If you’ve ever dreamed of being like Taylor Swift, today’s your lucky day! In this article, teacher Willy M. will show you how to play ukulele like Taylor Swift, and channel your inner rock star…
Taylor Swift has rapidly risen to stardom with catchy songs that are very simple in their structure. Her songs have a way of boring into the listener’s head and lodging in there for days on end. Today, we’re going to learn how to play ukulele using a few of Taylor Swift songs.
Whether you’re a ukulele beginner or a seasoned player, you’ll have fun playing these songs. So kick back, relax, grab your uke, and let’s learn to play these fun little numbers!
Taylor’s songs are not extremely difficult to play. In fact, the first song, “Mean”, is made up of only a couple chords. The song “Mean” does not have ukulele in the recording, but it translates quite nicely when I play it. Mean is in the key of D and the main chords are D, G, A, and Bm.
It opens with a duet between the banjo and the mandolin, but both instruments are sparse in their picking arrangement, emphasizing the “boom-chunk-chunk” country rhythm of the song. The rhythm is like a swung triplet, where the first beat is slightly emphasized more than the second two beats.
For beginner ukulele players, a triplet is when you have three beats where you should only have two. For instance, let’s say you have space for two eighth notes, but you cram three into that spot. So instead of “1 and,” you get “1 trip-let.”
I play this rhythm in “Mean” by striking the bottom strings of the ukulele slightly harder, and then playing a down strum and an up strum in quick succession on all four strings of the ukulele.
Bonus: Play It on Mandolin
What’s great about a song like “Mean” is that, if you get used to playing it on the ukulele, it’s relatively simple to transfer over to the mandolin tuned in Open D (a.k.a. Dead Man’s Tuning). The original mandolin tuning for the song is in Standard Mandolin, but the open tuning of Dead Man’s Tuning gives the mandolin more of a ukulele quality. Thus, by learning it on one instrument, it opens up doors to other similar instruments, which will make you a more well-rounded musician!
“Mean” also gives you a chance to practice some ukulele finger-picking patterns. One pattern that I find particularly useful for the intro is picking the second string, followed by the fourth, and then the third in that swung triplet pattern.
Another great Taylor Swift song for the ukulele is “Fearless.” If I’m not mistaken (according to what I can tell from the video), Taylor plays this song on a nylon-stringed guitar with a capo on the third fret. Luckily, the nylon strings of the ukulele work well for this song, too.
Again, this isn’t a song that’s structurally complex. The chords are D, A, Em, and G (these are great chords for the mandolin in Dead Man’s Tuning) – although, the third fret has a capo, making the chords sound like F, Bb, C, and Gm.
When I watch Taylor play “Fearless” in the video, she employs a straight 16th note rhythm on the guitar – it goes like this: 1 – e – & a, 2 – e – & a, 3 – e – & a, 4 – e – & a. She never seems to deviate from this rhythm for the duration of the verse.
When she gets to the chorus, I do notice that she slightly emphasizes the fourth beat when strumming. Check out the video below and you can see this rhythm in action. Other than the slight emphasis on the fourth beat, however, the rhythm of the chorus is exactly the same as the verse.
When I play “Fearless,” I like to tune the ukulele out of standard and play it in D4, A4, D4, and F#4 tuning. This puts the open strings as a D chord, the fifth fret as a G chord, and the seventh fret as an A chord. By holding down the 2nd string 2nd fret, you get a type of Bm chord which you can substitute for the Em in the song.
Or, you could tune the ukulele (depending on the type of uke you have) to F, C, F, A, and play it without a capo in the same manner. I found that when I tried this, my uke stayed in tune better when I tuned it to open D and put a capo on it, but you may have a better ukulele than I do!
Here’s another mandolin-driven song that’s in the key of G, but it still translates great to the ukulele. The rhythms have a lot of starts and stops, but the majority of it is easy to play. It’s more complex than the previous two songs, but regardless, anyone can play it.
I count the rhythm as 1 –e – & a, 2 – 3 – & a, 3 &, 4. Or, four 16th notes, four 16th notes, two eighth notes, and a quarter note. As a slight variation, that last quarter note could be an eighth note and a eighth rest. That distinctive rhythm repeats on both the verse and the chorus.
If you want to learn it on the ukulele, I would recommend trying it in standard ukulele tuning. If you want to switch over to the mandolin at some point and play it like the recording sounds, you can still keep your mandolin tuned like the other two songs. This is because open D tuning works great in the key of G.
In the video, I noticed that Taylor emphasizes her fourth strum like she does in “Fearless” – it seems to be her trademark strumming style.
When Taylor gets to the end of the chorus, she does a little flatpicking on the upper notes. You can mimic this on your ukulele by switching from the main strumming pattern to emphasize some of the notes of the chords.
Finally, when she gets to the bridge, she abandons the 16th rhythm for a staccato chop; 1 – 2 – 3 – 4, where all of the beats get equal emphasis.
So that’s it, uke players! I showed you three Taylor Swift songs that are fun to play on the ukulele. I want to remind you, if you’re having trouble with any of them, TakeLessons has a whole bunch of great teachers that can help you learn how to play ukulele.
Keep playing, and I will see you next time with some more info on how to be a better uke player!
Do you know any other Taylor Swift songs that would sound great on the ukulele? Comment below telling us which songs and why!
Photo by Larry Darling