There are many easy ukulele chords that could be considered essential for beginners but I will try to limit my choice to only seven. In my opinion, it’s best to start with these seven chords based on the following criteria: the technical difficulties or skills required to play them, the usefulness of the chords, their harmonic properties, and the aesthetic value of the chords.
Other music instructors or students might have chosen otherwise. Maybe based on the importance of the diatonic C Major scale (C,D,E,F,G,A,B), they choose those chords as the seven most essential notes for the construction of major, minor, or other chords for the ukulele. I find the four aspects I mentioned above to be the cornerstones to achieve a faster musical result, especially when I am working with beginners.
As a beginner, when you think about learning ukulele chords, ask yourself the following questions:
- How difficult, or better, how challenging are these chords for me?
- Are these chords that I am learning really useful to me?
- After learning these basic chords will I be able to play songs on the ukulele while singing along?
- After mastering them, can I really say that I’m having fun and delighting myself and others?
I believe that for the seven chords I have chosen, the answer to all of these questions is yes! If you take some time and look closely at each of these seven chords I have selected you’ll notice the following:
1) The technical difficulties or skills
All seven chords are very easy; you only use one, two, or three fingers of the left hand to shape them. Also, there are no barre chords which are the most challenging chords for beginners.
2) The usefulness of the chords
All of these ukulele chords are very useful because they represent at least 4 different keys you can play in. You could even play songs which contain a modulation (this means changing from one key to another like: from the key of C major to the key of G major and back). The 4 different keys are:
- The key of C major
- The key of G major
- The key of F major
- The key of G minor
3) The harmonic value of the chords
All seven chords are harmonically related one to another which makes them very useful for accompanying songs. The chords that are harmonically related are:
- The C major chord with the G7 (dominant 7th chord) and the F chord, (Sub-dominant chord)
- The G major chord with the D7 (dominant 7th chord) and the C (Sub-dominant chord)
- The C major chord with the C7 chord used as a bridge to reach the F major chord
- The G major chord with the G7 used as a “bridge” to reach the C major chord
- The F major chord with the C7 (dominant 7th chord)
- The G minor chord with the D7 (dominant 7th chord)
There are songs you could play using only one chord, for example the C major chord which is built on the tonic (first degree or step of a scale). Other songs use two chords and others three or more depending on the chord progression of each song. (A chord progression is a succession of related chords in a song) For example the harmony of “Frere Jacques” is built on one chord, “Clementine” on two chords, “Tom Dooley” on three and “Oh, When the Saints Go Marching In” is built on a four chord progression.
4) The aesthetic value of the chord
You will notice that 3 of the keys I have mentioned are major keys and one is a minor key. On purpose, I wanted to establish the importance of the modes (major & minor keys) for aesthetic reasons. While the major key evokes emotions which we understand as uplifted and happy feelings, the minor key will give the contrary; an unhappy, melancholic, “blue” feeling or impression. With a minor key under your belt, you can also play songs that are less joyful but still beautiful to your ears.
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Raymond L. teaches guitar, classical guitar, musical theory, ukulele, and Spanish in Jacksonville, FL. Raymond has been teaching for over 30 years and he specializes in pop, blues, modern, Latin, classical and popular music. Learn more about Raymond.