One of the best things about the ukulele is that it’s easy to play a great sounding song in no time. In fact, beginning uke players can learn a song or two in their very first lesson! There are plenty of good songs to learn on ukulele for beginners and seasoned strummers alike. Enjoy this list of 10 classic ukulele songs from expert instructor, Willy M.
10 Easy Songs to Learn on Ukulele
With just a few chords, you can have a world of different songs at your fingertips. Think of your favorite songs as the key to learning new strumming patterns and getting the basics down. To help you out on your budding career as a ukulele player, here are the top 10 essential easy uke songs to play. Keep scrolling for videos of each.
- I Make My Own Sunshine – Alyssa Bonagura
- Riptide – Vance Joy
- Mele Kalikimaka – Robert Alex Anderson
- Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton
- Upside Down – Jack Johnson
- Tonight You Belong to Me – Prudence and Patience
- Hey Soul Sister – Train
- I’m Yours – Jason Mraz
- I Do / Falling For You – Colbie Caillat
- Somewhere Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World – Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
10. Somewhere over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World – Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
In 1993, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole brought us his interpretation of two classic ukulele songs that have been inscribed into the American consciousness for decades: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and the Louis Armstrong classic “What a Wonderful World.”
This track was featured on Iz’s album Facing Future, and has since gone on to be a staple in many movies. It was featured in Meet Joe Black, Finding Forester, 50 First Dates, Son of the Mask, and several others. Fun fact: the album Facing Future holds the record for the bestselling album by a Hawaiian national to date.
There are eight chords in this 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 chose this song as #10 since it will probably require the most work, but it will definitely be appreciated by your audience.
9. I Do / Falling For You – Colbie Caillat
Next up on this list of easy songs to learn on ukulele is a combo of “I Do” and “Falling for You” by Colbie Caillat. Both Colbie Caillat and Jason Mraz were at the head of the modern ukulele movement. Caillat has many songs that are great for the ukulele. I recommend learning both of these songs and playing them as a medley.
“Falling for You” isn’t necessarily a ukulele song, but it works great with “I Do.” “Falling for You” is in the key of D using D, A, Em, and G. “I Do” is in the key of G and uses the chords G, 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 instant-classic ukulele song that won’t go away once it’s in your head. The budding uke players out there will appreciate how simple this song is to play, from the basic 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 just 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.
7. Hey Soul Sister – Train
After Jason and Colbie hit the charts, ’90s wonder band Train came back with a Jason Mraz-sounding groove entitled “Hey Soul Sister.” The song 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.”
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. Essentially, if you can learn “I’m Yours” and transpose it to the key of G, you’ll have this song down. In G, the chord progression will be G, Em, C, and D.
6. Upside Down – Jack Johnson
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). Like I suggested for Colbie’s songs, feel free to segue some of Jack’s songs together to create 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 playful, lighthearted tune was originally written in the 1920s, but made a comeback in the ‘50s and ‘60s with the sisterly vocal duo, Prudence and Patience.
If you have a coronet player to play with you, or a friend to harmonize vocals with, it’s even more beautiful! This is one of the most basic ukulele songs out there – using only the chords A, D, G, and E with a Dm and an Eb thrown in for good measure. Let the sparks fly with this sweet, romantic tune!
4. Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton
A song that you may not have expected to see on this list is “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton. This beautiful song, which was written after the tragic loss of Eric’s son Connor, 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 repertoire.
It’s not a very difficult song to play on the ukulele, but the bridge might take some extra attention. 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.
It might sound like a bit of a challenge, but it will be worth it to learn this meaningful tune.
3. Mele Kalikimaka – Robert Alex Anderson
When you play the ukulele, you won’t always be playing around a campfire or on the beach. Sometimes you may get a request to play holiday music, and “Mele Kalikimaka” is a classic ukulele song for the holidays.
“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 along, you’ll really wow your audience!
2. Riptide – Vance Joy
“Riptide” is the song that launched Vance Joy’s career worldwide, and even if you don’t recognize the name, you’ll know the song. After stumbling across this cover on YouTube, I was impressed by how great this tune sounds with the ukulele. Though the original song uses a classical guitar with a capo, this young lady does a killer rendition on the uke.
This is a good song to learn on ukulele, especially for beginners. That’s because you’ll only need three chords to get it down: Am, G, and C.
1. I Make My Own Sunshine – Alyssa Bonagura
The final song I want to include on this list of easy songs to learn on ukulele is one of my favorite good time songs: “I Make My Own Sunshine” by Alyssa Bonagura. This song heavily features the ukulele and is infectiously catchy! You can even perform the song with a ukulele solo, like this woman’s unique interpretation.
The uke chords are simple: G, D, Em, and C. Keep in mind that you may have to tune your uke a half-step down to match the original. Did you notice that the oldies progression keeps cropping up again and again on this list?
Well, there you have it: the top 10 easy songs to learn on ukulele. Remember that the more you build up your uke skills, the easier it will be to pick up new tunes. Though there are many resources for learning the ukulele online, nothing beats having a private ukulele lesson tailored to you. Search for a ukulele teacher today and you’ll be playing all of these songs in no time!
Author: 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