In addition to my guitar adventures with finally sitting my butt down to try to actually learn a full song, and all the thoughts I’m having there, I’m also back to tackling the lessons in the groupon for Center Stage Ukulele academy.
I admit I’ve glossed over a few. I don’t really want to learn ‘Let it Be’ by the Beatles. I slightly hate the Beatles. It’s a lukewarm hate, and entirely my parents’ fault due to constantly being attacked by a certain Beatles song so much as a child that I’d grown to hate my legal name by the time I was five, and, by association, the Beatles, too. It’s not their fault, really, and I admit there are a small spattering of Beatles tunes I actually like. ‘Let it Be’ is not one of them. Likewise, fuck Jason Mraz. lol. No, really, I have nothing specific against Jason Mraz. His music is, you know, fine. As far as pop music goes, he’s entirely tolerable. However, I’m not really a fan, and don’t feel like expending time and energy toward learning a song that doesn’t make me happy.
Besides, every ukulele player on the planet knows ‘I’m Yours’, so learning it would totally be cliche. And, if I had a hard time saying “up and left” in Wagon Wheel, who really thinks I’m going to be able to force myself to say “done run out”? My inner grammarian cringes.
So, I ran through those lessons once each, but I’m not going to learn those songs. I don’t want to learn those songs. I wouldn’t feel like I was lacking anything in life if I never heard either of them again until the day I die.
That led me to the E Chord lesson. I’ve been (not) secretly avoiding it so far. I know it’s a hard chord on the uke, and just felt like I really wanted to get my uke chops a bit more up to speed before I tackled it, though I’ve tried the finger positioning once or twice. But, I’ve reached the lesson for E major and E minor chords. The E Minor Chord section I can skip. I already learned it, and have practiced it to death in learning Wagon Wheel. Of course, CS Uke Academy doesn’t know that, because they taught it in C.
So, on to E Major, they teach the non-barre version, which involved some cramped stacking of the pinky, ring, and middle finger. They further explain that you don’t need the middle finger, really, if it’s too hard to stack, because that note is already in the chord. What they don’t mention, but which my ears find quite obvious, is that if you don’t use the middle finger, you should mute that string or not strum it, because it will turn the chord to shit. Of course, muting that string is quite easy, so for a really easy E, you’ve basically got:
mute the G string.
first finger on 2nd fret of A string.
pinky on 4th fret of E string.
ring finger on 4th fret of C string.
The difference between that and the well known stacked E is the ring finger on the 4th fret of the G string, but it is actually a viable option that is, admittedly, easier to switch in and out of.
Stacking all 3 fingers, things start to go a little Jenga. The pinky has to be wedged in fairly firmly under the ring finger, to the point the nail is nearly digging into the finger tip above, of the sound just isn’t clear. (This is, by the way, a movable chord shape, according to the lesson. It’s so clunky I’m not sure I’d actually want to move it anywhere, though…)
This, of course, is why so many people barre the E. There are a lot of possibilities for barre versions, but so far, I haven’t been able to get a barre chord to sound clearly. My most consistent problem is the E string; the joint of my knuckle tends to roll over it so it’s muted and doesn’t sound clearly. I adjust, and then unwittingly am muting something else.
I’ve also noticed that (so far, possibly due to my crap barre skills), the barre versions seem to sound more islandy on the uke. Some people might like that, but I didn’t pick up ukulele because I secretly long for a tropical island. It’s just fun to play, so I don’t really aim for the island feel.
I do notice barre chords make thumb positioning that much more important. Without the thumb supporting at the right angle, you end up ‘pressing hard’, thinking you’re just too weak to execute it. I’m not too weak to execute a barre chord, and I am prone to pressing to hard to compensate, but I do generally catch myself and say ‘No. Stop. Look at your thumb.’ The thumb placed in the correct place on the neck really does do a lot of the work for you. I just haven’t been able to make this happen with any kind of consistency, so while I might get the barre right once, if I try to strum to it, my finger will inadvertently shift and things will get buzzy.
Even so, getting barre chords down is obviously the way to make the E shape easier to handle. There are any number of youtube lessons that reinforce that.
You’ve got Ukulele Mike again:
who uses a movable barre for the E.
Then, you’ve got this video, which is a barre with a muted string:
Now, this one’s actually taking the same approach as the ‘easy E’ in the CS Uke Academy lesson,but muting the lowest string instead of the highest. And reiterating the same point – you don’t need a note in there twice, so it’s not strictly necessary.
Now, I think muting the top string is a heck of a lot easier, both to form and to switch in and out of, but it just goes to show there’s about 10000 ways to perform this chord, which makes me wonder why the book version, being one of the harder ones, became the by-the-book form in the first place. It’s not that I think it’s necessarily a worse choice, but I don’t see where it’s precisely a better choice, either, and by muting the top string, it can be taken from a difficult chord to play to a remarkably easy one.(seriously, just drop your thumb a little and you’re there, or alternatively, rest your middle finger somewhere comfortable. Whichever.) There is a difference of tone, yes. The traditional E has more fullness, but honestly, put in a song, and the casual listener probably just isn’t going to notice that difference.
At the end of the day, the point is that this is also an E Major Chord:
And, as I see it, one that requires very little flexibility to execute cleanly.
I do want to say at this point that I have small enough fingers that I am able to execute a traditional E chord after a little bit of practice, but executing it and using it in a song are not one in the same. Realistically, this just isn’t an easy fingering to switch in and out of. Stacking the ring, middle, and pinky fingers is unlikely to feel natural to any but the most dexterous among us no matter how much you practice. That’s likely why there are so darn many alternate versions.
So, at the end of the day, it’s probably best to pick a chord form that you can use consistently and not worry much about whether or not you’re doing things by-the-book. The reason that the E Chord on ukulele is known as a ‘dreaded’ chord, has a lot to do with a lack of practicality. While I can play the chord, I can’t imagine attempting to stack my fingers like a tightrope act in the middle of a song over some nominal sound difference that, chances are, no one is going to notice in the process of playing an actual song.
Have I made a decision about how to practice and play this chord? No, but I’m thinking economy of motion is definitely worth considering.
Until Next Time, tackling the ‘dreaded’ E-Chord.