Basic Ukulele Chords for Beginners

We discovered in our How to play Ukulele guide that easy Ukulele chords are super important when you're learning Ukulele. In this post we're going to deep-dive into chords you need to learn. 

If you've never played any musical instrument, learning ukulele can be a scary prospect. You've to contend with painful fingers and mastering seemingly complex chord diagrams among many other problems.

However, as the steps below show, there is no need for such worries. All it takes to learn ukulele is commitment and passion. Even if you've played a guitar before, it is still important that you learn the basics of ukulele because the chords of ukulele are slightly different from those of a guitar.

For example the C chord on the guitar is similar to the F chord on the ukulele while the playing the D chord on the guitar is similar to playing the G chord on the ukulele.

These are just a few of the differences between ukulele and guitar. However, experience with playing a guitar makes learning to play ukulele easier. More important than anything else is commitment and passion. Once you these two qualities the work is halfway done.

Once you know all the chords (majors, minors and the other chords) you will be able to play many songs. That is why I've compiled here easy ukulele chords to help you master the basics of ukulele in your quest to become a great ukulele player.

LEARNING THE STRINGS Of THE UKULELE

The thickest string is the G-string (fourth string) which plays the open fret or G-note when you don't hold down frets.

It is followed by the C-string (third string) and E-string (second string).

The thinnest and first one is the A-string.

LEARNING TO READ UKULELE CHORD CHARTS

Below you're going to see Ukulele chord charts.

Let's quickly cover off what the symbols mean so the charts make sense.

See the D Major diagram opposite, as an example.

The four vertical line correspond to the four strings of the instrument (above). 

The horizontal lines are the frets.​ 

The black dots are telling 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. 

Where you numbers below the strings, these refer to the fingers you should be using to play these notes. In this case, your second finger should play the first note, etc 

​Make sense? Cool, let's crack on...

BASIC UKULELE cHORDS

We're now going to look at the basic Ukulele chords; these are the major, minor and seventh chords.

Major chords for Ukulele

The Ukulele has seven major chords, plus half-step chords (e.g. C sharp) not included here. All these chords (except for B, which tends to used a bit less) are used in many Ukulele songs, so try to learn them all. If you want to pick off three to begin with, go for C, G and D.

Minor chords for Ukulele

Unlike the major chords which make songs sound happy and up-tempo, the minor chords gives songs an intimate feel. Also, like the major chords, some minor chords are more important than others. The most common minor ukulele chords are Am, Dm and Em.

7th chords for Ukulele

The 7th chords are very important. In fact they are just as important as the major and minor chords. They are mainly used to give a song a harmonious feel. It is, therefore, no accident that they are commonly used in soul and jazz songs. It is important to learn all of the 7 chords but like major chords, some of the seven chords are more important than others. For example, mastering the F7 chord is more useful than mastering the B7 as it allows you to play far more songs than B7. Here is a look at some of the most common 7th chords that you need to know.

Chord charts courtesy of ukuleletricks.com

What are some of the best ways to learn these chords?

Consistency

As explained in the introduction, mastering ukulele requires constant practice. The best way to master these chords is to set aside some practice time daily, preferably 30 minutes to 2 hours. Such an arrangement is more effective than setting aside half a day per week or whole day after every two weeks for practice.

Go step by step

You cannot learn everything in one go. Perfection usually takes time. Attempts to learn everything in a day or two only breed frustration and eventual giving up of practice. A better way of approaching the practice is to learn a chord or two per day. Repeat the chords until you can play them without thinking before moving on to the next chord.

Timing

Always practice your Ukulele chords when your mind is fresh. The brain generally retains more materials when fresh than when it is tired. For most people the best time for such practice is usually in the morning. However, you can also practice at other times of the day as long as you are not sleepy or tired.

Practice in the dark

Practicing while looking at your fingers places severe limitations on your quest to perfect playing ukulele chords. To avoid practicing with your eyes on your fingers, it is advisable to practice at night or in a room without visual input. When you practice in the dark you are forced to hear and feel the notes instead of seeing them. Such kind of practice fastens your mastery of ukulele.

Warm up before practicing

Before you begin your practice session it is important to warm up. One way of doing this is to stretch your fingers for two to three minutes. Thereafter, run some scales just to get your fingers ready for the practice session.

I find it difficult to switch between chords. What can I do?

For beginners, the biggest obstacle to mastering ukulele playing is usually chord changing. In fact, most beginners who give up on learning ukulele usually cite frustrations resulting from inability to change chords as the main reason for their failure. This is no accident as learning to change chords is no walk in the park. 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. This, however, shouldn't scare you.

Learning to change chords is like learning to drive a car. Your first attempt usually ends in misery and frustration. You need to keep your eyes glued on the road, the right foot on gas, your hands managing the steering wheel while at the same time having another one free to change gears. However, after a month or so, all these things become almost second nature and you are able to carry them out without even thinking. That is how chord changing is. It is seemingly impossible in the beginning but with practice it becomes very simple and you become adept at changing the chords without even having to keep your eyes on your hands. There are many simple methods of chord changing. Here is a look at some of them.

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 fret board without changing the shape of the chord. Finally you return the fingers to the fret board. Repeat this process as many as ten times to gain effective muscle memory.

Other methods include diamond and blast methods. It is important that you practice these methods to perfect chord changing. It might take as many as two hundred attempts to become perfect at chord changing so keep on practicing as many times as possible.

Here's a great video that talks about switching chords:

CONCLUSION

Hopefully you found this material about ukulele chords for beginners informative and enjoyable. Learning to play ukulele starts with mastering the chords. Once you have done that you can play so many songs with ease and fun. Start with buying a quality ukulele that won't give you hardships when tuning and then start your practices. With consistency, I'm sure you will soon become a guru at ukulele playing. If you have any question or comment, drop them below and I'll be happy to see to it that you get helped.

Cover image courtesy Pixabay.com

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.

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