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How To Turn a Song With Guitar Chords To Ukulele Chords

Find out the secret ingredient needed to master this technique!

by Jennifer VanBenschoten
10 Of the Best Easy Guitar Songs for Beginners

Are you ready to learn some new songs on your ukulele? If you have a favorite song that you’ve always wanted to learn how to play on the ukulele, I’m going to show you how to turn a song with guitar chords to ukulele chords – and I promise, it’s easier than you might think!

Online Ukulele Courses

Even though I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I first picked up a ukulele five years ago, I quickly discovered that the ukulele is one of the most versatile instruments out there. You can play almost anything on the ukulele that you can play on a guitar! Especially when it comes to strumming chords, which is why so many people want to know how to turn a song with guitar chords to ukulele chords. 

Ukulele Tuning

Before we get started, let’s make sure that our ukuleles are tuned. Ukuleles are tuned much differently than guitars because of the re-entrant tuning. This is where you have a high G string (above middle C), and then the remaining three strings are tuned to middle C, E above middle C, and A above middle C. That A string is tuned one full step on the musical scale above the G string, which gives the ukulele it’s distinctive and cheerful sound. 

Some ukuleles are tuned with what is called linear tuning, similar to the way a guitar is tuned. That means that the fourth string (top string) is tuned to the G below middle C, and then the rest of the strings are tuned the same way as a re-entrant ukulele is tuned. This gives you a slightly broader range of notes that you can use when playing fingerstyle arrangements. Linear tuning simply means that the strings go in order from lowest tone (low G, fourth string) to highest (A, first string) when you tune your ukulele. 

Both of these types of tuning have their advantages, and there’s really no “right” way to tune your ukulele – it’s all a matter of preference, and what works better with the style of music you like to play! 

Read More: How to Chuck on the Ukulele

How To Turn a Song with Guitar Chords to Ukulele Chords

The first step in the process of how to turn a song with guitar chords to ukulele chords is to choose a song! For this article, I’ll be using Three Little Birds by Bob Marley, because it’s a favorite of mine and my family’s. In addition, it’s also a relatively easy song that you can play with just three chords, so it’s a perfect first song to get you started. 

Looking at the song Three Little Birds, we can see that the guitar chords are C major, G major, and F major. Now the great thing about this process is that you don’t even need to know anything about the guitar, or how it’s tuned, or how to play these chords on the guitar. You just need to know the chords!

So since we already know the chords to Three Little Birds, all we have to do is find those chords on a ukulele chord chart or another reference book like a ukulele chord finder. 

At this point, you might be wondering if you have to transpose the chords, since the guitar and the ukulele are both tuned in different keys. The ukulele is tuned to the key of C, and the guitar is tuned to the key of G. 

But here’s the secret: you don’t have to transpose anything! All you have to do is learn those chords from your chord chart or other ukulele chord reference, and you have everything you need to play Three Little Birds by Bob Marley on the ukulele!

The Secret of Turning a Song with Guitar Chords to Ukulele Chords

The secret here is… There is no secret! In order to turn a song with guitar chords to ukulele chords, all you have to do is find the chords to the song in the key that you want to play it, and then look them up on a chord chart. 

As long as you can find the chords for guitar for the song you want to learn, then you can use those same chords on the ukulele. 

Now, I talked a little earlier about transposing the song into a different key. This isn’t necessary as part of the process of turning a song with guitar chords to ukulele chords, unless you need it in a key that is easier for you to sing it. 

There are a couple of ways for you to transpose a song into a key that’s easier for your vocal range (or for the person you are accompanying):

  1. Use a capo. I know this isn’t a popular idea for a lot of ukulele players, but using a capo is an easy way to transpose a song into an easier key. When you use a capo, you clip it across the entire fret on the fretboard. Each fret that you go up raises the key one-half step on the musical scale. So if you wanted to transpose a song from C to D, you would put the capo on the third fret up from the nut of the ukulele. 
  2. Use different chords. True story: a few years ago, I was trying to learn a particular song on the ukulele that was in the key of B flat major. Being a beginner at the time, I struggled mightily to move quickly and seamlessly between the B flat major chord and the E major chord and a couple of others that I won’t name here but still haunt me in my dreams. 

Then I looked at the music and realized that if I simply raised the key by a half step from B flat to C, suddenly all my problems were solved! The B flat major chord became a C major chord! The E major chord became an F major chord! And it only took me a year to figure it out!

Seriously, though. Sometimes just playing different chords is a much easier solution than using a capo. If I had used a capo, I would still have to play the B flat major and E major chords – but because I was able to just use my music theory prowess, suddenly life got a whole lot easier when I went to play that song. And because I only raised it a half-step when I transposed the song, it was still very easy for me to sing while I played. It was a win-win situation!

So there you have it! In the wise words of Kung Fu Panda, “The secret ingredient is that there is no secret ingredient!” All you have to do to turn a song with guitar chords into ukulele chords is look up the same chords on your ukulele chord chart and strum away!

Are you ready to up your music theory game on the ukulele and learn some great new songs? Take a look at all the on-demand online ukulele courses available in the Terry Carter Music Store now! Each one is self-paced so you can take as long as you need, every step of the way, until you have mastered music theory. And you can chat with your fellow ukulele lovers and students in our online forum and get your questions answered! Everything you need right at your fingertips!

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Vicky June 2, 2024 - 10:27 pm

Very interesting. Thanks!

Barry Smith June 16, 2024 - 7:10 pm

If you want to go from C to D using a capo wouldn’t you put the capo on the 2nd fret?


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