If you’ve never played any musical instrument, learning how to play ukulele can be a scary prospect. A natural first step is to learn some chords, so that’s what we’ll cover here:
Before we look at some ukulele chord charts, let’s quickly cover off what the symbols mean so the charts make sense. Take the D Major diagram below, as an example.
The four vertical lines correspond to the four strings of the instrument, and the horizontal lines are the frets. The black dots tell you which notes you need to press down to play that chord. Where you see an ‘O’ sign above a string, that means you shouldn’t sound that string.
Note the numbers below the strings? These refer to the fingers you should be using to play the notes. For example, your second finger should play the first note, etc.
Make sense? Cool, let’s crack on…
The ukulele has seven major chords. All of these (except for B, which is less common) are used in most songs, so try to learn them all.
Minor chords give songs an intimate, somewhat sad feel. The most common minor ones to learn are Am, Dm, and Em, but learn all seven.
7th chords are used to give a song a harmonious feel. Here are the most common ones you need to know.
Tips for Speeding up the Learning Process
For beginners, the biggest challenge is switching between chords. It needs coordination, muscle memory, finger strength, and great concentration as you will have to move 2-4 fingers to another place while still pressing down the strings (of course, you need to make sure you’re playing the right size uke in the first place).
There are many simple methods of chord changing. Here are two of the most popular:
- Pivot Method: The pivot method is the simplest way of getting your fingers to move to the right spot quickly. In this method, one finger first moves and then other fingers move one by one to the right spot by pivoting around the finger that moved first. Usually the first finger moves to the lowest string then the others move around it one at a time.
- Freeze Method: Using this method, you first form the chord’s shape and then strum it once. Thereafter, you take your fingers from the fretboard without changing the shape of the chord. Finally, you return the fingers to the fretboard. Repeat this process as many as ten times to gain effective muscle memory.
It might take as many as two hundred attempts to become perfect at chord changing so keep on practicing as many times as possible.
Little and Often
The best way to master these chords is to set aside some practice time daily, preferably 30 minutes to 2 hours. That’s more effective than setting aside half a day per week or a whole day after every two weeks.
Practicing while looking at your fingers is ok to begin with, but doing this can quickly create a bad habit. To avoid this, try practicing in a darkened room, which forces you to hear and feel the notes instead of seeing them.
Also, remember to warm up before you start. Many stretching exercises guitarists use are suitable for uke players too.
Hopefully, you found this article helpful. With consistent, deliberate practice, you’ll be playing the ukulele in no time. Just have faith in the process and carry on however frustrated you feel, it will be worth it in the end.
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.