019 at 7:23
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    @user45266 - But isn't there more than one often-used tuning for a ukulele?
    – Dekkadeci
    Nov 25, 2019 at 12:34
  • Fair, and I've edited to address tuning, but AFAIK C Standard (aka C6) and D standard (D6) are the two common tunings, and both only have one place to play the D4. Unless you're talking about low G tunings...
    – user45266
    Nov 25, 2019 at 19:16
  • @user45266 While I understand your comment about the D above middle C, other players may not (especially if they don't read music, which many guitar and uke players don't) and besides the term "middle C" is somewhat relative for transposing instruments. Guitar, for example, is technically treble clef down one octave so "middle C" is not actually middle C ... if you follow my meaning. Nov 27, 2019 at 2:38

1 Answer 1


Since standard ukulele tuning has the same intervals as guitar (strings 1-4, frets 5 and up), I write with the same guidelines in mind. If your intended audience is "beginners," stick to basic C-A-G-E-D shapes (open / cowboy chords). If you're writing for intermediate players then barre chords and a five-fret span seem fair. Always keep in mind not only does the chord have to be reachable on its own, but in sequence from the previous / following chords.

It's a serious question. My composition professor in college told us that composers are not required to be able to play their work in order to write their work ... but you want someone to play it :)

If you play the instrument, and you can grab it, then chances are good that others can, too.

  • When you say 5-fret span, do you mean five frets over to the right of a note (E to A on the same string)? Also, "If you play the instrument, and you can grab it, then chances are good that others can, too" I'm not sure whether I'm a good representation of others' ability; I play the instrument very differently from most people.
    – user45266
    Nov 25, 2019 at 7:27
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    Your statement of "Since standard ukulele tuning has the same intervals as guitar" doesn't quite sound right: the "standard" guitar tuning is EADGBE, while the most common ukulele tuning I've heard of is gCEA, complete with going down instead of up for the first two strings.
    – Dekkadeci
    Nov 25, 2019 at 12:39
  • @Dekkadeci Sorry it doesn't sound right to you, but it is :) Capo your standard-tuned guitar at fret 5 and you'll have (low to high) G, C, E, A. The fact that a uke's G string is an octave up has no bearing on the chord shapes (which is the subject of this thread) aside from inverting any notes on said string (like on a 12-string guitar; one wouldn't argue a 12-string is tuned differently than a 6-string, it's the same intervals). Any chord played on a standard-tuned ukulele may be played on the guitar without changing any fingering and vice versa. Nov 27, 2019 at 1:20
  • @user45266 You may play it differently than most, in your opinion (and you may be right) but you still have human hands with the same capabilities as "most" other players. A five-fret span (two whole steps a.k.a. Major 3rd) is very common for intermediate and above guitarists on any string at any fret position, and since uke frets are so close together this is easily achieved. For example, guitar frets 6-7-8-9-10 = uke frets 1-2-3-4-5 Nov 27, 2019 at 1:26
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    @NickGrooves I'm not sure guitar is a great choice of analogy, though, because since the ukulele's frets are closer together, for the purposes of stretching the two aren't the same. I'd love to see a guitarist play [1-1-9-9] as a chord shape. And as for "you still have human hands with the same capabilities as 'most' other players": that's what I'm saying; because I play in such an unconventional manner, I'm not sure whether my hands do in fact have the same capabilities as other players. That's why I'm asking the question.
    – user45266
    Nov 27, 2019 at 21:56

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