It still amazes me that the title of this post holds true. You can play hundreds (if not thousands) of songs using just 4 chords on your ukulele. Read on to find out which chords, why it works and see a list of songs…
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The Chords (they’re all easy)
I guess the first thing you want to know is what those chords are. Well let me start by saying the relationship between the chords is I, V, Vi and IV. If that doesn’t mean much to you, don’t worry. In the key of C that gives us C, G, Am and F.
Try playing through those chords a few times, almost immediately you’ll start to hear songs you know as you play. Change the order and you’ll start to recognise even more. Try some different strumming patterns (get some help with strumming here) with those chords and see if you can hear anything you recognise.
Axis Of Awesome
This is probably best shown with the rather brilliant 4 Chords video by Axis Of Awesome. If you’ve not seen it already (where have you been hiding?) take a few minutes to watch it now.
I was pretty blown away when I first watched that video which I think most people were, hence it’s massive popularity. Here’s the list of songs they manage to get through using just 4 chords…
The Song List
- Journey – “Don’t Stop Believing”
- James Blunt – “You’re Beautiful”
- Black Eyed Peas – “Where Is the Love”
- Alphaville – “Forever Young”
- Jason Mraz – “I’m Yours”
- Train – “Hey Soul Sister”
- The Calling – “Wherever You Will Go”
- Elton John – “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” (from The Lion King)
- Akon – “Don’t Matter”
- John Denver – “Take Me Home, Country Roads”
- Lady Gaga – “Paparazzi”
- U2 – “With Or Without You”
- The Last Goodnight – “Pictures of You”
- Maroon Five – “She Will Be Loved”
- The Beatles – “Let It Be”
- Bob Marley – “No Woman No Cry”
- Marcy Playground – “Sex and Candy”
- Men At Work – “Land Down Under”
- Theme from America’s Funniest Home Videos
- Jack Johnson – “Taylor”
- Spice Girls – “Two Become One”
- A Ha – “Take On Me”
- Green Day – “When I Come Around”
- Eagle Eye Cherry – “Save Tonight”
- Toto – “Africa”
- Beyonce – “If I Were A Boy”
- Kelly Clarkson – “Behind These Hazel Eyes”
- Jason DeRulo – “In My Head”
- The Smashing Pumpkins – “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”
- Joan Osborne – “One Of Us”
- Avril Lavigne – “Complicated”
- The Offspring – “Self Esteem”
- The Offspring – “You’re Gonna Go Far Kid”
- Akon – “Beautiful”
- Timberland featuring OneRepublic – “Apologize”
- Eminem featuring Rihanna – “Love the Way You Lie”
- Bon Jovi – “It’s My Life”
- Lady Gaga – “Pokerface”
- Aqua – “Barbie Girl”
- Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Otherside”
- The Gregory Brothers – “Double Rainbow”
- MGMT – “Kids”
- Andrea Bocelli – “Time To Say Goodbye”
- Robert Burns – “Auld Lang Syne”
- Five for fighting – “Superman”
- The Axis of Awesome – “Birdplane”
- Missy Higgins – “Scar”
Ok that might be only 47 and I did say hundreds but Axis Of Awesome had to stop somewhere otherwise their video would have gone on for hours. The truth is there are loads more to go at. Even just noodling around with those chords for a while you’re likely to find a few new ones.
Why do so many songs use the same chords?
Technically all of the songs listed above don’t use the same chords. They use the same relationship between chords. Axis of Awesome simply transposed all of the songs so they could play them using the same 4 chords and they’re completely recogniseable. It’s the relationship between those chords that’s the important bit.
Ultimately it’s pretty simple, this combination of chords works incredibly well together. There’s just something that is pleasing to our ears about those chords and that keeps musicians coming back time and time again. The thing that amazes me about it though is that songs can sound so different despite being based on the same formula. It’s a chord combination that crosses genres too as you’ll see from the list of songs above.
What’s The Strumming Pattern?
No doubt some of you reading this will want a definitive strumming pattern for this one. As most of the songs that Axis Of Awesome play are backed by a piano there’s no exact strumming pattern but if you really want some help on this, you could watch this rather brilliant TED video where Josh Kaufman has a crack at the 4 chord song on a uke…
I’ve set the video to play from the point that Josh starts playing but the whole video is worth a watch if you’re interested in learning.
For the record, it looks like Josh is play the good old-fashioned D DU UDU which looks like this…
If you need some help getting to grips with this rhythm – check out my post on the most important strumming pattern you’ll ever learn.
As I always say though, just use it as a guide. If you’re trying to play 47 songs using the same chords with the same strumming pattern it’s going to sound a little bit boring sooner or later, so experiment with missing some strums here and there to build your own patterns and it will sound so much better for it.
For some more strumming pattern inspiration take a look at my post – 32 ukulele strumming patterns.
A Different Key
Although Axis of Awesome play the songs using E B C#m and A. Those chords can be transposed into a completely different key as long as we retain the relationship. In the key of G for example the chords would be G, D, Em and C. Try it now using those chords instead, can you still recognise the songs?
Hopefully your song repertoire has just increased considerably!
If you really want to progress your strumming at a rapid rate then I’d highly recommend taking a look at Al Wood’s downloadable ebook How To Play Ukulele Strums. For just $12 you get an in-depth guide showing you how to play 49 different strums with supporting videos and MP3 files. There’s also a really useful section that focuses on counting strums the easy way (something I wish I had when I was learning to play).