What song will you learn on the ukulele next? You can’t go wrong with any of the tunes on this list by ukulele teacher Willy M.!
So you want to learn how to play the ukulele? Well, that comes with a whole catalog of songs that people will always request of you. Get used to people requesting any good time, surf, beach song that they can think of.
To help you out on your budding career as a popular ukulele player, I bring you the top 10 essential easy ukulele songs to play. These are easy ukulele songs for beginners, however they might require you to work out some new chords.
10. Somewhere over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World – Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
In 1993, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (say that five time real fast) brought us his interpretation of two classic songs that have been inscribed into American consciousness, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and the Louis Armstrong classic “What a Wonderful World.” This track was featured on Iz’s album Facing Future, and since has gone on to be a staple in movies. It was featured in Meet Joe Black, Finding Forester, 50 First Dates, Son of the Mask, and several other popular movies. The album Facing Future holds the record for the bestselling album by an Hawaiian national to date.
There are eight chords to the song, but they are not particularly difficult chords to play: C, G, F, Am – typical chords for the key of C, with E7, D, Dm7, and Em thrown into the mix for fun. I put this one first, as it will probably require the most work, but it will definitely get you the recognition you will deserve from your campfire singalong friends!
9. I Do/Falling For You – Colbie Caillat
I don’t know which came first, Colbie Caillat or Jason Mraz, but I remember hearing both of them making use of the ukulele around the same time. They are both at the head of the modern ukulele movement at least. Caillat has many songs that are great for the ukulele. I recommend learning two of her songs “Falling for You,” and “I Do,” and playing them as a medley. All your friends will be satisfied with you for including two popular uke songs, but also with your skill at “segueing,” i.e. moving from one key to the next.
“Falling For You” isn’t really a ukulele song, but it works great with “I Do.” It is in the key of D using D, A, Em, and G. Pretty straightforward and simple enough, whereas “I Do,” is in the key of G. You can segue pretty easily by going from the D to a Dsus4 as a turn into the key of G. The other chords in “I Do” aside from the G chord are: D, C, D7, Em, Am, B7, and Cm. The Cm might give you a bit of a challenge, but if you can tackle “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What A Wonderful World,” I know you can handle this song as well!
8. I’m Yours – Jason Mraz
I probably wouldn’t be writing articles about the ukulele if you hadn’t heard the song “I’m Yours.” The fact is, Jason Mraz took a simple ukulele line and married it to a tremendously catchy tune giving us this song that once it’s in your head just won’t go away. The cool thing for you budding uke players out there, is it is a really simple song to play, from the simple lead intro, to the shuffling strumming pattern.
This song uses chords known as the “oldies progression” because they are common to a lot of popular songs from the 50s. These chords are really the I, IV and V with a relative minor. For the newbies out there that means C, Am, F, and G. Jason also throws in a D for the turnaround section to build a bit more tension. Give yourself a few hours of practice, and you’ll have this song in the bag. The cool thing about this song is that all your friends can join in on the chorus at the end.
7. Hey Soul Sister – Train
Well, after Jason and Colbie hit the charts, 90s wonder band Train came back with a Jason Mraz sounding groove entitled “Hey Soul Sister” which is very similar in structure to “I’m Yours.” Now I’m not saying Train copied Jason Mraz. Well, maybe I am. I think the legal term is “heavily influenced by…”
If you check out the chord structure, “Hey Soul Sister” is basically the same song as “I’m Yours,” but with different lyrics and a different pattern to the chorus. But essentially, if you can learn “I’m Yours,” and transpose it to the key of G, you’ll have it. In G, the chord progression will be G, Em, C, and D.
6. Upside Down – Jack Johnson
Okay, one of my all time favorite songs to play is “Upside Down” by Jack Johnson from the movie Curious George. “Upside Down” only has 5 chords (E, F#m, A, B, and G#m), and the lead lick is very simple to play.
I personally like to play this song in the key of G (G, Am, C, D, and Bm). Again, like Colbie, feel free to segue some of Jack’s songs together for a good medley!
5. Tonight You Belong to Me – Prudence and Patience
At some point in your ukulele career you are going to be asked to play this song, made popular by Steve Martin’s rendition in the movie The Jerk. This is a fun little song, originally done by a girl band called Prudence and Patience. If you have a coronet player to play with you, it’s even more fun! Pretty simple too, using the chords A, D, G, and E with a Dm and an Eb thrown in for good measure. Have fun with it, and afterwards, don’t forget to quote some of your favorite lines from The Jerk with your friends.
4. Tears In Heaven – Eric Clapton
A song that you probably don’t expect to see on this list, but which came to me after considering how close the sound of the ukulele sounds to the classical guitar, is “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton. This beautiful song, which was written after he tragically lost his son Conner, is one that has brought tears and healing to countless people after their own losses. It is definitely a great song to have in your bag of tricks.
It is not a very difficult song to play, but the bridge might throw you if you’re not careful. The main chords in the song are A, E, F#m, and D with a C#m thrown in. But in the bridge Clapton goes into the key of G for a minute, throwing in the G and C as well.
Yes, I know it sounds like a bit of a challenge, but if you can pull it off, it will be worth it, and people everywhere will love you for it!
3. Mele Kalikimaka – Robert Alex Anderson
When you play the ukulele, you will not always be playing around the campfire or on the beach. Sometime you will be asked to play some holiday music, and “Mele Kalikimaka” is one you should have in your songbook. “Mele Kalikimaka” was popularized by Bing Crosby, but unlike most crooner songs, this one is pretty simple to play. G, D7, E, C, A7, and Am should get you through most of the song. It’s immediately recognizable, and if you can croon a bit, you’ll be so much the better!
2. Riptide – Vance Joy
I found this little gem on YouTube one day. The original song sounds to me like someone playing a classical guitar with a capo. However, this young lady does a killer rendition on the ukulele. This song only has an Am, G, and C chords, so even the most brand new uke players should be able to handle this one.
1. I Make My Own Sunshine – Alyssa Bonagura
The final song I want to include in this list of essential ukulele songs for beginners is one of my favorite good time songs “I Make My Own Sunshine” by Alyssa Bonagura. This song was used on a Lowe’s commercial, features ukulele and is infectiously catchy! The chords are simple G, D, Em, and C. I think Alyssa tunes down a half step in the original song, but you’ll be fine with these chords! (Have you noticed the oldies progression keeps cropping up again and again on this list? You must be observant!)
Well that’s it. My top 10 list of essential ukulele songs every beginner should learn. I hope this helps and challenges you to become a much better ukulele player! Rock on!
Learn even more ukulele songs, chords, and techniques by studying with a private music teacher. Find your ukulele teacher now!
Willy M. teaches guitar, ukulele, and mandolin lessons in Winston, NC. He is the author of the Dead Man’s Tuning series of mandolin songbooks, and is a former member of the American Federation of Musicians. Willy has been teaching for 20 years, and his students have ranged in age from young children to folks in their 80’s. Learn more about Willy here!
Photo by Khoi Tran