How to Read Ukulele Chords

ukulele blog image

You really, really want to learn how to play songs on the ukulele. Trust us – you’ll get there! In fact, you might already know some chords and some songs.

Whether you’re just starting out or if you’ve got a bit of experience already, learning ho to read ukulele chords is a natural next step. It’s super simple and once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll be well on your way to the next level!

What Do Ukulele Chord Diagrams Represent?

major chords
major chords

If you have a ukulele nearby, go ahead and pick it up. Hold it in front of you with the headstock at the top, and the fretboard and strings facing you.

Ukulele chord diagrams are literal representations of your ukulele! The rectangle represents the fretboard, and the vertical lines represent the strings as you see them from left to right: G, C, E, and A.

The horizontal lines are the ukulele’s frets.

Basic chords – the ones that you play at the top of the fretboard – have no numbers beside them. This means that the first horizontal line you see represents the bottom of the headstock and the second horizontal line represents the first fret, which is the fret that’s closest to the headstock.

Chords that you play further along the fretboard will have a number to the right, next to the top fret line, or they might have a number and the letters “fr”. If you see a 5 or 5fr, for example, this means you’re playing a chord that begins at the 5th fret.

When reading most chord diagrams, the number is located to the right of the second horizontal line. This means that the horizontal line at the top represents the fret above the numbered one; in our example with the 5th fret numbered, the one above it would be the 4th fret.

How to Read Ukulele Chord Diagrams

minor 7th chords
minor 7th chords

Now that you know how to map out chord diagrams in relation to your ukulele, it’s time for the next step.

Ukulele chord diagrams have dots located on the vertical lines that represent your instrument’s strings. These dots show you where to put your fingers. For example, a G chord has dots on the C, E, and A strings.

  • See the dot on the C string? It’s located at the second fret.
  • The dot on the E string is located at the third fret.
  • Look at the dot on the A string. It’s located at the second fret.

Reading Ukulele Chords: What do the O’s Mean?

sus add chords
sus add chords

You might see a small open circle located at the top of the string lines that aren’t marked with a dot. The open circle means that you should play the string when strumming or fingerpicking that chord, but that the string should be left “open” – no finger holding it down. Think of that little circle as an “O” for “open” and you’ll always remember what it means.

Look at the G chord again, and you’ll see that little “open” circle at the top of the chord diagram.

When you’re reading ukulele chords, you might see more than one “O” at the top. Take a look at the F major 7 chord. It has dots on the G and C strings, and “O” over the E and A strings. It’s marked as 5fr, meaning you start at the 5th fret.

How to Read Ukulele Chord Charts: What About those “X” Marks?

7th chords
7th chords

Some chords can only be played correctly when certain strings are muted. When reading a ukulele chord chart, you might see a small “X” located at the top of one of the vertical string lines. This means that you shouldn’t play that string at all.

The easiest way to do this is to rest your finger on the string, but without pressing it down onto the fretboard. The vibrations from your strum won’t activate the string, and you won’t have to worry about repositioning your whole hand.

That’s it!

The best, easiest way to learn how to read ukulele chords is to practice. Be sure to look at the chords often, and build your knowledge gradually. Check out our guide to the ten most important ukulele chords, where you’ll find all of the most common chords used in ukulele music, along with ukulele chord diagrams and quick videos in which Terry shows you exactly how to play each chord.

Have fun – and keep on learning!

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