All around the world, the humble ukulele’s popularity has sky-rocketed in recent years. No longer just the dominion of Tiny Tim, everyone from Bruce Springfield to Eddie Vedder has come to love this pocket rocket’s bright, jangly tone. They’ve even begun to replace the recorder as the weapon of choice for music lessons in many elementary schools.
So, you want to give it a try. But where to start?
Luckily, it’s pretty easy to pick up a few basic chords. And what better way to practice than by covering your favorite artist’s tracks? That’s why I decided to pick out some famous ukulele songs you can learn to set you on your road to ukulele stardom.
Radiohead on the ukulele? That’s right! Amanda Palmer did it first, with her poignant rendition of this 1993 classic. Stripped of its heavy guitar riffs, when played on the uke, it gains a sweeter, and perhaps sadder, cadence. With just four chords, it’s a simple little ditty to start with and a great way to learn the ukulele.
Any Idioteque can do it…
This Uke’ An Play Radiohead: Uke’ An Play Series songbook contains everything a budding uke player needs for playing those favorite Radiohead songs. Containing “Creep,” “Fake Plastic Trees,” “Karma Police,” and more.
There’s a tune here for even the most casual fan. It has both chords and tabs, and a series of easy-to-read diagrams making it incredibly simple to follow. And what’s more, it’s a pretty reasonable price, too.
“Somewhere Over The Rainbow”
Any list of famous ukulele songs has to contain this sound of the islands. Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s iconic cover of this staple from the “Wizard of Oz” is the first track on anyone’s mind when they think of the ukulele.
With its laidback rhythms and straightforward progression of just seven chords, it’s a fun one to play. Especially while dreaming of lying in the sun, sipping on a Mai Tai.
The voice of Hawaii
Of course, a legendary tune like this deserves to be played on a special instrument. This Luna Great Wave Concert Ukulele fits the bill thanks to its awesome tone and stunning good looks.
Constructed from sturdy rosewood and mahogany, it displays a copy of Hokusai’s seminal painting “The Great Wave” proudly across its bodywork. It’s the perfect way to pay tribute to the greatest Hawaiian voice of our time.
“Build Me Up, Buttercup”
The Foundation of playing…
Up next is this fun little number. This joyful, old-school track suits the ukulele. Containing 11 different chords, there’s a little bit more to remember. So, it’s a good way for ukulele beginners to challenge themselves.
Dodie released a paired-down version several years ago that brought a more melancholic tone to the song. But when it comes to ukuleles, Julia Nune’s rendition is hard to beat. It retains the poppy, bouncy rhythm of the original, and her uke adds an uplifting, wholesome quality to this classic tune.
To get that happy, jangly sound, a uke needs an awesome set of strings. These D’Addario EJ87S Titanium Ukulele Strings should do the trick! Made for a soprano ukulele, they add a bright, upbeat tone to the instrument. They project the sound well, and D’Addario is a name you know you can trust.
“Here Comes The Sun”
Finger pickin’ good…
Most of the songs listed here so far are played with a strumming style. But what if you love listening to those finger-picking guitars? You’ll need to learn finger-picking on the uke, too.
This 1969 Beatles number is the ideal choice. Although it uses just seven basic chords, the playing hand needs to pick out a delicate pattern of notes. It’s more complicated than strumming but produces a fantastic sound and is a challenge for players looking to level up.
Pick me up…
Of course, playing like this is hard on the old fingertips, especially if you’re using metal strings. That’s where a set of guitar fingernails can come in handy. These National Guitar Picks (NP1-GP9) should do the job. Playing ukulele with a pick becomes a piece of cake with these useful stainless steel and plastic bad boys.
“La Vie En Rose”
Younger readers may be unfamiliar with Edith Piaf. However, for our list of famous ukulele songs you can learn, it deserves its place. Furthermore, thanks to Christin Milioti in “How I Met Your Mother,” a whole new generation has come to know and love this quintessential French standard. And good news! It’s a doddle to play and sounds incredible.
Lyrics filled with longing combine with the uke’s gentle tones to create a wistful song full of both regret and hope. The two complement each other beautifully, producing a completely different feeling to the more dramatic original. With a heady mix of majors and minors, this seven-chord ballad is perfect for those wanting to learn a few new finger positions.
Cut the chord…
But how do you learn all those different positions? An awesome book such as this Ukulele Chord Book is here to help. With over 300 chord variations and helpful diagrams, it’s a fabulous choice for both beginners and seasoned players. It’s a seriously handy option and won’t break the bank either.
Love the Ukulele?
We can help you satisfy your passion. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Luna Ukulele, the Best Lanikai Ukuleles, the Best Tenor Ukuleles, the Best Baritone Ukuleles, the Best Bass Ukulele, and the Best Electric Ukuleles you can buy in 2021.
You may also enjoy our detailed reviews of the Best Concert Ukuleles For Beginners, the Best Ukuleles for Kids, the Best Ukuleles for Beginners, the Best Ukulele Case, the Best Ukulele Straps, the Best Ukulele Capos, and the Best Ukulele Tuners currently on the market.
Famous Ukulele Songs You Can Learn – Conclusion
When it comes to popular ukulele songs that you can learn, the possibilities are endless. The mighty uke is such a versatile instrument it can lend itself to so many different musical styles. It’s not hard to see why it’s fast becoming one of the most popular instruments in the world.
I’ve only covered a small selection of songs that sound awesome on a ukulele. There are plenty more out there. There’s a song to suit every musician, whether they’re just starting or are ready to perform in public.
So, happy strumming, folks.