This is a lightning-fast post is laser-focused on helping you solve one vital ukulele problem: playing the blasted E chord. E major is widely hated by uke players, but it can be done (and this how-to has some secrets to make it actually almost easy…)
I’ve watched students literally AVOID songs that they’d love to play simply because the songs contain these diabolical chords.
Don't be that person.
Don’t not play.
Don’t not have fun.
Yes, E chord is physically tricky.
But you, my friend, are going to Defeat the E.
An Invaluable Bonus:
Once you learn this simple but uke-life-changing chord technique, you can apply it to other notoriously hard chords like D and Eb.
By the time you finish this little book (and put in some practice), you’re going to be pleasantly shocked at how quickly and efficiently and non-painfully you can jump to these chords, leaving others to choke on your dust.
Plan of Attack
We’ll first cover the standard ways of making E chords, so you can see why they truly are so hard -- and what we're trying to avoid and improve upon.
Then we’ll tackle my “Defeat the E” technique which is faster to get to and easier to play.
An invaluable bonus:
Once you learn to “Defeat the E,” you can also defeat E-flat and D, two other ukulele chords known to strike fear into the hearts of strong men.
These chords are all the same shape, they just occur on different frets.
So once you’ve defeated one, you’ve defeated ‘em all!
The “Typical” E Chord Shape
E chord on ukulele is one of the most hated of chords
And for good reason--it's hard!
Shown below are four standard ways to play the E chord on ukulele (in standard C tuning)–but those diagrams don't tell the whole story.
To be able to play these standard E chords smoothly and effectively, you've got to figure out duplicated notes; optimum finger positioning; and alternate methods that aren't shown on the diagrams!
That's what the rest of this section is about.
I’m going to talk you through these standard versions because there is a time and place for them, and it’s good to understand the way the poor, benighted rest of the world makes their E chords.
The good news is: there are simpler, faster variations and that’s where we’re heading.
Learn the Standard E (and then disregard it)
You should at least be familiar with the typical E, the one they usually show in the books.
By the time you’re done here, you’ll only use these standard versions of E (and E flat and D) very rarely, but it’s good to know what’s considered “normal” — that will help you understand what we’re changing and why the Improved Version works.
So here’s the Standard E:
Yep, four ways to play E.
(Be sure to note to the little numbers off the side. That indicates the fret where the chord is formed.)
All of these work; each has a time and place.
But read on to learn what’s wrong with each of these, and to learn the faster, simpler version that will change your uke playing.
Danno’s Starter Tips for making that icky E chord on ukulele
Let’s look at just that first version. This is the one that’s almost always shown in books and how-to videos.
This version of E is responsible for more people quitting ukulele than any other chord!
I’m going to go into detail on this version, just because it is so very common.
Now, if you follow the diagram, you’ll see four dots, implying four fingers.
- Do NOT use four fingers! This requires too much precision and will slow down your chord changes. If you want smooth, efficient chord changes…
- Use the barre instead. The barre is just your ring finger laid across the 4th fret, covering strings 4, 3, 2 (ceiling to floor). Check the pressure–just enough that each string rings out pure and true.
- If your ring finger isn’t mighty enough, first, make sure your thumb is behind the neck providing a GI Joe kung-fu grip. You’re SQUEEZING the neck between your thumb and finger. Second, you barre finger (ol' ringy), will need to bend and arc and scoop in order to NOT touch string 1. (You mustn’t touch string one with the barre finger, or you’ll accidentally mute it).
- Finally, pointer finger comes in to finish things up, string 1, fret 2. Sometimes it helps to place this finger FIRST, then add the barre. This lets you adjust this finger on its own, before you have to worry about the barre.
Troubleshooting this E chord shape:
Lots can go wrong with this chord. There's a reason so many people hate it.
A few things to try if you’re not getting a clear, pure sound, with each string ringing out.
- Is your thumb pressing on the back of the neck? (It can't be that lazy crotch of the thumb, like you can get away with for an easy G7).
- Is your ring finger BENT to avoid string 1? For many, this is the hardest part.
- BIG TIP: For this E chord, the back of your hand is parallel to the floor. Unlike an F or G chord, where you can move in from the top of the neck, for E, you've got to send your fingers UP from the floor!
Yes, there is an easier way to play E chord on ukulele.
The previous chapter shows how to play E chord on ukulele “by the book.” Remember -- it looks like this:
It’s not the easiest chord.
In fact, in my real-world classes, it’s the uke chord most likely to cause someone to break down in tears.
Wobbly bent fingers and tears–that's no fun, is it?
Now in this chapter, let me show you an easier way to play E chord on ukulele, ok?
Mind you, I said easier not easiest.
This is another, slightly different shape — though still not the “Defeat the E” version we’re ultimately going for.
Again, it’s valuable to know the different versions — time and place and all that.
Here's the secret:
Remember, a standard E chord on ukulele looks like the little diagram here--
Let’s name the fingering as: 4442.
(Uke pros use a shorthand to describe this. Going from ceiling to floor across the strings, we can just name the frets that are covered. So this E is: 4442.)
Add a high E note.
Now in Part 1, I already showed you how to play the chord with a barre--that is, one finger across the strings. (VERY important).
The trouble is that it's really hard to barre strings 4, 3, 2, and NOT accidentally close off string 1 as well. (String one is closest to the floor.)
So if you shouldn't close off string one accidentally… What if we closed it off on purpose?
Aaaah, now you're thinking like a devious ukulele player who gets the gigs…
- Go ahead and barre at fret 4. All four strings. (See barring tips at the previous chapter, if you need 'em).
- Now, use that mighty little finger of yours and reach aaaall the way to fret 7 on string 1 (closest to the floor). So barre at 4, add fret 7.
That's an E note, and you’re adding it onto an E chord. This shape is easier to make because you don't have to be fussy about string 1.
And it sounds just fine.
Sometimes that high E note will just sound too…high. Too stand-out. A little jarring.
Plus it's SLOW to get to this shape. You have to go out of your "little box" where chords feel most comfortable. And that can make the transition awkward and make song sound a little sloppy. So there's one more variation that's my favorite. My go-to ukulele E chord 90% of the time.
(Yes, finally -- it’s the official “Defeat the E” version).
(That’s the next chapter).
For now, give this version a go.
And we'll talk about “Danno’s Favorite Ukulele E Chord” next. (It’s not a new shape. It's a trick.)
NOW: Let’s Defeat the E
This is the easiest and best ukulele E chord.
Which is not to say that it's easy. But by comparison, this is the easiest E chord on the ukulele. 🙂
You're either going to love this or hate this.
Because this method of making E chord on ukulele:
- is fast to get to
- is simpler to make
- works for D chord and E-flat, too
- sounds as good as any other version
So what's to hate?
Well, there’s the burning anger you might feel at having done it the hard way all this time. And, I'll admit, some people look down on this method as a “cheat.” And that just makes me like it even more...
May I present: the best and/or easiest ukulele E chord.
Earlier, I made this argument:
I already taught you (in Chapter 1) to play the chord with a barre—that is one finger across the strings. The trouble is that it's really hard to barre strings 4, 3, 2, and NOT accidentally close off string 1 as well. So if you shouldn't close off string one accidentally… What if we closed it off on purpose?
(Remember? You closed of string 1 by adding the high E note on fret 7).
Now we’ll close off string 1 on purpose--but differently.
Stick with me now.
When you play an E “by the book” (4442, frets ceiling to floor), strings 4 and 1 actually play the same note (a G, if you're curious).
And...string 1, closest to the floor, is what makes the chord so hard to form.
And...if string 1 duplicates the note of string 4... (you see where we're going, don't you!) --
What if...we completely eliminate string 1?
We’ve still got the other three strings ringing out, playing the same notes you'd have. But we eliminate the trouble spot.
Here’s how to do it:
We're going to stick with the barre--one finger across all four strings at fret 4. Now remember: you can't barre string 1 or it stops being an E chord!
You can do a very tricky dip with your barre finger to allow string one to ring out (where you've used another finger to cover fret 2) -- yikes!
Or you can do the Chapter 2 trick and add string one, fret 7.
But with a little practice you can
- barre at string 4 (all four strings)
- think of your finger as a rigid, um, bar
- tilt that bar, just a tiny bit so that pressure is eased off string 1. NOT RELEASED--just eased.
- goal is a muted string 1, while the other strings ring out loud and proud
- AND THAT'S IT!
BONUS! How To Move Your E Chord to Instantly Get New Chords
Once you can make your fingers make that shape, then here’s how you instantly convert it to other chords.
Do NOT change the shape of your fingers! Keep that E chord shape.
But slip the whole shape down (toward the head) one fret. (Now instead of the chord being at frets 2 and 4, it's at 1 and 3).
Insta-Chord: It's now an E-flat!
Let's go back up.
Pass the regular E at fret 2, and stop at fret 3. Voila! Insta-Chord: that's an F.
Keep going up the neck with the same shape. You'll get to F#, G, and on and on, as long as your ukulele neck will let you!
What about, you know, PRACTICE?
Conceptually my "Defeat the E" Chord is just so EASY.
But it still takes some practice to get it. But believe me it's worth it. For all the reasons stated above, plus a few others that will become apparent as you advance your other ukulele skills.
A final word about this easiest ukulele E chord:
Yes, this is the method I use 90% of the time. But all the other shapes and methods have their place and time, too. It's worth learning them all and having them at your beck and call.
But for speed and efficiency without sacrificing sound quality, “Defeat the E” is the way to go!
A quick re-cap of the Defeat the E method
Because it’s so simple conceptually, I want to make sure you appreciate all the features of this version.
- You can get to the chord quickly
- You can make the chord with just ONE finger — eliminating the fumbling and precision the other versions call for
- You’re MUTING string 1 — it’s not supposed to ring out
- The other three strings are playing all the notes you need for a fully musical, legitimate E chord.
This version takes some practice to get it — but it’s so worth it!
In the video course, you’ll see me going through a song with really quick changes between D and E. Instead of struggling to get to these chords quickly and in time with the song, I’m able to do it easily, because it’s just one finger whammed into position.
All the other version work, of course, but I think once you start using this in actual songs, actually moving from chord to chord, you’ll see how quickly, smoothly, and easily, the once-hated E chord has become.
A Mental Trick to Help You Form the E Chord on Ukulele
Used much more often than E chord is D.
You may already have a favorite way to play D. If so, notice that: the E chord is the D chord moved up two frets.
(Of course you have to close off that open first string, but that's what this whole chapter is about!)
Overall, for me, it helps to visualize a new chord or a hard chord in relation to a chord I already know how to play.