Easy Ukulele Chords for Beginners to Learn First

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Learning all the different ukulele chords is a crucial part of familiarizing yourself with the instrument.

Many of us primarily learn the ukulele in order to play chords, and to back up vocals while playing fun ukulele songs. So, being able to play a wide variety of different chord shapes and voicings is an essential part of making your playing more interesting and diverse, both for yourself and your audience.

Despite most ukuleles only having four strings, the instrument offers an incredible number of ways to play different chords. Every chord on the ukulele has a number of different voicings, and each voicing will give the chord a different sound and tonal quality.

This guide covers just about every aspect of easy ukulele chords for beginners, from chord progressions and transitions, to many of the most common chords that you’ll encounter on the instrument.

What are Ukulele Chords?

What is a Chord?

Closeup of woman's hand playing ukulele

In very simple terms, a chord is a set of multiple notes played at the same time. There are many different types of chords, and the number of notes in a given chord varies, too.

Essentially, chords are based on triads, which are groups of three notes. The triad that makes up a chord will determine whether it is a major chord or minor chord. To make other types of chords, like 7th or diminished chords, we simply need to add other notes to the triad.

One thing to keep in mind is that most ukuleles only have four strings. So, ukulele chords will generally not consist of more than four notes. Compare this to guitar chords, for example, which can consist of six notes at once, or piano chords, which can have even more notes.

Ukulele Tuning

One factor that determines the type of chords you can play on your uke is the tuning that it uses. This is because changing the tuning on an instrument changes the intervals between its strings, and thereby between notes that you play on the instrument, too.

In music theory, the ‘interval’ between two notes is simply the difference in pitch between the tones. When discussing intervals, we count them by the number of semitones between the two notes (this is where terms like major, minor, and diminished come from).

Standard/Re-entrant Tuning

Standard ukulele tuning is gCEA, with the g string being the highest sounding tone. Most ukulele chord diagrams that you’ll find will, naturally, be showing you how to play a given chord in standard ukulele tuning.

Standard ukulele tuning is also an example of what’s known as a re-entrant tuning. This is the name of a type of tuning where the strings are not naturally ordered from lowest to highest pitch. On a uke tuned to standard ukulele tuning, the strings go highest (g), lowest (C), higher (E), higher (A).

Soprano ukuleles, concert ukuleles, and tenor ukuleles are typically tuned to standard tuning, although tenor ukes are commonly tuned with a low G (and sometimes concert ukes, too). The low G tuning causes the strings to sound in order from lowest to highest, but it does not affect chord fingerings since all the notes are still the same.

Baritone Tuning

One feature that makes baritone ukuleles so interesting to listen to is that they use a different tuning than standard ukes. Baritone ukulele tuning is DGBE – the same as the top four strings on a guitar – and this tuning is part of what gives the baritone uke a much darker, deeper sound than standard tuning. Of course, this also means that chords on the baritone ukulele are played completely differently to chords on ukes with standard tuning.

Reading a Ukulele Chord Chart

One of the best ways to learn to play ukulele chords, especially when you’re newer to the ukulele, is by working with uke chord charts. Being able to read chord charts is a crucial part of progressing on the instrument, especially when you don’t have very many chord shapes committed to muscle memory yet.

Still, being able to successfully read chord charts and chord diagrams does require a bit of practice. Charts usually use a number of symbols, which you’ll need to familiarize yourself with before you can start using them.

Generally, a ukulele chord chart or chord diagram shows the fingering you should use to play a particular chord, as well as showing where on the instrument a particular chord is played. The vertical lines on a ukulele chord diagram represent the strings on a uke, and the horizontal lines represent the frets on the instrument.

Chord diagrams often use numbers to denote the proper fingering for a given chord:

  • 1 indicates the first finger, or index finger
  • 2 indicates the middle finger
  • 3 indicates the third finger, or ring finger
  • 4 indicates the pinky finger

Below is an example diagram of a G chord with the fingering added:

G ukulele chord

It’s worth keeping in mind that not all chord charts illustrate the fingering for different chords, though.

Also, uke chord charts tell you when the ukulele chord requires you to play unfretted strings or mute them. If there is an open circle above a non-fretted string, then you should strum that string when playing the chord. If there is an X above that string, then it should not be played (either not strummed or palm-muted).

Below are some chord examples. Notice the open circle and the X above the non-fretted strings:

Em ukulele chord ver2
E ukulele chord_ver3

If a ukulele chord requires a barre, or fretting multiple strings at once by laying one finger across them, then it’s often shown as a line across the strings to be barred.

Below is an example of a ukulele barre chord:

D ukulele chord ver2

Basic Ukulele Chords for Beginners to Get you Playing Real Songs Today

Something about popular music that often surprises beginner musicians is how simple much of it is, and just how many songs have essentially the same structure. You’d be amazed at the number of popular ukulele songs based around the chords C, Am, F, and G alone. Learn these, and you’ll suddenly be able to play along to an enormous range of songs from a variety of genres.

This is why we encourage you to start off ukulele journey with mastering these important basic ukulele chords. Once you’ve nailed them, you can move on to less common or more complex chords that you won’t encounter as often.

C Major Chord

C ukulele chord

The C Major chord is one of the most widely used chords in modern popular music. This is due in large part to how popular C Major is as a key signature. Playing the C chord on the uke is very easy, too. Simply fret the A string at the 3rd fret, and leave the other strings open while you strum.

A Minor Chord

Am ukulele chord

A minor is essentially C Major’s minor counterpart. It has a very distinctive sound, and provides the foundation to an enormous range of classic songs. It’s also fairly simple to play. Simply fret the g string with your middle finger, and play the other strings open.

F Major Chord

F ukulele chord

The F Major chord on the ukulele has a broad, resonant sound. Play the F chord by fretting the g string at the second fret with your middle finger and the E string at the first fret with your first finger. Then, play the other two strings open.

G Major Chord

G ukulele chord

The G Major chord is a very important ukulele chord to know, but it can give the beginning player some trouble due to its awkward shape. Leaving the g string open, fret the C string at the second fret with your first finger, the E string at the third fret with your middle finger, and the A string at the second fret with your ring finger.

By learning to play C, Am, F, and G, you’ll suddenly be able to play along to an enormous range of songs from a variety of genres. This is why we encourage you to start off your ukulele journey with learning these basic ukulele chords. Once you’ve nailed them, you can move on to less common or more complex chords that you won’t encounter as often.

If you want to see just how many songs you can play with only these four chords, check out our article on simple ukulele songs for beginners.

A Few More Common Chords

The four chords we’ve just discussed are naturally not the only ones that are frequently used in popular music. If they were, then almost all music would end up sounding the same! The following chords are also used fairly widely in popular music, and make a very logical next step to learn once you’ve mastered the four basic ukulele chords.

E Minor

Em ukulele chord

When playing E minor, leave the g string open while fretting the C string at the fourth fret, the E string at the third fret, and the A string at the second fret.

D Major

D ukulele chord

The D major chord is another chord that can trip up beginners to the ukulele, mostly due to the fact that playing it requires placing your fingers fairly close together in a straight line on the fretboard (doing so can feel a bit awkward, due to ukulele frets being fairly small). Fret the g string at the second fret with your middle finger, the C string at the second fret with your first finger, and the E string at the second fret with your ring finger.

D7 Chord

D7 ukulele chord

To play the D7 chord, fret the g string at the second fret with your pointer finger and the E string with at the second fret with your middle finger. Leave the other strings open.

A Major Chord

A ukulele chord

The A chord is fairly simple to play on the ukulele; fret the g string at the second fret with your middle finger and the C string at the first fret with your first finger. Leave the other strings open.

G7 Chord

G7 ukulele chord

To play the G7 chord on the uke, leave the g string open while you fret the C string at the second fret with your middle finger, the E string at the first fret with your first finger, and the A string at the second fret with your ring finger.

E Major Chord

E ukulele chord

To play the E chord on the ukulele, fret the g, C, and E strings at the fourth fret with your pinky, ring, and middle fingers respectively. Fret the A string at the second fret with your pointer finger.

Major Chords

Major chords are based around major triads, which is what gives them a bright, happy sound. In a major triad, the second note is a major third (in minor chords, based on minor triads, the second note is a minor third). Here is a list of all of the major chords on the ukulele, as well as a description of how to play them:

A Major

A ukulele chord

To play an A chord, fret the g string at the second fret with your middle finger and the C string at the first fret with your first finger. Leave the other strings open.

B Major

B ukulele chord

To play the B chord, use your first finger to barre the fretboard at the second fret. Then, fret the g string at the fourth fret with your ring finger and the C string at the third fret with your middle finger.

C Major

C ukulele chord

To play the C major ukulele chord, simply fret the A string at the 3rd fret, and leave the other strings open while you strum.

D Major

D ukulele chord

To play the D chord, fret the g string at the second fret with your middle finger, the C string at the second fret with your first finger, and the E string at the second fret with your ring finger.

E Major

E ukulele chord

To play the E chord, fret the g, C, and E strings at the fourth fret with your pinky, ring, and middle fingers respectively. Fret the A string at the second fret with your pointer finger.

F Major

F ukulele chord

To play an F chord, fret the g string at the second fret with your middle finger and the E string at the first fret with your first finger. Then, play the other two strings open.

G Major

G ukulele chord

To play G major, leave the g string open. Fret the C string at the second fret with your first finger, the E string at the third fret with your middle finger, and the A string at the second fret with your ring finger.

Minor Chords

Minor chords are based around minor triads, where the second note is a minor third. This is what gives them their distinctively dark, melancholic sound. This section shows you how to play all the standard ukulele voicings of the minor chords:

A Minor

Am ukulele chord

To play an A Minor ukulele chord, fret the g string with your middle finger, and play the other strings open.

B Minor

Bm ukulele chord

To play a B minor ukulele chord, bar the fretboard at the second fret with your pointer finger. Then, fret the g string at the fourth fret with your ring finger.

C Minor

Cm ukulele chord

To play the C minor chord, you need to fret the C, E, and A strings at the third fret while playing the g string open. You can fret the strings if you choose to, or simply barre the fretboard at the third fret while leaving the g string out.

D Minor

Dm ukulele chord

To play the D minor chord, fret the g string at the second fret with your second finger, the C string at the second fret with your third finger, and the E string at the first fret with your first finger.

E Minor

Em ukulele chord

To play an E Minor ukulele chord, leave the g string open while fretting the C string at the fourth fret, the E string at the third fret, and the A string at the second fret.

F Minor

Fm ukulele chord

To play an F minor ukulele chord, fret the g string at the first fret with your first finger, the E string at the first fret with your second finger, and the A string at the third fret with your pinky finger.

G Minor

Gm ukulele chord

To play the G minor chord, leave the G string open, fret the C string at the second fret with your second finger, the E string at the third fret with your third finger, and the A string at the first fret with your first finger.

7th Chords

7th chords have a very distinctive sound, which is due to the dominant 7th being added to the major triad that makes up the chord. These chords are particularly common in jazz, blues, and Hawaiian ukulele songs. In this section, you will find all of the standard voicings for 7th chords on the ukulele.

A7

A7 ukulele chord

A7 is a very simple chord to play; simply fret the C string at the first fret with your first finger, while leaving all the other strings open.

B7

B7 ukulele chord

To play the B7 chord, barre the fretboard at the second fret with your pointer finger. Then, fret the C string at the third fret with your second finger.

C7

C7 ukulele chord

The C7 ukulele chord is another simple one to play; fret the A string at the first fret with your first finger and leave the other strings open.

D7

D7 ukulele chord

To play the D7 ukulele chord, fret the g string at the second fret with your pointer finger and the E string with at the second fret with your middle finger. Leave the other strings open.

E7

E7 ukulele chord

To play the E7 chord, fret the g string at the first fret with your first finger, the C string at the second fret with your second finger, and the A string at the second fret with your second finger.

F7

F7 ukulele chord

To play the F7 chord, fret the g string at the second fret with your second finger, the C string at the third fret with your third finger, the E string at the first fret with your first finger, and the A string at the third fret with your third finger. Phew!

G7

G7 ukulele chord

To play a G7 chord, leave the g string open while you fret the C string at the second fret with your middle finger, the E string at the first fret with your first finger, and the A string at the second fret with your ring finger.

Playing Barre Chords on the Ukulele

Once you’ve gotten comfortable playing chords with open strings on the ukulele, then you might want to move on to barre chords.

Some beginner ukulele players find barre chords a bit tricky to play since they require you to press multiple strings down with one finger. You essentially use your finger like a ‘bar’ across the strings, which lets you move the chord around without changing its shape.

The reason many beginners to the ukulele find barre chord shapes challenging at first is that it can be tough to press down all of the strings on the neck at once. If you’re not used to playing barre chords, you might find that your hand starts to cramp when you have to hold the chord shape for more than a few seconds.

This is especially true of ukes with smaller frets or narrower fretboards, like the soprano size Playing barre chords on these instruments often results in your fingers being contorted somewhat in order to fit (this is why we often recommend concert ukuleles as the best ukulele size for beginners).

Fortunately, playing barre chords gets easier with time. As you practice more, your hands should get used to holding cramped or less natural positions, which makes any barre chord much more manageable. Learning to play barre chords is well worth it, though. Being able to play barre chords as well as open chords dramatically extends the chord voicings that you have at your disposal and will allow you to access a wider range of tones, too.

If you’re just getting started with learning to play barre chords on the uke, then it could be worthwhile learning some of the most common ones to begin with. The barre chords that you are most likely to encounter on the ukulele are D7, Bm, Cm7, and B flat.

Learning Chord Transitions

One of the most challenging aspects of playing the ukulele for many beginners is transitioning smoothly between chords. This is a huge part of being able to play through a chord progression well, but it can take a good bit of practice before you can consistently shift from one ukulele chord to another at tempo without making any mistakes.

How challenging or easy a chord transition is depends largely on the chords you need to play. Basic ukulele chords with simpler shapes are naturally easier to play than ukulele chords that require you to fret multiple strings at once. Regardless, the only real way for you to get better at playing ukulele chord transitions is simply through practice. You can work on particular transitions that might be giving you trouble, but as you get more comfortable playing the uke in general, the transitions should get easier, too.

If you want to work on a particular transition and develop your muscle memory, the best way to do so is by practicing it repeatedly and at a comfortable tempo. By slowing what you’re playing down, you can give yourself enough time to play the transition or figure with proper technique. Once you feel confident playing the transition at a slower tempo, you can slowly increase the speed until you’ve worked your way up to the original tempo of the song. Using a metronome can really help with this.

There are some particular chord transitions that you will encounter more often than others, too. Focusing on mastering these transitions soon after you start playing the uke is a good idea, because it will make it much easier to learn new material that contains these chord changes. One example would be changing from C to Am. Other very common ukulele chord transitions that are worth practicing are F to G, D to G, C to Em, and A to F.

How to Strum Ukulele Chords for Beginners

Close-up of man's hand strumming the ukulele

There are several ways to strum ukulele chords. The way that you strum ukulele chords will determine the overall sound and timbre of the notes. By adjusting your strumming style and strumming patterns, for example, you can adapt your performance to better suit the particular genre or piece of music that you are playing.

Most people tend to strum the ukulele either with the side of their thumb or by making a loose fist and strumming with the front of the nails on the strumming hand. There’s no one approach that is better or more correct than the other; you can choose the technique that you like the sound of most, or that you feel is best for the song that you are trying to play.

Rhythmically speaking, there are many different ways to approach strumming on the ukulele. Each song you learn will either have a strumming pattern that you can learn, or you can try to make up your own strumming pattern from scratch. A strumming pattern simply describes how to strum when playing a particular song; when to strum up or down, when to pause etc.

When developing your own strumming patterns, it’s important to play in a way that supports the overall mood and feel of the song. Pay attention to the rhythms that the other instruments are playing and try to base your strumming on that. A busier song may benefit from more animated or frequent sturmming, whereas a sparser approach may be better for a slower song. The most important thing to do when coming up with a strumming pattern is to use your ears!

Chord Progressions

It won’t take long before you start coming across different chord progressions in your ukulele journey, if you haven’t already. Chord progressions are essentially a series or succession of chords, and the way a given progression will sound or function is a product of how the individual ukulele chords in the progression work together and harmonize.

It’s fairly common to describe chord progressions in terms of the position each chord has within the key that the song is being played in. One example of a reasonably common progression is I-V-vi-IV. In the key of C, the chords being played would be C, G, Am, and F. Developing an understanding of how chords progressions function can be very helpful if you want to be able to transpose material to a new key.

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about the author
Lizzie Westlake
A ukulele player and writer with a passion for helping others. There's nothing Lizzie loves more than sharing the joy of music, especially with kids. She also plays a variety of string and wind instruments.

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