When it comes to learning chords, it is important to know not only the notes (frets on each string) but also the fingering (what fingers to put on each string). Learning a string instrument such as the ukulele is based a lot on memorizing patterns and figures; which form chords, scales, and chord progressions. A same chord can be played in a different way according to the musician, but also according to the previous or next chord in the song, though this is a bit of an advanced topic for a beginner.
3 Must-know chords
The first 3 chords you should learn are C, F and G. They correspond to degrees I, IV and V of the C major scale.
C Chord – 0003
The most basic chord just requires one finger on the third fret of the first string. It is recommended to use the ring finger of the left hand to play this chord, as it will make it easier to change to another chord later.
F Chord – 2010
Now, for this chord, we need two fingers: the index finger must be placed on fret 1 of the second string, and the middle finger on fret 2 of the fourth string. With this finger position, it is very easy to change from C chord to F, because they don’t require the same fingers.
G Chord – 0232
One notch harder now with this 3-finger chord: index finger on the second fret of the third string, middle finger on the second fret of the first string, and ring finger on the third fret of the second string.
5 useful chords
If 3 chords are more than enough to play hundreds of songs on your ukulele, it’s also rather limited. By simply adding 5 more chords to your collection, you will be able to play thousands of songs.
Am Chord – 2000
Another very easy chord, which requires only one finger (preferably the middle finger) on the second fret of the g-string. That’s by far the most popular minor chord.
A Chord – 2100
Another 2-fingers chord: the index finger must be placed on fret 1 of the third string, and the middle finger on fret 2 of the fourth string. With this finger position, it is very easy to change from A chord to Am (remove your index finger… that’s it!) or F (index finger stays on 1st fret, but is placed on the string below – the E-string).
D chord – 2220
This one requires 3 fingers, all placed on fret 2. Index finger on 4th string, middle finger on 3rd string, and the ring finger on 2nd string. Main difficulty here is to place 3 fingers in a relative tiny space, especially on the Soprano. It’s even harder with big fingers, and almost impossible if you combine both.
Note that it is possible to play this chord with a single finger (usually the ring finger) if you’re physically able to bend it outwards enough.
Em chord – 0432
This chord requires 3 fingers, each placed on a different fret and on a different string: Index finger on fret 2 of the 1st string, middle finger on the 3rd fret of the 2nd string, and the ring finger on 4th fret on 3rd string.
E chord – 1402 or 4442
I kept the best for the end… The chord every ukulele player hates: the E major chord!
If you try to play it properly (one finger per fret), you only need three fingers but… it requires the little finger! Needless to say it’s VERY complicated. It would not be important if this chord was not so common. Here is how to play it: index finger on 1st fret (4th string), little finger on 4th fret (3rd strong), middle finger on 2nd fret (1st string).
Hopefully, there exists an alternative position a bit easier (but not necessarily easy) to play:
The trick consists of replacing the non-conventional 1402 shape with something more common. On the downside, you need to use 4 fingers instead of 3.
Place your index finger on 2nd fret of 1st string, and other finger on 4th fret (middle finger on 4th string, ring finger on 3rd string, little finger on 2nd string). You can also bar and then (like for the D chord above). You can eventually press all four 3 strings with the same finger.
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