Aloha, ukulele lovers! Have you picked up your ukulele today? Are you ready to learn some new songs? To do so, you need to know at least the ukulele chords basics, and that’s why w’e’re here today! But first things first…
What Is a Chord?
A chord is any three or more notes played simultaneously on an instrument. Chords that are made up of three different notes are called triads, and are named after the root (usually the lowest) note. When we’re creating chords on our ukuleles, we’re starting with our root note, then adding the third and fifth notes of the root note’s scale.
That might sound confusing, but it’s pretty simple. Let’s look at the C major scale, the simplest scale in music theory, with no sharps or flats. The names of the notes in the C major scale are simply:
If we assign numbers to those notes, we get:
Using those numbers assigned to each of the notes, we can form a C major chord or triad by using the 1 3 and 5 notes – which are C, E, and G.
Now you may have noticed that your ukulele has four strings – no worries! We can still play a C major triad by simply playing the open G, E, and C strings and adding the C note (third fret) of the A string.
Chords can have different qualities, like major and minor and diminished, and can also include a fourth note like the 7th note in the that particular scale. Once you get to know your ukulele fretboard a little better and a little bit of music theory, you can create hundreds and hundreds of chords!
Minor chords are constructed in the same way as a major chord, with the exception of lowering the middle note a half step.
What Do We Use Chords For?
When most people learn how to play ukulele, they start by learning chords. There’s good reason for that, as chords provide the underlying structure and harmony of most popular songs that people want to learn on the ukulele. Putting these chords into a certain order – also called a chord progression – can evoke powerful feelings and emotions in your songs.
Chords can also be broken up into single notes that are then played using fingerpicking, and can be combined with melodic notes for fingerstyle songs. Chords are basically the foundation and life of all the songs we love to play on the ukulele!
So What Are the Top Ukulele Chords You Need To Know?
After reading this, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed at all the musical possibilities. Don’t fret! (Or, actually, do fret, just do it wisely.) There are a handful of chords that even beginner ukulele players can learn that will allow you to play literally thousands of songs! Spend some time learning both these major and minor chords that appear most commonly in popular songs and music.
Top Ukulele Chords for Absolute Beginners:
C major This chord is the bedrock, the foundation chord, of so many songs. And it’s one of the easiest chords to play: simply press down with your ring finger of your fretting hand on the third fret of the A string and give your uke a strum. There it is! Even better, you can jazz up this chord easily by sliding down and fretting the first fret of that A string for a bluesy C7 chord.
D minor For many ukulele players this is your first foray into barre chords, and it might take a little bit of practice, but it’s well worth it. To play this chord, you’ll press down on the first fret of the E string, and the second frets of the G and C strings, leaving the A string open to ring out. This chord is good practice in squishing your fingers together to get a nice, full tone out of your ukulele and an excellent way to work up to the E major chord!
F major Another chord that is used in many chord progressions in both major and minor keys. This chord is played by fretting the first fret of the E string and the second fret of the G string. If you’re looking for a simpler but jazzier version, try fretting just the first fret of the E string for another bluesy chord – the F9!
Read more: Simple Ukulele Songs You Should Know!
G major The G major chord is used in many chord progressions in both the major and minor keys, and even though I recommend it for beginners, like the D minor chord, it takes a little bit of practice. To play the G major chord, you will fret the second fret of the A string, the third fret of the E string, and the second fret of the C string. Leave that G string open to ring out!
A minor There are some chords that sound wonderful and are what I call “one finger wonders”. The A minor is one of those! So versatile, it pops up in the chord progressions of lots of popular songs, and it’s a good chord for practicing your stretch across the entire fretboard. To play the A minor chord, press down on the second fret of the G string and leave the other strings open as you strum. If you want to add some lovely nuance and depth to your playing, try the A minor 7 chord by just strumming all the open strings at once!
A Few Tips for Practicing Ukulele Chords for Beginners
So now that you have this list of top ukulele chords that you must know, it’s time to start practicing! Here are a few tips that can help you learn any new chord faster and with more confidence:
- Play each note one at a time. Chords that require more than two notes to be fretted at the same time can be tricky – fingers can get in the way of each other and result in muted strings. Try playing each note in the chord one at a time until they all ring out clearly, making any adjustments as needed. Once each note sounds good individually, you can play them all together!
- Slow and steady wins the race. It might feel overwhelming when you’re learning a new chord and trying to include it in a song or a chord progression. The best advice one of my music teachers ever gave me was to take it slow. You’ll never be able to play something correctly at a fast temp if you can’t play it correctly at a slower tempo, right? Take your time and move as slowly as you need to with confidence. You’ll know when you’re ready to pick up the pace!
- Record yourself playing the new chords. Whether you decide to record yourself on video or just an audio clip, make a recording of yourself playing the new ukulele chords. Videos can be helpful because they give you a different perspective on what you’re doing when you play. Audio recordings are helpful to see where you need to slow down. Either one, or both, can be incredibly useful tools when learning these top ukulele chords you must know!
Looking for more great ukulele chords and chord progressions? There are whole courses ready for you in the Uke Like the Pros page! Sign up today for basic membership or premium membership and get access to all these courses and a whole lot more!