35 Easy Ukulele Songs for Beginners

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Recently, Terry over at Uke Like the Pros invited me to choose 35 songs well-suited to the beginning ukulele player and write about them for his site.

That article is now live. See it here! (note: Site editors are clearly adding songs to the list of 35 I sent them. Every time I click over, the number is higher. ;) I can't vouch for all of the new additions, but I'd imagine they're fun to play!)

One of the things that was hard for me was that I needed to keep my word count down so that people could get to the list and links, but I am very much a "there's not just one 'right' way" teacher, so I thought I'd share my longer article introduction here on my own site.

35 Easy Ukulele Songs for Beginners

Are you a beginning ukulele player looking for easy songs to learn on your instrument? New and beginner-level ukulele players often turn to the internet as a source of chord charts (sometimes called chord sheets -- or lead sheets, if they include the melody line), and there’s a lot floating around out here. In fact, it can be overwhelming to wade through all the websites, pdfs, and video tutorials that share chords for almost any song you can think of trying on uke.

As a ukulele enthusiast with a passion for research and resources, I’d love to help you sort through those virtual piles! Based on my time spent on my own learning, as well as teaching individuals and leading story time, ukulele club, and jam groups for all ages (literally from babies on up), I’ve compiled a list of 35 songs that both work well on ukulele and which contain chords appropriate for those at the beginner level.

You know, I don’t always like that word “appropriate,” so let’s back up a second here. You really could choose any chord as your “first” ukulele chord, and you could go on to learn additional chords in any order. There’s no “Ukulele Police Force” out there, after all. If you’re motivated to play something in particular, go for it and don’t let any list stop you! That said, I know many ukulele players new to the instrument, or with limited skills but great potential, start with 1- and 2-finger chords, and with songs that contain just a few chords overall, before moving on to more fingers and more chords and/or faster chord changes.

It’s also very common for a ukulele player to start out by learning the C, C7, Am, and A7 chords, in one order or another, which are often-used 1-finger chords. These are frequently followed by F and/or A, both of which are played with two fingers. The G and G7 chords are 3-finger chords considered crucial by most players (and composers), as is the D chord, and Em is another one I encourage you to learn.

We’ve just uncovered the tip of the iceberg here, as there are many, many other chords you can learn, and while I don’t want you to be scared of any chord -- all it takes for many players to get past a tricky one is practice and some experimentation to find the finger placements and voicings that work best for you and the song you’re playing -- I do recognize that many beginning players hold off on partial-barre and barre chords (in which you hold down two or more strings with one finger) like the most common shapes for B and its relatives, and 4-finger chords like the much-maligned (but so worth learning!) E chord. For that reason, though I don’t think you should worry about actively avoiding any chord you might like to play in a song, I’ve limited my list to songs using between one and 5 chords in total, and I’ve focused on songs containing the chords I mentioned one paragraph above this one.

Remember, you shouldn’t feel limited to these songs; most of us feel more motivated to practice when we are working on songs we know and love, and passionately want to play. Learning the ukulele can and should be fun. But if you need a place to start, why not scan down my list and choose some favorites and/or listen to some songs you’ve never heard before? You never know what will inspire you to spend another 15 minutes “at play” (pun intended).

A note on the chords given in the links I provided: If you compare two ukulele or guitar chord charts for the same song, they may look slightly -- or very -- different, with different chords given on each one. This is true for several reasons. One reason chords can vary is that there is room in any song for individual interpretation, such as whether a “7 chord” like G7 is played in place of a G major chord, and choices like that can also affect whether a song appears to be a three-chord song or a 4-chord song.

Also, for a song that’s been covered by dozens of artists, the source material that the chord sheet maker has in mind will inform the chords that are given on the arrangement. The more chords you learn, the more you’ll see how subtle shifts in shape and placement on the fretboard can affect your sound.

Another reason we see song sheets with different chord progressions for the same song is that the chords given depend on in which key the song is being played. A song played in the key of C will have different chords than the same song played in D (or any other key), for example, and the chords to all songs change as the key is transposed up or down.

See my list of 35 Easy Ukulele Songs for Beginners over on Uke Like the Pros and let me know if you have any questions or need further resources.
Happy Strumming!