Your Guide to Ukulele Chords

Understanding ukulele chords is vital when you begin learning to play the ukulele. The uke is one of the easiest instruments to learn, because the chords are much easier to hold than guitar chords. The magic begins with the way you put these chords together to create the notes you need to make the sound you desire.

How to Read the Chords

Ukulele players don't use standard sheet music. The uke has a distinctive style of charts players use to compose their music.

This makes it vital to learn how to read these charts and use the chords correctly when you first learn to play.

Once you learn how to read the charts, you will find they are quite easy to use. Chords are displayed in a diagram form of the uke fretboard as it would appear when facing the ukulele vertically.

This means that it looks like a mini 3x4 grid. The vertical lines are the strings and the horizontal lines are the squares of the fretboard.


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Chord Chart Elements

In addition to the grid representing the strings and fretboard, the chords letter name appears at the top of the chart. The strings and finger placement are designated by numbers.

  • Number 1 on the grid depicts where to put the index finger of your left hand.
  • Number 2 is where to put your middle finger.
  • Number 3 is the ring finger.
  • Number 4 is the pinky.

Just To Start: Major Chord Shapes

Strumming the Strings

When the chart indicates your finger is on a string, it is assumed that you are strumming that string. When you see an open string without a number, then there may be a small “o” or “x” on the chart.

An "o" means that you should strum that string even though it is open. An "x" is not used as often, but if you see one it means you should not strum that string. In most cases if there is no "o" the open string should not be strummed.

This may sound complicated, but once you understand the diagram, the chords are actually not hard to read at all. In fact, most people find this type of music easier to read than other types of sheet music.

But, simple and easy to learn as it is, once you get more experienced and begin to experiment with the chords, you will discover many more chords than the basic g, c, e and a.

This means that while it may be easy to learn how to play the ukulele, fully mastering the instrument may take some time.

If you already know how to play the guitar and can access a baritone ukulele chord chart, your experience and musical repertoire can be greatly expanded by applying that knowledge to the baritone ukulele.

You will also learn that the 4-string uke can be tuned and played the same as an old fashioned 4-string guitar.

Simply tune your uke to the dgbe arrangement and play the same songs you like to play on your guitar.

Basic Strumming

The Sound: Cha-Lang!

Of all the different types of ukuleles, the baritone has the deepest and fullest sound, so you never have to worry about it sounding too much like the higher toned ones. Yet, the sound you get is nothing like the sound of a guitar.

This makes it great fun to experiment with the songs you like to play on the guitar, and play them on the ukulele, then compare the differences between the way the song sounds.

Using Guitar Sheet Music

More advanced ukulele players, especially those that regularly play the guitar, often use sheet music designed for the guitar, instead of the chord charts made for the ukulele.

There are differences between the two, but once you have memorized the ukulele chords, you can just as easily play from guitar sheet music.

Alternatively, many popular songs have been converted to ukulele chord chart form, so you can play off those, if you wish.

Combining the Uke and Axe

Friends love to jam. Why not get the gang together and play your favorite tunes on both the uke and the axe at the same time? The sound combinations are fabulous, and picking away at the little uke makes for a great time for all.

Switch instruments and really have a blast. Many ukulele players have been known to first fall in love with the ukulele during an impromptu jam session on the beach.

The unique sound and relative small size makes the uke a joy to play. They are easier to handle than a guitar, but can be played in the same way.

So, if you already know how to play a guitar, learning the uke will be even easier, and you may find playing the ukulele is even more fun than playing a guitar.

Try New Ukulele Chords

Once you understand how your guitar music can be transposed to the uke, your baritone ukulele chord picking can get a little more creative.

Experiment with tuning your uke to see which sound appeals to you more – the ukulele tuning style or tuned as a guitar.

The versatility of the baritone ukulele makes it a great introductory instrument into the world of ukulele music, especially for people already in love with the guitar, and want to play around with the chord arrangements of a baritone uke.

Ukulele chord charts are depicted with diagrams that show you exactly how to place your fingers on the strings. Regular sheet music uses notes on vertical lines, which can take years to learn how to read.

That is another thing that makes learning the uke so easy – you can read the charts without knowing any musical theory.

The ukulele can be used just as easily by left-handed people. You simply have to read the ukulele chord chart backwards.

Minor Chord Shapes

The Four Strings

The ukulele chords are depicted on the chart grids as the four strings and a fretboard. The vertical lines represent the strings and the horizontal lines represent the fretboard.

This acts like a visual diagram of what the ukulele looks like when held vertically. Once you understand this, everything else is simple and straightforward.

All you have to do is place your fingers (numbered as explained earlier) in the positions indicated on the chart.

The chords for ukulele are displayed at the top of the chart, so once you get comfortable with how the chart works, you won't need to look at the diagram at all. You can just look at which chord to play.

However, there is a huge difference between knowing how to read the chart and getting all the notes right, and playing the song well.

Putting it all together to get the sound you want takes practice.

Chords also sound different and are played differently on the different types of ukuleles, so you will need to understand the chord chart for the particular type of uke you own, or wish to learn to play.

Ukulele Chords

There are three main types of ukulele chords – major, minor and sevenths. Other types include diminishing and augmented.

Playing two or three notes at the same time on a scale will result in a chord.

When you first learn to play the ukulele, you should focus on practicing the simple major chords before attempting to conquer the minor ones, and then gradually move on to the others.

Understanding the theory of ukulele chords does not necessarily mean you will automatically use them correctly. An odd thing about the uke is that the same chart used on a soprano ukulele can be entirely different on a tenor uke.

The reason for this is the finger position on the fretboard results in a different sound because of the different styles of each ukulele. So, to create the sound you desire, make sure you are using the ukulele chord chart designed for your particular uke.

Ukulele Chord Chart Instruction Books

There are many ukulele training websites that teach you to tune your uke by listening to an audio clip. This method is very useful, especially when you first learn the chords.

It allows you hear what you are playing and how the chord should sound when it is properly tuned. However, this method relies on how well your computer plays back audio. Some computer speakers can totally distort the sound of the chord.

Another training method is with chord books. You can find many good ones for free online, buy them in music stores either online or in person, or borrow some from ukulele playing friends.

Playing the ukulele is always fun, but once you master the basics, you will find playing with others is truly an adventure.

You can learn from each other to become fabulous ukulele players and experiment with all of the different ukulele chord combinations.

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Ukulele Chord Chart