Greetings, baritone ukulele players! Are you ready to move beyond playing your basic chords on the baritone ukulele and want to learn how to find the notes of the baritone ukulele fretboard? Of course you do! Learning how to locate the baritone ukulele fretboard notes will open up a whole world of possibilities for your playing. Whether you want to learn how to write your own music, improvise, or play spirited solos on the baritone ukulele, it all starts with learning about the baritone ukulele fretboard notes.
When most people pick up the baritone ukulele for the first time, they start out by learning how to strum with some basic chord shapes. These are the bedrock for a future of ukulele learning and fun, but you may be reading this because you want to learn more – how do those chord shapes actually work on a ukulele fretboard? What notes go into the chords, and where do you find those notes on the ukulele fretboard?
It may seem a little confusing at first when you start to unlock the secrets of the ukulele fretboard on the baritone uke. But really with just a few bits of information, you can open a whole new world of musical joy on your favorite instrument! Join me on a little music theory adventure as we learn about the baritone ukulele fretboard notes.
Baritone Ukulele Music Theory 101
Let’s start with a little mini music theory lesson. When you look at ukulele sheet music (which may or may not have tablature associated with it), the baritone ukulele fretboard notes correspond to the notes on the G clef and C clef. These are the treble clef (upper register) and bass clef (lower register) of the musical alphabet.
Looking at the sheet music, you’ll notice that it’s composed of 5 lines called a staff, with the associated symbol for a G clef. Each of those lines and spaces in the staff corresponds to a different note in music theory, and the G clef symbol to the left on the staff means that we’re going to be working primarily with the notes above middle C, and a handful below middle C on the baritone ukulele.
I learned how to read music when I started violin lessons at the age of 7. My teacher gave me an easy way to remember the notes associated with the lines and spaces on the musical staff that I still use to this day – maybe it can help you remember the notes on the musical staff, and how they relate to the baritone ukulele fretboard notes.
Starting at the line on the very bottom of the musical staff, the notes associated with each line moving from bottom to top are: E G B D F – and the way you can remember that is by repeating to yourself, Every Good Boy Does Fine.
Starting with the very bottom space on the musical staff, the notes associated with those spaces moving from bottom to top are: F A C E – and you really don’t need to remember anything to go with that, just how to spell the word “face”.
Read more: Fingerpicking Patterns for the Ukulele
Easy, right? It’s these notes located on the lines and spaces that correspond to different frets on the baritone ukulele fretboard.
Unlike the soprano, concert, and tenor ukuleles, the notes on the baritone ukulele dip down below the G (treble) clef and venture into the C (bass) clef. For the most part, however, we’ll be working with the notes that fall in the range of the notes found in the G clef.
Whole and Half Steps in Music
Now that we understand a little more about where notes are located on the musical staff, let’s talk about the musical distance between notes. In Western music theory, musical notes (or tones) are given alphabetical names: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. There are only seven basic tones in this system of music theory, so once you get to G, you start over back at A.
Between most of the tones in the musical scale/alphabet are what we call “semitones”. These are notes or pitches that fall between two notes. They’re usually noted in sheet music by using either a “sharp” (#) or “flat” (b) symbol next to the note.
Looking at our musical notes and starting at C (which is right in the middle of the piano, and middle C is used as a reference point for many things in Western music theory), we can see that there are whole steps between C and D, D and E, F and G, G and A, and A and B. There are half steps between B and C and E and F.
An easy way to remember this is to look at your basic C major scale. The construction of a basic major scale uses this pattern of whole and half steps between the notes: whole whole half whole whole whole half.
Breaking that down with the C major scale, it means that C to D = whole step; D to E = whole step; E to F = half step; F to G = whole step, G to A = whole step, A to B = whole step, and B to C = half step.
Stay with me here! In a few minutes, we’re going to learn why all of this is relevant to learning the ukulele fretboard notes. But first, we’re going to look at the tuning of our ukes and make sure we know what type of tuning we’re using and why it matters.
Now that we understand a little bit more about music theory, let’s look at how the baritone ukulele is tuned. Just like a soprano, concert, or tenor ukulele, the baritone ukulele has four strings, but the baritone ukulele gets its tuning from a 6-string guitar, minus the two top strings. So instead of the GCEA tuning of a smaller ukulele, the baritone ukulele is tuned DGBE.
Also unlike a smaller ukulele, the baritone ukulele is usually tuned in what we call linear tuning, meaning that the D is found below the G on the musical scale and in musical notation. That lowest note of the baritone ukulele, the open D string, actually wanders down into bass clef territory!
Even though there are some ukulele players who like to tune their baritone ukuleles with a re-entrant (high D) tuning, for the purposes of this blog, I’m going to stick to talking about baritone ukulele fretboard notes using the traditional linear tuning.
Baritone Ukulele Fretboard Notes
Armed with all this knowledge about the notes, tones, and semi-tones in music theory, now we can apply all of this to the baritone ukulele.
Looking at your ukulele, each fret represents a semitone or half step in the musical scale. So that means to create a whole step, you’d need to skip a fret between notes if you’re playing a scale. As an example, let’s start with the third (G) string of the baritone ukulele.
We’re going to start by playing a basic G major scale on the baritone ukulele. Remember the pattern for the basic major scale – whole whole half whole whole whole half – and start by plucking the open G string.
We’ll skip that first fret on the G string (that would be the note G sharp, and is a half-step above the open G) and then play the second fret, which is the note of A, a whole step above our root note of G.
Progressing through the scale, we’ll move over to the second string on the baritone ukulele and play the open B string. The next tone in the scale is a half-step above the B note, which is C – this note can be found by playing the first fret of the B string. The next note in the G major scale is D, so we’ll skip a fret and play the third fret of the second (B) string to find that note.
From here we can move to the first string (E) of the baritone ukulele. Since E is a whole step away from D, we can just play the open E string.
Now the difference between the C major scale and the G major scale is that the G major scale includes one sharped note – F. This means that we raise the F note a half step whenever we play it in the key of G. And because we want our next note in the scale to be a whole step away from E, that means we will play the second fret of the E string to find our F sharp note.
Finally, the last note of the G major scale is a half-step above that F sharp. So we play the third fret of the first string to play the G an octave above where we started when we played the open G string on our baritone ukulele.
Now that you’re familiar with how to find the notes of the G major scale on the baritone ukulele fretboard, let’s look at a couple of other ways to learn your ukulele fretboard notes.
Using Major Scales to Find Ukulele Fretboard Notes
One of the great things about knowing how to find notes on your baritone ukulele fretboard and knowing how to construct a major scale is that now you can play any scale in any key on your ukulele fretboard!
As you play your scales, say the names of the notes out loud – G, A, B, C, D, E, F sharp G, for example. You can also use a digital keyboard or piano app to help you locate all of the natural notes (white keys only) on the ukulele fretboard.
I’m a big fan of saying the notes out loud as you play them on the baritone ukulele fretboard, because for my style of learning, it helps that information to “stick” in my head.
If writing things down makes it easier for you to learn things, you can find blank images of ukulele fretboards online, print one out (or if you’re really artistic draw your own!) and write down the names of the notes on each fret.
Remember that some of those semitone notes will have more than one name. For example, E flat is another name for D sharp, depending on what musical key you’re playing in.
So You’ve Mastered the Ukulele Fretboard Notes – What Now?
Well, maybe you haven’t mastered them quite yet. But if you learn the notes of a couple of basic scales like G major or E minor (keep ‘em simple at first), you have now unlocked a whole lot of musical ukulele potential!
Like what, you might ask? Well, if you’ve ever dreamed of playing amazing ukulele solos, this is where you start! Knowing the notes of the scales will let you play fabulous off-the-cuff ukulele solos and help you on the path to learning how to improvise on the ukulele.
You can also use the ukulele fretboard notes to teach yourself (or work with a teacher) and learn how to read music! Reading music isn’t for everyone, but for some of us, it’s a great skill that we can use for performing, learning new music, and even transposing music from one key into another.
Hey, if you’re looking for some great online courses in how to learn to read music and how to solo on the ukulele using these skills, make sure you check out the great online ukulele courses on the Terry Carter Music website! You’ll find all of this and much much more!