If you are looking forward to learning some songs on your ukulele, you might have asked this question at some point. I know I have. With a little practice and research, I got it down to a process that will help you.
How to change ukulele chords quickly? You can develop the skill of changing ukulele chords quickly by consistently practicing changing between the chords very slowly, starting with two chords at a time, and doing so repeatedly. As you do this often, chord changes become more seamless since your muscle memory will recall it for you when you try to change between chords.
Practice the Changes on Common Chords First
You probably don’t think of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and Beyonce’s “If I were a boy” as similar songs. Yet, the truth is, those 2 songs and hundreds more are created with the same 4 chords.
A great example of these 4 chords can be heard in a song played by “The Axis of Awesome“. In their medley, The Axis of Awesome uses the same 4 chords to play the most popular pop songs. You can hear how songs you’ve loved your whole life are simple to play.
It only takes knowing a few chords to play songs by Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Adele, Taylor Swift and more! The four strings on the ukulele make learning chords easier than on most instruments.
Once you know the chords you have to practice how to transition between them. Without smooth chord transitions, your melody will be lost.
If you’re feeling a little discouraged, fear not, Uke can do it! I’ve created this article to help you learn the right techniques for switching between chords.
Something to keep in mind is that timing and tempo are powerful tools in music. Studies have proven that the tempo of a song will affect your mood. If you want to play a song and create a certain feeling, you have to get the tempo right.
Being able to switch between chords goes hand in hand with hearing the song’s melody and rhythm. Now that you understand the importance of tempo, take a look at the three ukulele chords you need to know.
I’ll be using these 3 to teach you how to transition. The 3 beginner’s chords are:
- G major
- C major
- F major
A lot of musicians stop after they learn how to play all 3 chords. However, to understand the ukulele you have to practice your technique. You have to slowly practice transitioning between each chord.
Your chording hand has to develop:
- Finger Strength
- Finger Flexibility
- Finger Independence
- Muscle Memory
Start spending the time to exercise your hands and fingers. You can use specific hand exercises and the techniques I discuss below for chord transitions.
Your brain is an amazing tool with unlimited learning power. Oxford University published a study where they discovered your brain dedicates entire regions to muscle memory.
While it may seem tedious, slow practice will lay the foundation for playing songs fast. Next, I’ll show you how to exercise your fingers to strengthen your chording hand.
Ring Finger Isolation Warm-up Exercise
Finger independence is an important part of chord transitions. In your day to day life, you don’t have many tasks that build or strengthen your ring finger. Playing the ukulele is one of the only times your ring finger gets to “work out”.
Because of this, it’s important to spend time building up the ring fingers muscle.
To practice isolating your ring finger, hold the G chord but lift up your ring finger.
Keep both your middle and index finger still. You will only move your ring finger to the C position (A string, 3rd fret). You’ll notice an inner struggle as your brain tries to move the other fingers (middle and index). This is completely normal, with practice you won’t feel any mental resistance.
Watch your hand and make sure only the 1 ring finger is moving. It can help to do this exercise in front of a mirror. After you move the ring finger to the A string (3rd fret), move it back to the G chord position (E string 3rd fret).
This is an exercise where your ring finger has to function independently. It’s also a great way to warm up before practicing chord transitions.
G Major to C Major
First, place your chording hand in the G major chord position. G is one of the most difficult chording positions so it will help to make the G chord a starting point. Take your time as you correctly position each finger over the individual strings.
Now strum one string at a time and listen to the sounds they make. Individual strumming will help you make sure you’re holding each string down all the way. You have to apply a good amount of pressure to get the right sound.
Really press down on the front strings on the ukulele and use your thumb to press against the back neck. A good way to remember to press hard is to imagine the ukulele disappearing.
If the ukulele neck went away you would be firmly pinching your fingers together. Now that you have the G chord perfect, hold it in place. Move the ring finger to the C chord position. Keep your other 2 fingers ready as you use your ring finger to play a C chord.
To prevent your fingers from flying off the strings have them patiently hover. Your middle and index finger hover about 1/2 an inch above the ukulele strings. Play the C chord and then press your middle and index finger back down.
Move your ring finger back to the correct string for G, apply equal pressure on all fingers, and strum each string. Strum the G chord two times to be sure you are pressing hard enough.
Then, once again move the ring finger to C position and hover the middle and index finger. Slowly strum the strings with your hand in the C chord position. Spend about five minutes transitioning from G to C.
G to F Exercise
Moving from G to F is more difficult than other chord transitions. There’s a lot of connections that have to happen in your mind to build up your muscle memory. Be patient with yourself as you slowly practice the transitions.
Once again you will start with your hand in the G position. Do the same as you did before, press down on the strings and strum each one. To move from G to F keep the ring finger in place.
When you start to practice the change in hand positions, you might need to hold the ring finger down. You can use your strumming hand to hold the ring finger on the string.
With your ring finger staying in place, move the index finger to the first fret on the E string. Then slowly move your middle finger up to the second fret on the G string. Now it’s the ring fingers turn to hover 1/2 an inch above the string.
Keeping your middle and index finger in place for the F chord, strum each string.
Now, you will move backward to resume the G chord position. Press down on the ring finger, slowly move the middle finger to the A string and let the index finger find the right place on the C string.
You did it! You just practiced going from G to F and back to G. Try again, start with G, keep the ring finger in place, move the index and middle, hover the ring finger and strum. Then press back down with the ring finger and slowly move the middle and index back to the G position.
Start small, slow, and repeat
Now, your brain is starting to make connections to find the most efficient hand movement. As a beginner, it’s important to pay special attention to your entire arm.
Everything should be still, the hand cradling the neck, only your fingers will move.
Whenever you are having difficulty with a transition, apply this process:
- Slow down
- Break up the movements
A great practice technique is to try switching chords between every four beats. First, pick two chords you want to use to practice changing hand positions. Strum the first chord, up and down for four beats.
On the up strum of the last beat, before you change chords, remove all of your fingers and strum down to play an open chord. Next, position your hands to play the second chord you want to practice. As you get faster and faster you can improve to switching chords every two beats.
When you’re learning a song, it can help to write the chord changes over the lyrics. Knowing the exact word a chord changes on can help you prepare. Many musicians make it a habit to always look ahead in the music their playing. This way they can predict the chord changes before they have to make them.
Start Playing Your Favorite Songs
Now you know how to practice ukulele chords for beginners. We’ve started MusicianAuthority.com to help people just like you learn the right way to play.
I have over 15 years of experience by myself and in groups. On my site, you will find musical articles for easy songs as well as classic tunes. Take a moment to visit the chords section for handy videos on how to play each chord.
You also have to check out the ukulele accessories section. You’ll find items you didn’t even know you need to have! Please feel free to contact me with any of your questions or comments. Happy playing!
Well my ukulele friends, I really hope this article was informative for you. My main goal is to help beginner ukulele players and I’m confident this guide will help you learn how to play basic ukulele chords and how to become better. Remember that practice makes progress. Take it one step at a time. Learn a chord really well before you go on to the others. Here’s a really helpful video covering common chords.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.