Let me tell you the good news about ‘ukulele chords:
You only need to know a handful to play thousands of songs!
But the bad news is…
There are thousands more chords that only get used occasionally, but are often critical to making more complex tunes sound right.
Never fear! As you learn these songs, you will gradually expand your chord knowledge to keep up. Once you know some basic chords, most songs you run into will only have one or two new shapes to learn.
- Basic chords
- Major, minor, and 7th chords in pictures
- Full multi-position chord charts
- How to read chord diagrams
- Chord lessons/articles
- Blank chord charts (printable)
‘Ukulele Chord Shapes Book
While the free content below will, no doubt, give you a jump start, my comprehensive book, ‘Ukulele Chord Shapes, will take you the rest of the way.
It covers everything you need to know (and probably everything you will ever want to know) about how ‘ukulele chords work, how to use them on the fretboard, and how to understand shapes for easier chord memorization.
55 pages. Available as PDF download or print book
Basic ‘Ukulele Chords (in Pictures)
To start off you should learn a handful of the most useful ‘ukulele chords. This is a ballpark list in no particular order:
C Major – 0003
F Major – 2010
G7 – 0212
A Minor – 2000
D Minor – 2210
G Major – 0232
D7 – 2223
E Minor – 0432
With those eight chords you can play tons of songs. If you need ideas for easy songs that you can practice the chords in, check out Easy ‘Ukulele Songs. It has a bunch of simple tunes with three or four chords that you can use for practice.
The Full Standard Pack of ‘Ukulele Chords
Moving beyond an introductory ‘ukulele chord chart, you’ll want to eventually learn the most common ways of playing all the major, minor, and 7th chords. There are 12 of each so you’re looking at memorizing 36 different fingerings. This is a lot of work so don’t try to do it all at once! Learn songs that gradually introduce new chords so you can learn them in context.
Here are pages of the three chord families. Each chord is shown with a diagram, tab numbers, and a picture of me holding the chord.
- How to Play Major Chords – ‘ukulele chord chart with pictures, tab, and box diagrams
- How to Play Minor Chords – ‘ukulele chord chart with pictures, tab, and box diagrams
- How to Play 7th Chords – ‘ukulele chord chart with pictures, tab, and box diagrams
For the square people out there (or the ones who like to print things out), here is a one-page chart of the same information:
- Basic ‘Ukulele Chord Chart – Major, Minor, 7th chords
Even though you’ll use the three chord families above most frequently, you might run across some weirder ones. Here are some of the other ‘ukulele chords sorted by family and presented as multi-position PDF charts.
How to Read a Chord Diagram Box
Chord diagrams are handy and probably the easiest way to show finger positions on the fretboard. This is due to the fact that a chord box looks just like the fretboard and has dots on the frets where your fingers should go. It’s very intuitive.
A chord diagram is made up of a grid. Four vertical lines represent the 4 strings of an ‘ukulele. On the left side is the G string. C and E follow, and on the right side is the A string.
Completing the grid are the horizontal fret lines, starting at the nut and making their way up the neck at even intervals as far as you need them two, though five lines is the most common.
Finger Dots are the last component of a chord diagram. These are round, usually black, dots that go on the string line and in between two fret lines. Each dot shows where you put your fingers. Sometimes the finger dots have numbers in the middle. These are guidelines as to what finger to place where (1=index, 2=middle, etc…). There are instances where a barre across several strings is necessary. This is shown with either multiple dots across one string (in which case you have to determine if you need to barre), or as several dots bound together to visually form a bar.
At the very top of the box is the chord name. This tells you what chord the box shows.
Sometimes, if the diagram is showing a section of the neck where the nut is not the lowest fret line, a number is shown to the left or right of the chord to tell you which fret to start the shape from.
The “Grip” Method
The above chord diagrams are awesome for learning chords, but are not very practical when you are trying to explain something in a plain text format (song sheet, forum post, etc…). Sometimes you will see a dedicated person take the time to format a chord like this:
_ _ _ _
| o | |
o | | |
| | | |
| | | |
But it would be easier to just notate it like:
Each number space indicates a string. On the left is G, on the right is A.
Each number itself shows what fret to play (0 = open string). So for this example you would play the G string, 2nd fret, the C string, 1st fret, and leave E and A ringing open. The best example of this format I can think of would be GX9901’s explanation of “Trapped” by Jake Shimabukuro.
Learning to play chords is great, but you need some context. Here are some lessons on ways to use chords and understand them better.
Constructing Chords – How a chord is created from a scale and a formula.
Diminished and Augmented chords – The funny sounding crew. Hard to use, but their shapes repeat so memorizing them is easy.
Hawaiian Vamp Chords – Also known as a “turnaround,” the Hawaiian vamp is the glue that holds traditional Hawaiian songs together.
Mandolin-Style “Open” Chords – Using open strings to create widely voiced chord leads to some great-sounding chords.
Power Chords – With only a 1 and a 5 you can blast yourself through some rockin’ tunes.
Resolving 7th chords – How to use a 7th push to lead your ear to the next chord.
Slash Chords – Easy for piano, hard for ‘ukulele. Here are some tips to defeat the mystery of the slash chord.
Other ‘Ukulele Chord Chart Resources
As far as I know, my book, ‘Ukulele Chord Shapes, is the most extensive ‘ukulele chord book around. That said, its method has a bit of a learning curve and might fly over the head of a beginning player.
If you are in the market for a book that shows single-use chords, my favorite is Roy Sakuma’s Treasury of ‘Ukulele Chords. A chord book of some type is really good to have!
When I was first studying chords and needed quick answers I used to love Brian’s HUGE chordlist collection. There are LOTS and LOTS of chords to discover there with more positions than you’ll ever use. Great stuff.