(This is a guest post by Ted Parrish, ukulele extraordinaire and co-author of Ukulele for the Complete Ignoramus, available on our website as a spiral bound paperback or PDF, or on Amazon as spiral bound or Kindle.)
To be or not to be – Bb that is.
Beginning ukulele students often have this common experience: You are rolling right along, strumming and singing, you got your C chord down, Am, F, even G. Then you have to play a Bb and you decide to take a break. Forever.
The Bb is the most dreaded beginning chord for the aspiring ukester. Let’s break it down and see why it is so difficult (because it is, you’re right) and the proper way to play this chord so that it will become as easy as the other chords.
The Bb employs what is known as a “barre” (pronounced “bar”). Your first finger has to press down on two strings at once – the first and second strings both at the first fret. This is the barre. Then, your second finger frets the third string at the second fret, and your third finger the fourth string at the third fret. Here is a diagram:
Most folks struggle with the barre part, and some try to add a pinky in there to use four fingers on the chord, or just try to ignore the first string. But, once you understand how to properly barre, you will be better able to play the chord. Here is the important hint: do not bend your first finger at the first knuckle. You need to straighten, actually even backbend the first finger a little bit to apply a flat surface to the two strings. Your finger will bend at the second knuckle. Then, arch and curve the other fingers as normal. If you try to barre by bending at the first knuckle, your fingers won’t be able to play the other notes. Here is the wrong way:
And here is a picture of a proper barre, and a full Bb:
It takes some practice to get it to sound good, but once you do you will love the Bb. Not just because it is such a useful chord, but because it is a moveable shape you can take up the neck (one fret higher is a B, for example). Good luck, and keep on rockin’ the uke!