Songbooks are a great way to expand your knowledge and repertoire on your instrument. They can also open you up to learning songs you may not have considered previously. If you’ve chosen the ‘ukulele, you may be overwhelmed with the options you have for songbooks, and have trouble finding a book that has the music you want to learn. In this article, you’ll see a few options listed to help you make your choice.
Free PDFs Online
There are plenty of free options online. A quick Google search will point you to PDFs put together by educators who wish to spread the love of ‘ukulele as far as they can. However, since these are often done by hobbyists and not a team of professionals, you may find many mistakes and confusing transcriptions. The free option may be better for someone with a little more skill on the ‘ukulele, who will be able to understand and reinterpret these pieces. However, don’t let me tell you what to do! If you find one you like, go ahead and use it.
Two books I’ve found are the ‘Ukulele Chord Melody Songbook by Spencer Gay and The Happy ‘Ukulele Songbook by Satya Colombo. Gay’s book was created as a personal challenge to learn jazz chords, so it has a strong jazz focus and can be challenging at times. Colombo’s was created to supplement the ‘ukulele workshops she leads, and includes a helpful tutorial section to help get you started. Both are free and intended for educational purposes. The links in the titles will take you to the downloads!
‘Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain
One of the best options I’ve found online as far as free songbooks go is the Nevermind the Valentine Songbook, assembled by the ‘Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. This book was put together by a team of professionals and is available for free! It contains “not miserable love songs,” such as “Higher and Higher,” “Misty,” and “Fools Rush In.” Some of the pieces are only chord diagrams lined up with the lyrics, and some are more detailed with chords and melody tablature.
This book is a beautiful hodge-podge of fonts and formats because they frequently upload music to their site ahead of performances and ask their fans to bring their ‘ukes and participate! This is a collection of these pieces, with each group member contributing. They do ask for donations if you can manage it, since they’re unable to perform and tour. You can find the PDF here.
Mike Lynch, better known as ‘Ukulele Mike, was a player who saw himself more as a teacher than a performer. He is known for his chord melody arrangements and tutorial videos. He passed away suddenly in 2018, but his family still maintains his legacy and continues to sell his songbooks through their online store. ‘Ukulele Mike’s Favorites for Beginners is an eBook that contains many arrangements for solo ‘ukulele, such as “Amazing Grace,” “Five Hundred Miles,” “Sloop John B,” and the eternal favorite “You Are My Sunshine.”
This collection is available through their online store (item sa-3), for $15.95. You can also buy music for individual songs, all of which are listed in their catalog. A collection of tutorial DVDs is also available. There are two freebies on their website as well, for “Smile” by Charlie Chaplin and “Edelweiss” by Rogers & Hammerstein. Both pieces show Mike’s skill and care with creating these chord melodies.
You may recognize this name from the rack of books available in any large music store (such as Sam Ash and especially Guitar Center). Hal Leonard has many music education books on multiple instruments, and the ‘ukulele is no different. The name recognition and long record of sales and results guarantees you’ll get what you pay for. Hal Leonard’s First 50 Songs You Should Play on ‘Ukulele is the best-selling ‘ukulele book on Amazon.com (as of writing this article), and is priced at $14.83 for a paperback copy. This book contains simple chords and melodies, but no chord melodies. It’s great for getting started learning chord changes and singing along! Click the preview image on the Amazon webpage for this book to take a look at the first pages (and table of contents) of this book. You’ll find it packed with popular and current songs.
If you’ve found a book and still need help deciphering it, reach out to one of our instructors here at TakeLessons. Songbooks are a great way to further your own self-education, but a teacher can help you understand things like rhythmic notation and technique. Take a crack at any one of these books, and you’ll come out a better and more knowledgeable player!