Bruce Dean,
You Can Be a Ukulele Chord Genius
(Northern Musician, 2004)

This is one of a series of "Chord Genius" books Dean has written and self-published through the magic of computers, simply changing the basic text to serve different instruments and/or tunings. Besides this one, he has separate books available for baritone ukulele, tenor guitar, six-string guitar (including a lefty version), mandolin, mandola and tenor banjo.

This book doesn't get into specific songs at all, or strumming techniques. It simply walks you through a process that drastically increases the number of chords you can play and, more importantly, helps you understand completely how chords are built and named, so you can become so familiar with your fretboard that you can put together new chords and play them in a variety of positions, as the occasion requires.

That may not seem like much, but in the ukulele world it's huge. Guitar players get a million books all tabbed up and complete with CDs to teach them everything from blues to bluegrass to flamenco to funk. But us uke players have to make do with about a dozen books and/or videos that generally do not much more than introduce us to a few chords and some strumming techniques, then send us out into a world full of much bigger, meaner and more popular instruments (not to mention any names) to survive as we can. Please, sir, I want some more.

So, this is more, and I would say that Bruce Dean delivers on what he offers, although I've only read through the book so far and tentatively tried a couple of chord-building exercises. To work through it properly, and completely internalize the lessons, would take some months -- which is exactly what you want from a publication like this, anyway.

The first 12 pages of this 72-page book (8.5x11 format, and spiral-bound to lie flat) are basic enough for even the rank beginner, starting with open chords, chord groups for practicing and a checklist for clear chord sounds. Section II gets into moveable or barre chord forms, again with chord pairs to practice making the changes.

Section III on advanced chords is the meat of the book -- packed with chord theory that is always rooted in the down-to-earth practice of actually playing the ukulele. Dean's approach is to start with a brief regard in the direction of finger patterns for playing major scales on the uke, which he calls "our most powerful partner for defining chords." He shows how the chord triads are built from the scales. It's simple and obvious enough information once you understand it, yet this is the first ukulele instruction book I've come across that lays it all out for the neophyte in easy-to-understand detail. He shows how major chords are modified to make minor, diminished, augmented and suspended chords. And tells you something about the nature and common use of each chord type as he goes.

Then on page 28 comes the big surprise: "our template for all other chords," which, according to Dean, is the major 7th chord. I call this a surprise because I -- and probably most guitar, uke, banjo and mandolin players in the popular styles, at least -- have learned and played many dominant 7th chords long before we ever had cause to use a major 7th chord. But it works, and maybe even makes sense, and again, Dean has you build the various chord forms from the scale patterns, and shows you how they are easily moved up and down the neck depending on the root note of the chord required.

Once you are clear on the forms for the major 7th chords, Dean goes on over the next 20 pages with lots of text and chord diagrams (including some he asks you to complete yourself) to show how -- and equally important, why -- they can be modified to produce other advanced chords. These include our old friend the dominant 7ths to begin with, then minor 7ths, diminished 7ths, 6ths, 9ths, 11ths, 13ths, 6/9 chords, minor/major and slash chords, plus even more chords with various specific sharp and flat alterations. It's a lot to learn, but it all makes perfect sense the way Dean explains it. He closes with a section on how to name any chord you come across.

Various appendices follow (Dean shows good marketing sense by calling them "bonus materials"). Mostly they are summaries of material covered in the body of the book: a chart of chord intervals, commonly used chord symbols, tips on choosing a guitar (or uke), how and why to practice with a metronome, the circle of 5ths, more about key signatures, etc.

Overall, this is a very useful book for ukulele players, and I have no doubt its sister publications should be just as helpful for players of other instruments in the chordophone (I like using that word) family. It suffers from the common ailment of self-published books, in that it could have benefited in places from another editor's eye. Dean has a nice folksy style, and goes to great lengths to explain things as clearly as possible, which usually works, and is much appreciated. The occasional sentence, however, leaves you wondering just what he was getting at. There are also a few typos, but they can be excused as they don't really get in the way of comprehension.

My one other quibble is that I wished occasionally for a chord progression from a common song, to illustrate how certain chords work together. But maybe that will be the subject for another book.

- Rambles
written by John Bird
published 4 December 2004