Fun First Songs for Beginner Ukulele Players

Fun First Songs for Beginner Ukulele Players

August 07, 2020

After tuning up your new ukulele, you’re ready to start strumming! This versatile instrument is perfect for playing a wide range of melodious tunes, from beginner to advanced. In fact, many popular songs have simple and complex versions: learn the easy version when you’re a beginner and then try the advanced version when you’ve become a more proficient player.

Before diving into songs on the ukulele, first focus on mastering the chords in each song. In order to build up your skills and confidence, I recommend starting with the following tried-and-true songs; each version has only two or three chords. You’ll see that the process of practicing specific chords and then progressing to playing them in songs is very rewarding. In a short time, you’ll enjoy playing these fun, familiar tunes.

To make things simple, use a simple strumming pattern: just strum the strings on each beat. This way, you can concentrate on precise chord fingering as well as smooth changes between chords.

Part I: Two-Chord Songs with C and G7 Chords 

The first two chords I learned to play were C major and G7 major. Found in many songs, these two chords are easy to execute:

  • For the C chord, press your third (ring) finger on the A string at the third fret.
  • For the G7 chord, press your first (pointer) finger on the E string at the first fret, your second (middle) finger on the C string at the second fret, and your third finger on the A string at the second fret. Your fingertips somewhat form a triangle.

The C chord uses just one finger, but the G7 chord takes three! With a little repetition, though, you’ll soon getting used to fingering the G7 chord. Watch and practice along with this excellent demonstration on shifting between the C and G7 chords by Bernadette Teaches Music.

As you grow more comfortable sliding between the C chord and the G7 chord, try these oldies but goodies:

“Oh, My Darling Clementine”

See this helpful tabIature (aka “tab”) or simplified musical notation for this American western folk ballad at DoctorUke.com. Here is ukulele instructor Vicki's video demonstration of “Oh, My Darling Clementine using the C and G7 chords.

I love this song and get a kick of out of substituting its traditional lyrics with whimsical ones that my girls sang as youngsters:

Mister Turkey, Mister Turkey, are you getting nice and fat?

We are waiting for Thanksgiving, what do you think of that?

Mister Turkey, Mister Turkey, do you ever wonder why

People eat you at Thanksgiving, and not chicken pot pie?

“Iko Iko”  

This upbeat song is another popular beginner tune for the ukulele. Play and sing along using this helpful lyric-and-chord chart by the talented Alizo Sisters. Enjoy their lovely rendition of “Iko Iko.”

“Banana Boat Song”

Follow this lyric-and-chord chart by Cathy’s Chords. Watch iconic music instructor “Ukulele Mike” play and teach this infectiously cheerful tune with the F chord in addition to the C and G7 chords.

If you are feeling confident, learn the F chord and add it to your playing of the “Banana Boat Song.” Fingering for F chord is explained in the next section.

Part II: Three-Chord Songs with C, G7, and F Chords

By adding a third chord to the two chords, you can enhance tunes you already know (like “Banana Boat Song”) as well as learn new ones. 

  • To play the F chord, press your first finger on the E string at the first fret. Then press your second finger on the G string at the second fret.

Fun and easy songs containing only the C, G7, and F chords include:

“Happy Birthday”

Knowing this ditty comes in handy at any birthday celebration. Learn to play “Happy Birthday” with this informative description by Live Ukulele. Watch the Ukulele Sisters demonstrate this popular short song.

“You Are My Sunshine”

Another cheery classic is “You Are My Sunshine.” It’s a bit longer, but you’re ready for it! Just study this lyric-and-chord chart at Live Ukulele. Bernadette Teaches Music clearly explains how to play this song in her video demonstration of “You Are My Sunshine.”

“Amazing Grace”

This is another brief tune (which can be repeated for each short verse) that’s quick to learn. See this description of “Amazing Grace” on Live Ukulele for lyrics and chords. This lovely video demonstration of “Amazing Grace” by Richard Hefner”—with lyrics, chords, and tablature—adds in the A minor chord. But don’t panic!

  • To play A minor chord, press your second finger on the G string at the second fret.

“Jingle Bells”

Ring in the holidays with this roof-raising favorite! See this chord chart by One Music School.

Watch Jenny of the Ukulele Sisters demonstrate a three-chord version of “Jingle Bells.”

“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” 

This soulful song is one of my favorites! See this chord chart for “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” from Cathy’s Charts. For more technique tips, watch yet another instructive video from Bernadette Teaches Music on executing the C-F-C-G7 chord progressions in this tune.

“Twist and Shout!”

Let’s end with a bang—the rousing classic by the Beatles! Learn “Twist and Shout!” and lift everyone’s spirits. Ukuleles Reviews has an helpful lyric-and-chord chart. Kev of The Tiki Nation presents an incredibly informative lesson on how to play “Twist and Shout!” through demonstration, tablature, and built-in practice breaks.

Time to Start Strumming!

 Start strumming these simple versions of enjoyable and well-known tunes. With practice, patience, and persistence, pretty soon you’ll be making music to entertain yourself and your friends. After mastering the C, G7, and F chords, you’re ready to tackle additional chords and expand your repertoire of songs.