Learn to Play Ukulele – Essential Chords and Songs

In the last few years, the humble ukulele has become one of the top-selling instruments in South Africa. They sound good, are incredibly portable, and easy to play; what’s not to love? 

Learning how to play the ukulele takes no time at all. If you’ve never played an instrument before, you’ll be strumming along to your favourite songs within a few days of practice. Do you already play an instrument? Then you’ll be playing the ukulele by the end of this article!

Ok, that might be a bit of hyperbole – but the truth is it only slight hyperbole. All you need to play the ukulele is a ukulele and a few hours to spare. 

Tuning

As Julie Andrews said in the sound of music, “Let’s start at the very beginning”.

Before you can learn how to play any chords on the ukulele, we must first ensure that it is in tune. 

The tuning is: G C E A. 

An excellent way to think of the tuning is to relate it to the guitar. A ukulele is like the thinnest four strings of a guitar with a capo at the 5th fret! This can make chords shapes easier to remember too.

Strumming

We’re not going to cover in-depth strumming patterns in this lesson, but we will be writing one on ukulele rhythms and strumming patterns in the coming weeks. If you want to be sure that you don’t miss that piece, sign up for our newsletter.

For now, most of the songs listed below can be played with a simple up-down strumming pattern. Count to 4, and count “and” between each number. 

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 

On each number, strum down. On each “and” (+), strum up. While this won’t give you an accurate reflection of the songs you’re playing, it’s a good start.

Want to be more accurate when playing? Try strumming along to the song, and listen when the chords change. By doing this you can work out your own strumming patterns, and train your ear at the same time.

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Chords

Like many string instruments, the ukulele has a variety of chords that you should master.

There are eight chords we suggest you learn first. With four chords you could play almost any pop song (see the Axis of Awesome video below). The chords below are written in tab (or tablature if you want to be specific).

Of all the ways to read and write music, tab is one of the easiest. If you have never learnt to read tab, [check out this free lesson] before continuing.

Chord Chart

If you can learn almost ant song using only four chords, why are we showing you eight?

Once you start to move away from standard pop or pure rock, you must know a few more chords. Different chords will give you a different tonal feel. Take a listen to Somewhere Over the Rainbow and listen to how the chords interact with each other.

By knowing a few more chords, you can open you playing in dramatic ways.

Songs

Ask any music teacher, and they’ll tell you that you need to practice to get good. But, if all you’re doing is playing a few chords, you won’t get better.

Instead of randomly moving from one chord to another, rather play a few songs. By listening to the song you’re playing, and playing along, you can train your ear, and you’ll have more fun during your practice session.

We’ve added a few simple songs to get you going. The songs below use the chords you just learnt. To learn one of the songs, first, listen to the song on YouTube or Deezer or a similar music streaming service. Once you’ve got a solid audio reference point, learn the chords, and try to play along.

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