Music Theory for Ukulele

Music is a very abstract thing, but there are some foundation guidelines most songs follow called “theory.”

Music theory isn’t necessary to learning the ukulele – many great players have done without – but it will explain a lot and make you a more rounded musician. It isn’t meant to replace what you already know, just to clarify the origins of notes, scales, chords, and keys.

My best theory content can be found in my 80 minute video workshop:

For theory beginners and intermediates | 80+ minutes

This video workshop and handout will help you understand the basics of practical music theory for the ukulele.

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Theory follows a progression and should probably be learned in order.


The notes of Western music are a good place to start.

Here are some visuals of the chromatic scale on the fretboard.


Once you know that B and C are neighbors along with E and F, you can start:

Constructing Scales

You can also quantify scales from a more advanced perspective using:

Modes for ukulele


From a scale you can create a chord.

Constructing Chords

Diatonic Harmony (aka Chord Scales)

If you think of triad chords as three offset scales, you can figure out exactly what chords naturally occur in any key:

Diatonic chord scales

Changing Keys

Finally, you can move the pitch of a song up or down to fit the range of the instrument or your voice. This is called:


Some people transpose on the fly by using a capo.

Other Theory Lessons

Resolving 7th chords with the circle of fifths

A word of warning.

It’s very easy for “Western thinking” people to get caught up in trying to riddle a song out like a math problem. Don’t fall into this trap. Music is art. If you try to put it in a box it’s going to make your life difficult.

You can find all of this ukulele music theory information condensed into a one page reference sheet here.