Whether you've just started playing the uke or are just trying to get better, you probably want to start learning more ukulele chords. But as you may have already discovered, searching the internet for ukulele chord diagrams can get old. And if you don't write down or otherwise save a given diagram, you may, unfortunately, find yourself searching the web yet again. In this article, we've compiled some of the first chords that beginner and intermediate ukulele players should learn.
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The Top Ukulele Chords to Learn
Before we jump into the chords you should start learning, it's important to make sure you understand a couple of things. The first is the strings on a standard ukulele. Most ukes are tuned to the key of G, and the string closest to the ceiling when you're holding the uke in playing position is tuned to G. The next one down is tuned to C, the third is tuned to E, and the last string (closest to the ground) is tuned to A. When numbering the strings, A is the first string and G is the fourth string. If you already play guitar, you're probably familiar with this convention.
The second thing to make sure you learn is how to read chord diagrams. You can almost always find a video tutorial to walk you through how to play a chord, but diagrams are a great way to quickly recall a given chord shape. Chord diagrams are fairly easy to read. They are set up as though you're looking straight down at the neck. From left to right, the strings (represented by four vertical lines) are G, C, E, and A. A chord diagram will use dots to show you where to place your fingers in order to play a given chord.
While examining ukulele chord diagrams, you also will probably notice a collection of horizontal lines. These represent the frets of your uke. The four vertical lines intersect with the horizontal ones just as the ukulele strings cross over your frets.
Now that you know some of the basics, let's jump into learning some ukulele chords!
1. C Major
When you first start learning basic chords, most teachers and courses will start you out with chords in the key of C. And when playing the ukulele, the most common chords you'll run into in the key of C are C major, G major, F major, and A minor. Once you master these chords, you will be able to play a surprisingly wide variety of songs.
Of these chords, C major is the first one you should learn. As is the case with any guitar or ukulele chord, there are several different ways to play C major. But the simplest and easiest way only requires you to fret one note -- you just need to hold down the first string at the third fret.
Of course, when playing chords like this one, you can probably use just about any finger and make it work. But in the interest of creating good habits, use your ring finger to fret the note. As you advance as a player and find you need to change chords rapidly or want to play scales, you'll be grateful that you took the time to consider finger placement when playing chords. If you want to see the C major chord being played and check the sound against your own playing, this video tutorial can help.
2. G Major
The happy-sounding G chord is a fixture in the music of all genres. It's also a great resolving chord if you want to finish a chord progression on an uplifting note.
And while the G major chord (sometimes just called the G chord) is one of the most popular chords, it takes some more coordination and practice to play than the C major chord does. To play it, place your index finger at the second fret of the third string (C string). Place your middle finger on the second fret of the first string (A string), and place your ring finger at the third fret of the second string (E string). This video tutorial offers a useful walkthrough.
Learning the G major chord will help you quickly familiarize yourself with at least part of the ukulele fretboard. Once you have the chord memorized and are able to fret it quickly and accurately, practice switching back and forth between this chord and C major.
Remember that the goal of chord changes is to be able to complete them quickly and seamlessly. Remember to be patient with yourself, though. Your first few ukulele chord progressions will usually take longer to master. Once you have experience switching quickly between two chords, you'll be able to apply that skill to more musical pieces for your chosen instrument.
3. F Major
The F major chord is another commonly found member of the key of C. If you are studying some level of music theory as you learn, you may have found that a chord is simply a collection of three or more notes. As a ukulele chord, F is made of the notes F, A, and C.
More advanced ukulele players may choose to play more complex versions of the chord, but the first-position F chord is easy enough for new uke players to start learning right out of the gate.
Assuming your uke is in standard G/C/E/A tuning (always make sure you tune up before you play!), all you need to do to play the chord is place your index finger on the first fret of the second string (E string) and place your middle finger on the second fret of the fourth string (G string). Make sure to strum all the way down in order to get the chord's full effect. For a helpful visual guide, check out this tutorial.
4. A Minor
Most major chords have a "happy," upbeat sound. But for sadder songs, songs with darker lyrics, and even songs that are a bit more complex than those with one or two chords, you'll probably find yourself playing some minor chords. Minor chords usually have a somewhat sad sound. But depending on the musical context, they can even sound ominous at times.
Of all the minor ukulele chord options out there, A minor (commonly just written as "Am") just might be the most common. It's part of the key of C, and it can add some real emotion and complexity to even the easiest of ukulele songs.
Luckily, Am is another ukulele chord that you can play with only one finger on the ukulele fretboard. You just need to place your middle finger on the second fret of the first string (G string). This very brief tutorial shows you how to play it and lets you hear the chord for yourself.
As you may have already discovered, it can be hard to retain each ukulele chord you learn. If you have space in your practice area, you might consider looking for ukulele chord charts to add. Some ukulele chord charts are limited to basic chords, but some players might prefer a chord chart that includes more advanced chords. Of course, before buying and using chord charts, make sure you can read ukulele chord diagrams! Some charts also have extra features like chord progression suggestions -- these can be good if you want to further your knowledge of the instrument and maybe even try songwriting.
5. A Major
A major (the chord name is commonly written as just "A") is another ukulele chord you'll commonly see in songs for newer players. It's also fairly easy to play. As you'll see on the chord diagram of this useful tutorial, you will need to place your middle finger on the second fret of the G string and your index finger on the first fret of the C string.
This chord is commonly found in the middle of chord progressions -- it adds a burst of upbeat energy before a progression's resolution. And because you use only your index finger and ring finger, A is a great chord to step up to after you've gotten the hang of single-finger chords.
It's worth mentioning that having a poor-quality ukulele can really impact your ability to play and learn. You don't need to have a top-of-the-line instrument that you see advanced ukulele players with. But once you learn a good ukulele chord progression or two, you'll definitely be able to see if your instrument stays in tune or not. If your uke deviates too much from the standard G/C/E/A tuning as you play, it will become harder for you to recognize what chords you're playing, and your instrument can start to sound "sour" or otherwise somewhat off. If possible, check out some reviews and make sure you have a decently playable instrument and not an excessively cheap one!
6. E Minor
Often, the E minor (Em) chord is among the first minor chords uke players learn. As you'll see on ukulele chord diagrams, Em is also one of the more challenging chords for beginners, as you'll need to place three fingers on the ukulele fretboard. You can, of course, use more complex fingerings, but sticking to the simplest ones (in which you play at least one string open) is a good idea.
To play Em, place your index finger on the second fret of the A string (the bottom string). Then, place your middle finger on the third fret of the E string. You'll also need to place your index finger on the fourth fret of the C string. This tutorial lets you both hear the chord and see the chord diagram.
This chord might take more time to master than simpler fingerings. You may find that you need to fret one note at a time in the beginning, but the ultimate goal is to be able to place all three fingers on the fretboard at the same time.
Especially if you have small hands, using three or more fingers on the fretboard at the same time can also present a challenge. It usually gets easier with time, but you might find that hand stretches can help your fingers adapt more quickly. Keep in mind that more complex fingerings often involve using your little finger. That can make it a little harder on your fretting hand at first, but practice will make stretching your hands easier. Ukulele chord diagrams for more complicated chords will also help you use the fingerings that are easiest on your hands. Between hand exercises and lots of practice, you'll likely develop the ability to place all three fingers on the fretboard simultaneously.
Up until this point, we've only covered major and minor chords. But to play ukulele songs with a more bluesy sound, you'll need to know some seventh chords, too. And if you want to write your own songs, adding in a seventh chord or two is a great way to add some sonic variety.
The chord diagram for G7 is a little more complex than some of the easier chords -- you will need three fingers. Place your index finger on the first fret of the E string, your middle finger on the second fret of the C string, and your ring finger on the second fret of the A string. This video tutorial takes you through the chord and gives you a look at the chord diagram, too.
8. F# Minor (Gb Minor)
Many new uke players start out with major and minor chords (and some seventh chords, too). But one of the very important chords to learn is F# minor (F#m), which is also sometimes called G flat (Gb) minor. As the chord diagram shows, this is another chord you will need three fingers for. Place your index finger at the first fret of the C string, your middle finger at the second fret of the G string, and your ring finger at the second fret of the E string. This video shows you both the chord diagram and lets you hear the chord for yourself.
This ukulele chord is a great way to add some wistful tension to a song, as are most sharp minor chords. It's also a good one to practice along with Em, G7, and other three-finger chords. It may seem difficult to change the position of your fingers (all except the little finger) for each ukulele chord. But remember that every uke player was in your place at one time -- with some dedicated practice, you'll be able to switch chords without thinking.
The dreamy sound of major seventh chords has found its way into ukulele songs of various genres. And if you can comfortably read ukulele chord diagrams, you'll find that these chords aren't really more difficult to play than any other chord type. But Am7 is probably the easiest ukulele chord of them all -- it requires no finger placement at all! In standard G/C/E/A tuning, if you strum your way down with all strings open, you've just played Am7. This chord probably doesn't need explanation, but this video lets you hear it regardless.
It's useful to note that a chord diagram for Am7 will show an "O" above each of the strings. That shape means that you need to play all strings open. As you learn more chords, you may come across a chord diagram where there are "X" shaped above some of the strings. That means that the string should be muted while playing a given chord.
When you're first practicing chord changes, Am7 makes it especially easy to do. You can switch between Am7 and another chord -- this way, you get a feel for the timing of changes, but you don't need to worry about moving your finger quite as quickly. If you can, try practicing with a metronome as well -- the sound it makes may be irritating, but practicing this way can do wonders for your sense of timing.
10. B Flat
In the world of uke players, being able to proficiently play a B flat chord is a kind of unofficial benchmark between the beginner and intermediate levels. Of course, before learning B flat, make sure you have gone through a complete list of chords suitable for beginners. But once you can play B flat, the world of more challenging ukulele songs will open up to you. This chord is also an introduction to barre chords for newer uke players.
To play a B flat, first place your middle finger at the third fret of the G string. Then place your middle finger at the second fret of the C string. Your index finger will be trying something new --you'll need to take your finger and press on both the first and second strings at the first fret. This video (below left) shows you how to do it. (On a chord diagram, barring across two or more strings is indicating by a solid, dark bar across them.)
If you already play guitar, you may have recognized that the B flat chord is a lot like the F chord for guitarists. In both cases, learners master a partially-barred chord before moving on to complete bars. If you're looking to level up your playing, try practicing switching between this chord and an easier one. Practicing chord changes (video above right) can be a bit frustrating -- it takes some time and effort to get. Be sure to have a chord diagram handy to check your fingering periodically.
Ready to Start?
Whether you want to join the ranks of advanced ukulele players or just want some guidance on learning new chords, taking professionally designed lessons can help. But to do so, you don't have to spend very large amounts of money or travel to a lesson studio. With an online ukulele course, you can choose lessons focused on what you want to learn. You also usually will gain access to chord charts, ukulele tabs, songs, song libraries, and other useful learning tools. Through these courses, you can manage to avoid many of the pitfalls and learning hangups that new uke players run into.
While a complete list of every single ukulele chord in existence would be incredibly long, this list has enough beginner chords and intermediate chords to keep you busy for a good bit of time. And as long as you've mastered how to read ukulele chord diagrams, you'll be able to learn just about any chord. Of course, be sure that you're also learning strumming patterns and ukulele tabs, and you'll be well on your way to becoming a great uke player. Happy playing!