Friday, July 5, 2024

My Ukelele Progress Levels - Songs to Play From The Beginning

At this point I am maybe an intermediate ukelele player; I can play Sing and Climb Every Mountain poorly in the key of C. These ukelele learning progress levels are mostly for myself. Maybe somebody else will find them useful. Let me know if you need specific chord charts for any of these songs.

General Notes:

1. Hyphen lists of chords (C-Am-F-G) represent progressions that occur at some point in a song.

2. Comma lists of chords (C, G7) are all the chords of a song in their order of appearance.


New chords

New songs (easiest first)

Practical and theoretical notes



Some rounds: Are You Sleeping, Row Your Boat, Three Blind Mice

The common ukelele is a soprano ukelele. Its most natural or easiest key (scale) to play in is the key of C. For the key (scale) of C, C is the tonic chord (I), which is a foundation of music. Depending on the song, the key of C may not be easy to sing in, but that's the price of being a beginner. Later you can play also in the key of G to make most songs work reasonably well with your vocal range. Meanwhile, you can add a capo (¢) temporarily to at least practice more songs.



Rounds variations, Down in the Valley, It Ain't Gonna Rain No More, Polly Wolly Doodle, La Cucaracha, The Wheels On The Bus

For the key of C, G7 is the dominant seventh chord (V7) that leads strongly (resolves) to the tonic chord C. This is a second foundation of music. Experiment with adding G7 to some of the rounds from Level 1.



Cielito Lindo, This Land Is My Land, Oh Danny Boy*, Oh Susanna, When They Ring Those Golden Bells*, Rock of Ages, How Great Thou Art, Purple People Eater, She'll Be Coming Around The Mountain, My Bonnie To Me, Joy To the World ¢ = capo, Silent Night ¢, Up On The Housetop ¢

For the key of C, F is the subdominant chord (IV) that leads to the tonic (I) in the plagal cadence (IV-I) or "Amen" (F-C). With the dominant G7 and the tonic C, the subdominant F opens up a universe of traditional songs (*at least in their simplest form).

The plagal cadence (IV-I "Amen") is a nice way to end songs with the "Oh, yeah!" sound (What A Wonderful World).



Heart and Soul, In The Still Of The Night, *A Teenager In Love, Duke of Earl, The Monster Mash, This Magic Moment, Who Put the Bomp, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, Total Eclipse of the Heart, Unchained Melody, Stand By Me*, Mandy

For the key of C, Am is the submediant (vi) chord. Adding it opens up the 50's chord progression I-vi-IV-I (C-Am-F-I). *Some of these songs sound better with a plain G instead of G7, and that's at the very next level.


This Land Is Your Land, When They Ring Those Golden Bells, Oh Danny Boy ("and all the flow'rs")

C7 is very easy to play, and since it is the dominant chord of the key of F, it is a great way to foreshadow the F chord leading into the chorus on later verses of songs including some of your earlier songs.


G, D7

Home on the Range ("deer" in chorus)

1. A super cool concept in music theory is secondary dominants or secondary function, in which any dominant seventh chord can resolve to the tonic chord of some key (scale). In the key of G, the dominant seventh is the D7 chord, and it can resolve to the G chord, which adds a really nice effect temporary "key of G" feel to these new songs. Remembering secondary function (and the "circle of fifths") is a huge trick for figuring out your way through songs by ear.

2. Now that you know how to play both the plain G and the G7 chords, you can add variation and nuance to some of your earlier songs by changing to G initially and then changing to G7 just when your artistic sense calls for its foreshadowing effect. You can also play the more "original" form of the 50's chord progression, which may make some of the Level 4 songs sound better.



Sincerely, When You Wish Upon A Star

1. This is the first, mild "finger squisher" chord. Three-finger squishers to come later (D, Eb, E).

2. You can use the Dm chord as a second verse or second phrase variation on the F chord in the 50s chord progression or other contexts (Perhaps Love).

2. Point 
2 implies that the Dm chord (ii) may lead to the G chord (V). Noticing that Dm is a minor form of the dominant of the key of G is helpful because sometimes "circle of fifth" progressions want to alternate between minor and major like this (B7-Em-A7-Dm-G7-C as in "...goes, some things are meant to be. Take...." in Can't Help Falling in Love).


Em, B7

Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Shenandoah, Perhaps Love, O Holy Night, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

These two three-finger chords are fun to learn together since your fingers stair-step up the frets identically for them both, making it delightfully easy to switch between them. Now we can play some fancy songs!



What A Wonderful World (C-Em-F-C-F-C-E7-Am, F-G7-C-F-G)

Happily, E7 is not hard to play!



Home on the Range (last "word"), When They Ring Those Golden Bells ("...gether")

Fm is a hard chord to play. But it lets you add fancy endings to songs. Try adding it at the end of these songs.


C+, CMaj7

Let There Be Peace On Earth (CMaj7 before "Let me/us walk..." and C+ at last "... there be ... ")

These new "fancy" chords are very easy to play, and they add nice nuances.



Can't Help Falling In Love (Em-B7-Em-B7-Em-B7-Em-A7-Dm-G)

As we spend more time (even temporarily) in the key of G, we find the need for the dominant chain ("circle of fifths") A7-D-D7-G



Sing (C, CMaj7, Am, F, Dm, G, G7, C7, D7, Gm, Fm)

Gm is related to C7, and in "Sing" at the climax note "long", we could play C7, but it sounds a little better to play Gm.


Cm, D

Climb Every Mountain (C, D7, G, Gm, C, Am, Fm, C, G7, CMaj7, C7, A7, D, Em, C+)

Cm and D look similar on a ukelele chord chart, but where Cm is an easy three-string bar chord, D is a challenge. Both arise from being in the key of G, with Cm acting like Fm (iv) and C acting like G (V).

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