Leonard Cohen. The man was born with the gift of a golden voice. Poet, storyteller, guitarist, vocalist. Cohen truly was a troubadour of the old school.
With a whopping 15 studio albums covering a career of more than 50 years, he has a huge back catalog to choose from. But mention his name, and what’s the first song on everyone’s lips?
This is, of course, Leonard Cohen’s most famous song, and it lends itself well to a wide variety of instruments. But we all know that any song sounds best when played on the mighty uke! So let’s take a look at how to play “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen on ukulele.
“Hallelujah” was first released on Cohen’s 1985 album, Various Positions. While no one could deny the extraordinary lyricism and stirring chord progression, there was one very obvious problem with the song. It suffered from some seriously dodgy 80s production values.
So, how did it become so famous?
Step forward, Jeff Buckley. Buckley recognized the potential that the track could have and recorded a pared-down version with nothing more than his voice and a couple of guitars. This cover brought a haunting, melancholic air to the track that suited both the melody and the words far more than the original.
However, Buckley wasn’t exactly famous. To those in the know, he had an almost God-like status, but he wasn’t exactly mainstream. And yet, somehow, his famous rendition of Hallelujah become one of the most popular songs in the world.
Yep, you read that correctly! The big green guy is responsible for most of Hallelujah’s popularity! Since its inclusion on the soundtrack, it has been covered by artists, such as Jennifer Hudson, and is even a favorite choice for the first dance at many weddings. Mr. Shrek, take a bow.
This is a relatively simple ukulele tune to play when it comes to your fret hand. There are only five chords you need to know. In alphabetical order, they are A minor, C, E minor, F, and G.
If you’re not sure about those chords, then you’ll need a bit of help. And what could be better than this Ukulele Chord Book? Containing over 300 chords, it’s packed full of different finger positions with clear, easy-to-read diagrams.
So, how to play “Hallelujah” on the ukulele?
Start with a C chord. The easiest way to play that is just one finger on the first string (that’s the one at the bottom of the soundhole) pressing down at the third fret. From there, we’ll move onto an A minor, which is played with one finger on the fourth string (that’s the one closest to you) at the second fret. Then, repeat those two chords.
After that, it moves on to a couple of new chords. The next one is an F, played with one finger on the first fret of the second string and a second finger on the second fret of string four. From there, it goes to G, played with fingers on the first and third strings at the second fret, and a finger on the string number two at the third.
The minor fall, the major lift…
As the lyrics say, that’s exactly what happens next. Play that A minor again for the fall, then be uplifted again with an F chord! From there, it’s G, followed by an E minor, and then back to the A minor.
A quick word on that E minor, it goes slightly further up the fretboard than the other chords used here. Play the same way you would a G, but move that finger on the third string up to the fourth fret.
A chorus line…
That anthemic chorus of the word “Hallelujah” repeated four times is pretty straightforward once you’ve mastered all those chords. Play the F, followed by the A minor, then the F again. Then that final, long “Hallelujah” is C, G, and C.
Repeat after me…
There’s not much to the form of this tune. After all, it is a little on the repetitive side. It follows the same structure all the way through.
Each verse starts with the C and the A minor, which are repeated for the first two lines. From there, the final line of the verse progresses to an F, a G, and a C. It’s then wrapped up nicely with another G chord.
That G links it to the pre-chorus. Again, each pre-chorus follows the same pattern. As we saw earlier, the minor fall and the major lift, before ending on an A minor ready for the main event.
Say it again…
Hallelujah! Just one word repeated again and again for the chorus. And when it’s done, it’s back to those C and A chords in preparation for the next verse.
And that’s about it. There are no fancy bridges or complicated intro or outro. A song like this can stand tall on its own, part of its beauty coming from its simplicity.
To strum or to pick?
When learning how to play “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen on ukulele, while the fretting hand is busy, it’s important to think about the playing hand, too. What’s it doing? Is it strumming, or is it doing a spot of fingerpicking?
Does it matter?
Well, strumming is certainly easier. It also works well as an accompaniment to a voice. The strumming pattern is fairly simple, following a basic two down, two up, structure.
If you are planning to strum, a great set of soft strings is in order. These Martin Ukulele Strings are a fantastic choice for this style of playing. Made from fluorocarbon, they bring a warm sound to the instrument and hold the tuning well.
Pick me up
Fingerpicking sounds more impressive than strumming. But it is also more difficult. If you want to give it a try, take the time to work out a pattern that sounds the best for you.
A good place to start is with your first three fingers. Pluck one string after the other, starting on the first string, followed by the second, and then the third. Keep the thumb against the fourth string, and throw it in every so often at the same time as string one. Practice that for a while, and later it can be developed to make it more complicated.
Picking can be sore on the old fingertips, though. That’s where finger protectors and nail tips come in handy. This COCODE set has everything a ukulele beginner needs, from silicone finger caps to thumb and finger picks, and more!
Interested in the Ukulele?
We have you covered. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Concert Ukuleles For Beginners, the Best Ukuleles for Beginners, the Best Tenor Ukuleles, the Best Baritone Ukuleles, the Best Bass Ukulele, the Best Luna Ukulele, the Best Ukulele Case, the Best Ukulele Tuners, and the Best Lanikai Ukuleles on the market in 2022.
How to play “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen on Ukulele – Final Thoughts
Hallelujah is one of those songs that is an absolute joy to listen to and even better to play. And the ukulele adds a real sweet sadness to the tune that isn’t always found with other instruments. Whether strumming or picking, it’s a delight to play and a great song for a ukulele beginner to start honing their skills.
Learning to play “Hallelujah” on a ukulele isn’t easy for everyone, especially if you’re planning to pluck. But don’t worry if it doesn’t go right the first time. After all, in the immortal words of the great man himself:
“Even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the lord of song, with nothing on my tongue but… Hallelujah”.
Until next time, let your music play.