It can be downright hard to memorize ukulele chords.
There. I said it!
But you've got to memorize ukulele chords eventually, or you simply won't have fun playing.
There’s nothing more freeing when playing the uke, than knowing the chord shapes, so you can get your head up out of the sheet music. You can look around while you play, and see all the happy people dancing.
When you have your chords memorized, it also makes you a more flexible player, willing to take chances and try out new sounds, since you've got the basics memorized so they're easy to get back to.
First a warning!
You do NOT need to sit down and memorize “every chord in the book” (and, yes, there is a book!).
I see this in my beginner classes, when a new student's eyes just glaze over at the sight of those hundreds and hundreds of chords.
Repeating: you do not need to memorize all those chords!
Only memorize the ukulele chords that you're actually using
You're going to encounter the same handful of chords over and over again. Those will start to work their way into your consciousness almost automatically.
A suggestion: start your own chord list (here's a pre-made form with blank chord boxes, just waiting for you to fill in). When you encounter a new chord, it becomes one of “your” chords. Add it to your list, draw the little picture. These are the chords that YOU need for the songs you're actually playing.
Now, here are a few hot tips on how to memorize ukulele chords:
1–Play Songs That You Love!
And play them a lot. Nothing beats just beating the chords into your brain by sheer quantity of practice. And if you’re working on songs you love, the practice time will be fun. Five minutes a day! You’ll start to memorize the most common chords very quickly.
Use flashcards, or something like this online version of ukulele chord flashcards from Ukulele Go, to help you memorize ukulele chords and test your knowledge–and curse yourself for the ones you don’t know. (The cursing is not part of the flashcards, just a li'l tip from me).
3–Work Out a Pneumatic System
Sorry, that should be “mnemonic system.” I always forget that word…
You know the little chord diagrams? Can you connect the dots to make little pictures, like constellations? G7 is a triangle. Em is a bishop moving across a chessboard.
Those work for me. What pictures work for you?
(You might like this funny overlay of earth, wind, and fire (the elements, not the band) that was posted at Ukulele Underground.
4–Learn Chord Naming Shorthand
Lastly, here’s a handy way to “pronounce” ukulele chords, which, for me, makes much easier to memorize ukulele chords. I use this in classes all the time, so it’s a good one to know about.
Do you find it hard to follow someone teaching the finger placement of a new chord when it goes something like this: “Put your second finger on the third fret of the third string, your first finger on the first fret of the second string, and your third finger on the first fret of the first string”?
For the record, that may be a G7, I just described, but I get lost even trying to say it. And it’s baffling to try to understand it.
So here’s the shorthand.
Whenever you name the fingering of the chord, always go the same way across the strings, from string 4 to string 1. (Four is closest to the ceiling, one is closest to the floor).
Now just call the frets by number as you go across strings.
- Our old friend the C chord would be: 0003 (zero means no finger on that string–so strings 4, 3, 2 have no finger on them, string 1 is fretted at fret 3).
- C7 would be 0001
Now the downside is, you still have to work out which finger goes where, but at least you know which wheres need a finger.
A few more.
- A would be 2100
- A7 is 0100
- B7 is 2322
- The G7 I made fun of earlier: 0212
Once you get the hang of it, you can start to visualize the little chord diagrams when you hear the numbers.
Now you’ve got some concrete numbers to associate with the chord name, and that can make the chords easier to remember.
BTW, you can read my looong and helpful article for brand new ukulele beginners right here. I cover essential ideas and gear to help you get going on uke.