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.
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:
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:
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?
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.”
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.
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.
Fun and easy songs containing only the C, G7, and F chords include:
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.
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.”
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!
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.”
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.
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.
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.