Are you ready to learn some tunes using basic ukulele chords? The great news is, learning just a few ukulele chords means you can learn hundreds of songs on uke. Once you have your uke in hand, you’ll be cranking out tunes in no time. All you need to do is learn the basics, and get a few easy ukulele chords under your fingers.
What Basic Ukulele Chords Should I Learn?
To play the most songs, the most important basic ukulele chords to learn are C, D, G, and Em. These set you up to play a ton of songs, and each of them is easy to learn. Once you familiarize yourself with these chord diagrams, you can play any one of the easy ukulele songs here, including hits from Bob Dylan, Adele, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Taylor Swift, and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Here’s what those chords look like when written in a chord chart:
To play the songs in this blog post, all you’ll need to do is learn the fingerings of four chords and get comfortable transitioning between them.
How Do I Start Playing Uke?
Holding Your Ukulele
First, it’s time to pick up your instrument. Holding your ukulele, look for the headstock, neck, and body of your instrument. Were you able to identify each of these pieces? The headstock has 4 tuners on it. 2 on the left and 2 on the right. The neck has 4 strings and the fretboard. The body of your instrument has the soundhole, bridge, and saddle.
The Right Hand
To hold your ukulele, in the perfect position, use your right hand to hold your ukulele where the neck meets the body. Using your right hand, bring your instrument to your chest. The back of the body of your ukulele should be held against your chest. You will notice the neck of your instrument is pointing to approximately 2pm. You should be able to support your ukulele with your right hand while you adjust the neck positioning. The neck should point towards the left side of your body. The saddle and bridge should be on the far right.
The Left Hand
Using your left hand to make a pac-man shape. Bring the pac-man shape up to the neck of your instrument close to your headstock. Notice where your thumb and fingers are. Notice what position your wrist is in. Your wrist should have a natural rotation. Your thumb should be inline with your one finger. This is important to note. You will want to maintain this hand posture as you begin to move through various chord fingerings.
Now that you have your ukulele held in the proper position, let’s take a look at the names of strings. With the neck of your ukulele on the left side of your body, look down. You should see 4 strings. The string closest to the top is called “string 4.” This string is also known as the G-string. The fourth string is tuned to G.
The next string down is “string 3.” The third string is known as the C-String. This string is tuned to C.
The next string down is “string 2.” The second string is known as the E-String. The second string is tuned to E.
The bottom string is called “string 1.” This string is known as the A-string. The one string is tuned to A.
It is important to note that when looking down at your strings, while in proper position, the number of the strings is in reverse order. String 4 is on top, string 1 is on the bottom. This will be helpful for you to know when you start reading tabs.
Now that you know the names of each string, it is time to tune your ukulele. We will tune the ukulele starting at string 4. This is the G-string. You will need a tuner. Your ukulele may have a tuner built in. If not you can use a tuner that attaches to the headstock. Another option is to use a tuner app on your smartphone. Holding the ukulele in the correct position, use your thumb of the right hand and strum down on the 4th string. Check your tuner. If the note you played is higher or lower than G you will need to adjust the tuner head attached to the G-string.
To find the tuner head for the G-string, put your finger on the G-string. Follow the G-string to the top of the headstock. You will see what tuner the string wraps around. This is the tuner you will turn to adjust the length of your string. Once you’ve successfully tuned your 4th string to G it is time to repeat the process on the C-string.
Pluck your C-string with your thumb. Check your tuner to see if the note played is higher, lower, or directly on C. Adjust the correct tuner to get your C-string in tune. Continue the same process on the E-string and A-string.
If your instrument is new, played often, or has old strings you may need to adjust your tuning more often. You should check your tuning before you play. After time you may be able to tune your ukulele by ear. This takes some practice but is great for when you don’t have a tuner handy.
How to Play 10 Easy Ukulele Songs with 4 Chords
Some of the greatest compositions of all time have just three or four chords, but don’t let their simplicity fool you! We picked these 10 easy ukulele songs, so that you can experience the joy of playing the uke as quickly as possible. You can use these tunes as a launching pad to motivate you to practice and take your musical journey to new heights. Or, you can just sit back and enjoy just how far four ukulele chords can take you!
Learn the Chord Shapes and a Simple Down-Strum Pattern
Finger each chord carefully, making sure you’re sounding all of the notes clearly. To make sure of this, try playing each string individually and adjust your fingers as needed if you hear muted or muddy notes. Before you attempt to play any of these songs, first practice each chord with a down strum, using your right-hand thumb.
These easy ukulele 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 down strums 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.
Though learning a single chord is easy enough, recalling different chord shapes and seamlessly switching between them takes some practice. Don’t worry if you find it frustrating to switch between different chords at first. Over time, you will build up your muscle memory and you won’t even need to think about where your fingers need to go.
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
This pattern is fairly 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 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: ∨.
Looking for help transitioning between chords? Check out this helpful tutorial:
Now, Pick an Easy Ukulele Song!
Once you’re relatively comfortable moving from chord to chord, you’re ready to try playing one of the uke songs listed below. Remember to take it slow at first, and gradually increase the tempo as you get more comfortable. Don’t expect to play along with the recording right away!
In the beginning, it’s ideal to start with a song that you’re already familiar with. This will help you get the chord changes right and will allow you to sing or hum the melody as you play. You can then move on to more novel and challenging tunes!
1. “Blowin’ In The Wind” – Bob Dylan
Blowin’ In The Wind is in 4/4 time. This means you’ll count: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. Four beats in each measure. The bpm 87
For the verse: G gets 2 beats. C gets 2 beats. G gets 4 beats. G gets 2 beats. C gets 2 beats. D gets 4 beats. Repeat. For the refrain: Every chord gets 2 beats, except the last G chord. The last G-Chord gets 4 beats.
- Verses: G, C, G, G, C, D, G, C, G, G, C, D
- “The answer my friend” refrains: C, D, G, Em, C, D, G
2. “Brown Eyed Girl” – Van Morrison
Brown Eyed Girl is in 4/4 time. This means you’ll count: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. Four beats in each measure. The bpm is 150
For the verse: The pattern is G-C-G-D. Each chord gets 4 beats. This repeats 4 times, followed by C-D-G-Em-C-D-G each for 4 beats each. Then, play a D-chord and sustain the chord. For the refrain: Play the D-chord for 8 beats. Then play G-C-G-D-G-C-G-D each chord for 4 beats. This song is played verse, verse, refrain, verse, refrain
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 used 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
3. “22” – Taylor Swift
“22” is in 4/4 time. This means you’ll count: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. Four beats in each measure. The bpm is 103
The verse of “22” is pretty simple. The pattern is G-D-C-D each chord gets 2 beats.
The chorus is a little tricky. G-D-C-C-D-C-D-D each chord gets 2 beats. This repeats twice, then it’s back to the pattern of the verse.
- G, D, C, D
4. “I Won’t Back Down” – Tom Petty
“I Won’t Back Down” is in 4/4 time. This means you’ll count: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. Four beats in each measure. The bpm is 115
The verse of “I Won’t Back Down” is pretty simple. The pattern is listed below. The Em and D chord each get 2 beats. The G and C chord each get 4 beats.
The chorus is fun, but kinda tricky at first. Play a quick C-G-C as the chorus begins. Next play G-D and then G-C. Each of these chord changes is half of a beat. This means the C-G-C is a total of one and a half beats. You may have to listen a few times to hear timing correctly.
- 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
5. “Someone Like You” – Adele
“Someone Like You” is in 4/4 time. This means you’ll count: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. Four beats in each measure. The bpm is 68
The verse is pretty simple. The pattern is G-G-Em-C Each chord gets 4 beats. It is helpful to count each beat as 1e&a, 2e&a, etc… If you’d like to practice your finger picking, this is a great song to practice with. The fingerpicking pattern is 4,3,2,1. The pre-chorus is D-Em-C-C Each chord gets 2 beats.
- Verses, Choruses and Bridge: G, D, Em, C
- Pre-chorus: D, Em, C, D, Em, C
6. “Your Mama Don’t Dance” – Loggins & Messina
“Your Mama Don’t Dance” is in 4/4 time. This means you’ll count: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. Four beats in each measure. The bpm is 142
The verse has the following pattern:
Each chord of the verse gets 4 beats. The chorus has the same pattern as the verse. The bridge is a little different.
The pattern for the bridge is:
Each chord of the bridge gets 4 beats. This song is formatted as chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus.
- Verses: G, C, G, C, G, D, C, G
- Bridge: C, C, C, C, D, C, G
7. “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” – Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Have You Ever Seen the Rain” is in 4/4 time. This means you’ll count: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. Four beats in each measure. The bpm is 117.
The verses are: G-G-D-G each chord gets 8 beats. The chorus is: C-D-G-Em This repeats twice. Each chord gets 4 beats. Followed by: C-D-G-G Each chord gets 4 beats. The format of this song is verse, chorus, verse, chorus, chorus.
- 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
8. “Bring It On Home” – classic blues song recorded by countless artists
“Bring It On Home” is in 4/4 time. This means you’ll count: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. Four beats in each measure. The bpm is 112 based on the Sonny Boy Williamson II rendition.
The verse and chorus of this song are the same format. Once you have the format memorized, this is a great song to practice soloing on.
- G, D, G, C, G, D, G, C, G, D
9. “This Magic Moment” – Jay And The Americans, Lou Reed, etc.
“This Magic Moment” is in 4/4 time. This means you’ll count: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. Four beats in each measure. The bpm is 139. This is based on The Drifters version of the song.
The verse of the song is G-E-C-D. Each chord gets 8 beats. The chorus is Em-C-G-D. Each chord gets 8 beats. This song can also be counted in half time using a bpm of 70
- Verses: G, Em, C, D
- Pre-chorus: Em, C, G, D
- Choruses: G, Em, C, G, Em, G, Em
10. “Tougher Than The Rest” – Bruce Springsteen
“Tougher Than the Rest” is in 4/4 time. This means you’ll count: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. Four beats in each measure. The bpm is 99.
The chord progression for the verses and bridge is listed below. This song is a little different from the rest of the songs on this list. The rhythm pattern for each chord is different. Meaning each chord is held for a different number of beats. You will have to listen to the words of the song and listen to when the chord changes along with each word. “Tougher Than the Rest” is not a difficult song, but it will require you to listen. Using a chord chart like one found on Ultimate Guitar would be very helpful.
Verses: G, C, D, C, G, D (for verses)
- Bridge: Em, C, G, C, D, G, Em, C, G, C, G, D, G
Looking for more uke tunes? Here are 10 more easy ukulele practice songs for beginners.
Remember, listen to these songs as you’re learning and play along so you can hear where the chord changes happen. You can also look them up on a site like Ultimate Guitar, which shows where the chord changes occur relative to the lyrics of the song.
Why Learn to Play the Ukulele?
The ukulele is a beginner-friendly instrument that you’re never too young or old to try out. From the first time you pick up the uke, you’ll be amazed at just how accessible this instrument is. With just a few easy ukulele chords, you can play a variety of tunes that sound great and are fun to sing along with.
A few extra bonuses – the ukulele is affordable, portable, and has a warm, uplifting tone. If you think the ukulele is only fit for breezy tropical tunes, think again. You can use a uke for virtually any song, especially those originally written for the guitar. You’ll find that our list covers everything from folk favorites to pop anthems, and that’s just a small taste of what’s possible with this instrument.
If you don’t already own a uke, you can start by choosing from the three most common ukulele sizes for your first instrument: the soprano, concert, or tenor. They all use the same tuning, but the main difference is in body size (tenor is the largest). You should be able to purchase a starter uke for between $50 and $100.
Need some extra help mastering these ukulele chords and songs? Nothing beats working with a teacher one-on-one. Your uke teacher will give you a fun and engaging pathway to uke proficiency, so you can get a big sound out of this little instrument.
By taking online or in-person lessons with an experienced ukulele teacher, your skills will noticeably improve in a short period of time. With every lesson, you’ll be one step closer to achieving your musical goals. Search for a 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