By Alec “Cheef” Poletsky
Dominant chords are often used as “turnaround” chords on ukulele, usually appearing right before the major tonic chord (for example, in the key of C, you would have a G7 followed by a C major). A good example of this is the dominant chord played over the last line of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” in the lyric “fleece was white as snow.” In the key of C, the tune uses a G7 for “fleece was white as…” and resolving on a C major over the word “snow.”
A dominant chord is rarely written as “dominant” (for example, “C dominant 7” or “F dom 7”). Instead, you’ll see it notated as a chord name followed by a number (such as C7, D11, or E13). To keep things simple, I’ll discuss only the basic dominant-chord voicings, or “seven” chords.
How Dominant Chords Are Built
Dominants are built using four notes from the major scale. One way to look at this is to take the starting note of the major scale, often called the first (do), and combine it with the third (mi), the fifth (sol), and the lowered seventh (ti) note. Meaning, if the seventh note is a B, you will use the note that comes right before it, or one fret lower, the Bb. Therefore, the formula for a dominant seven chord is 1, 3, 5, b7.
The C7 chord would be built as C-E-G-Bb. That may seem a bit confusing, so in the following examples, I’ve supplied you with four completely movable voicings for a seven or dominant chord. All you have to know are the names of the strings, the root note (the letter name of chord—for example, the D in D7 or G in G7), and the musical alphabet: A, A#/Bb, B, C, C#/Db, D, D#/Eb, E, F, F#/Gb, G, G#/Ab.
The F7 Shape
This shape is voiced with the root note on the E string, the third on the G, the fifth on the A string, and the flat or lowered seventh on the C string. If you move this chord up one fret, it will be a Gb7; if you played it on the third fret it would be a G7.
The A7 Shape
This shape is voiced with the root on the G string, the third on the A, the fifth on the C, and the lowered seventh on E string. Playing this chord on the third fret will yield a Bb7, on the fourth fret a B7 chord, and on the sixth fret a Db7.
The D7 Shape
For this shape, the root can be found on the C string. The third is on the E string, the fifth on the G, and the lowered seventh on the A. Doing this chord shape on the first fret will make a Db7, on the third fret an Eb7 chord, and so on.
The B7 Shape
The root of this chord voicing is on the A string, the third is on the C, the fifth on the E, and the lowered or flat seventh is on the G. Playing this voicing on the third fret makes a C7 chord, on the first fret makes a Bb7, on the fourth fret a Db7, and on the fifth fret a D7.
And there you have it: Four movable dominant chord voicings that will make playing the ukulele a lot easier. Applying these lessons on movable ukulele chords should open you up to a whole new world of song selections, regardless of what key they may be in.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Ukulele magazine.