Playing the ukulele can be tons of fun, even if you’re a total beginner! Music teacher Jeff S. shares an easy way to learn ten songs on the ukulele today…
What You Need to Start
A ukulele is a newbie-friendly, nothin’-but-fun, cool little instrument that you’re never too young or old to learn. The added bonus? They’re really portable and easy to afford, too.
If you don’t already have a uke, I’d suggest choosing among the three most common ukulele sizes as your first instrument: soprano, concert, or tenor. They all use the same tuning; so the main difference between them is body size (tenor is the largest). You should be able to purchase a starter uke for between $50 and $100. I’d advise avoiding ukes under $50, as they often pose tuning challenges and don’t have a good sound quality.
Tune Up and Learn 4 Chords on the Uke
Standard uke tuning is G-C-E-A, which lends itself nicely to the key of G. So, I’ve chosen G for the ten songs here. All you’ll need to do is learn the fingerings for four chords and get comfortable transitioning. The four basic ukulele chords are: G major, C major, D major and E minor (Em). Once you familiarize yourself with them, you can play any one of the tunes here, including hits from Bob Dylan, Adele, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Taylor Swift, and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Learn the Chord Shapes and a Simple Down-Strum Pattern and You’re on Your Way!
Below you’ll find chord diagrams for these chords. Finger them carefully, making sure you’re sounding all the notes clearly. Adjust your fingers as needed if you hear muted or muddy notes or chords. Before you attempt to play any of these songs, first practice each chord with a down strum, using your right hand thumb.
These songs are all in the time signature known as 4/4, meaning there are four beats in every measure, and each one of those beats is a quarter note. So, to prepare for learning these songs, play each chord four times. Start with the G chord, playing several measures of four consecutive downstrums at a slow tempo. Then move on to the C chord, then back to the G chord and then the D chord. Try tapping your foot as you play the chords, strumming each chord for four counts.
Optional Rhythmic Strumming Pattern
Once you have that simple down strum and foot-tapping working, you can try this more interesting strumming pattern consisting of:
Down, Down-Up-Down, Down-Up-Down, Down-Up-Down, Down-Up-Down, Down-Up-Down, Down-Up.
The pattern will work better for some of these songs than others. It’s actually pretty easy, though it might look harder than it is. Just break it down to an independent down strum to start off with, followed by 5 groups of Down-Up-Down, ending with a Down-Up. You can either use your thumb or a felt pick. Please note: the down stroke (down strum) symbol most commonly used is: Π and the up stroke (up strum) symbol most commonly used is: ∨
Now Play a Song!
Once you’re comfortable moving from chord to chord, you’re ready to try playing one or more of the songs here. The order of the chords in these easy ukulele songs are as follows:
“Blowin’ In The Wind” – Bob Dylan
Verses: G, C, G, G, C, D, G, C, G, G, C, D and
“The answer my friend” refrains: C, D, G, Em, C, D, G
“Brown Eyed Girl” – Van Morrison
Verses: G, C, G, D, G, C, G, D, G, C, G, D, G, C, G, D, C, D, G, Em, C, D, G
“Do you remember when we just to sing: ”sha-la-la-la-la-la-la” refrains: D, G, C, G, D, G, C, G, D, C, D, G, Em, C, D, G
“22” – Taylor Swift
G, D, C, D
“I Won’t Back Down” – Tom Petty
Verses: Em, D, G, Em, D, G, Em D, C, Em, D, G
Choruses: C, D, C, D, C, D, Em,, D, G, Em, D, G
“Someone Like You” – Adele
Verses, Choruses and Bridge: G, D, Em, C
Pre-chorus: D, C, D, C, D
“Your Mama Don’t Dance” – Loggins & Messina
Verses: G, C, G, C, G, D, C, G
Bridge: C, C, C, C, D, C, G
“Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Verses: G to D (for verses),
Choruses: C, D, G, Em, D C, D, G, Em, D——C, D, G, Em, D—–C, D, G
“Bring It On Home” – classic blues song recorded by countless artists
G, D, G, C, G, D, G, C, G, D
“This Magic Moment” – Jay And The Americans, Lou Reed, etc.
Verses: G, Em, C, D
Pre-chorus: Em, C, G, D
Choruses: G, Em, C, G, Em, G, Em
“Tougher Than The Rest” – Bruce Springsteen
Verses: G, C, D, C, G, D (for verses),
Bridge: Em, C, G, C, D, G, Em, C, G, C, G, D, G
G chord C chord D chord Em chord
It also helps to listen to the songs and play along so you can hear where the chord changes happen, or look them up on a site like Ultimate Guitar which shows where the chord changes occur relative to the lyrics of the song.
Looking for more songs to play? Here is an ultimate list of songs broken down by category and experience level.
Unlock the secrets of the ukulele by taking lessons with a private music teacher. Ukulele teachers are available to work with you online via Skype or in-person depending on locations and availability. Search for your ukulele teacher today!
Jeff S. teaches ukulele and guitar lessons in Perth Amboy, NJ. He is both a songwriter and performer, and has taught music business and songwriting at various universities and music schools. Learn more about Jeff S here!
Photo by Victor Engmark