Looking for some authentic Hawaiian ukulele songs? We’ve compiled a list of eleven awesome Hawaiian songs that everyone will enjoy. Whether you want to play these songs or just listen, each of them are popular hits with strong connections to the beautiful state of Hawaii.
We’ve included each song’s history, tips on how to play them, and videos of each song. We hope you enjoy listening and reading about the stories of these beautiful Hawaiian songs – in the spirit of Hawaii, “Aloha!”
How Do You Play Hawaiian Songs on Ukulele?
As a uniquely Hawaiian instrument (though it has roots in the Portuguese braguinha ou machete de braga), the ukulele is perfect for playing classic Hawaiian songs. It’s often said to be easier to play than the guitar and other stringed instruments, such as the mandolin (partially because the soft nylon strings are much easier on your fingertips).
To learn how to play Hawaiian songs on the ukulele, you will want to start by trying some of the following techniques:
- Take ukulele lessons online or in-person
- Use online chord charts and try free video tutorials
- Slow down – go at your own pace while practicing in your own home
- Start with simple songs and then progress to more challenging ones
- Practice as often as possible!
Still not sure where to start? Before you start trying to learn Hawaiian ukulele songs, consider mastering the basics. This video is a great place to start:
7 Hawaiian Songs Featuring the Ukulele
Are you looking for some classic Hawaiian ukulele songs to learn? These are some traditional Hawaiian songs you need to master!
1. “Blue Hawaii” – Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger
Elvis Presley loved Hawaiian songs and recorded many of them for his 1961 film, Blue Hawaii. However, this song actually dates back to 1937.
The song is a bit difficult to play on the ukulele because it uses chords from G# major. However, one helpful trick to playing this song the “easy way” is simply to take off all the sharps from the chords. Voila! You will now have a beautiful Hawaiian song with just four simple chords.
2. “Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” – Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
This song is a classic and a staple in any ukulele players’ repertoire. It’s a two-song medley that Hawaiian native, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, made famous. This particular version is so popular that it’s licensed 111 times in movies, TV dramas, commercials, and even websites.
The song utilizes many chords but they are all simple and, with some practice, easy for a novice ukulele player to pick up.
3. “Aloha Oe” – Queen Liliuokalani
Stepping away from the Hollywood influence, lets look at some lesser known, but very traditional Hawaiian songs. This song dates back to 1878 and is by the Queen of Hawaii at the time. Many call it Hawaii’s most famous composition.
The song has a beautiful story. The Queen composed it after witnessing a lingering embrace between a woman and man at the Edwin Boyd Ranch in Maunawili. The Queen herself said, “It’s a poem about love and passion, man and woman. It’s much, much more than just goodbye.”
The song is very simple to play on the ukulele using only three chords.
SEE ALSO: 10 Easy Ukulele Songs for Beginners
4. “Hiilawe” – Gabby Pahinui
This song is an ancient hula standard about a love affair at a Big Island waterfall. The composer and date are unknown however the artist Gabby Pahinui transformed it into an anthem for slack guitar players.
Pahinui is known as a “folk hero” of the Hawaiian Renaissance. This is another easy song to play for any ukulele enthusiast!
5. “Hawaii ’78” – Mickey Ioane
This is one of our favorite Hawaiian songs. It’s a melancholy song that dates back to 1978.
This song was written in response to Hawaiian demonstrators clashing with the National Guard at Hilo Airport over land issues and resort development, which was crowding the island’s oceanfronts. The song is a slow song and uses only four repeating ukulele chords.
6. “Waimanalo Blues” – Liko Martin and Thor Wold
This is a fun tune from back in 1974. Its original name was “Nanakuli Blues.” It later became a political protest about the developments taking place all around Hawaii. The song is a simple form which uses a nice flat-7 chord in the turnaround.
7. “Palehua” – Amy Hanaialii Giliom and William Kahailii
This last song is a beautiful piece written in 1998. The song was inspired, composed, and recorded in Palehua. It is an easy song to play on the ukulele using mainly just two chords.
5 More Easy Hawaiian Ukulele Songs
Here are some more easy Hawaiian songs for beginners to learn. Before you dive in, you may want to consider checking out this “Hawaiian songs on ukulele” tutorial first.
Again, once you’ve mastered the basics of playing the ukulele, you can move on to the following popular Hawaiian ukulele songs.
1. Ku’u Home O Kahalu’u” – Olomana
Another Hawaiian classic, this Hawaiian ukulele song is also easy for beginners to master. The hook to the song is written in Hawaiian but the rest is in English.
It has a tab in the simple arrangement of C, though there are other, more challenging versions and arrangements you can try, too.
2. “Hi’ilawe” – Sam Li’a
This Hawaiian ukulele song has popular, easy-to-master chords like Bb, C7, and F.
It’s a signature Hawaiian tune that talks about love and drama in the Waipio valley. An essential song for Hula dancers, it has a whopping 13 verses in its original version (though most singers will shorten it to six or seven when they perform it now).
3. “Mele Kalikimaka” – Bing Crosby
A Hawaiian Christmas song, “Mele Kalikimaka” has 14 chords, which might seem too challenging. It follows the same structure throughout the entire song but modulates a few times. It can be difficult for a beginner but with practice, you’ll be able to master it.
4. “Maori Brown Eyes” – Palolo
Again, this Hawaiian ukulele song can be a bit tricky for beginners since it has several chords included (such as C#, D, Dm, Em, G, C, Am, and A).
If you’re fond of more bluesy-style songs, then this one is the song to master. It has blues licks that you’ll enjoy playing on the ukulele!
5. “E Ku’u Morning Dew” – Eddie Kamae
Last but not least is this simple Hawaiian song that has a repeating ii-V-I style progression. It’s somewhat jazzy – which makes sense, given that this chord progression is common in jazz tunes.
This is a great piece for casual jamming and can feature some modulation, too, depending on the version. You can start playing it as a beginner, and as you gain more experience, you can add in more challenging elements.
The Best Tips for Learning Traditional Hawaiian Songs on Ukulele
If you’re trying to master easy Hawaiian ukulele songs, starting with common Hawaiian songs’ ukulele chords is a good idea.
You’re most likely to encounter Hawaiian songs ukulele chords such as F, C, and G, which tend to be the most common ukulele chords in other styles of music, too. Once you get the hang of these chords, you shouldn’t have too hard of a time mastering your favorite Hawaiian songs.
Of course, practicing as often as possible is the great way to sound wonderful while playing this island instrument. Whether you decide to take lessons with a trained instructor or just want to teach yourself, repetition is the key to mastering these easy Hawaiian songs to play on the ukulele!
All the information about these songs was taken from the article “50 Greatest Songs of Hawaii” written by Ronna Bolante and Michael Keany.
Post Author: Christopher S. teaches bass guitar, guitar, and composition in Jamaica Plain, MA. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Humboldt State University. Christopher has been teaching students since 2004. Learn more about Christopher S. here!
Photo by Oliver Degabriele