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!
Strum Like A Pro
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).
18 thoughts on “Play Hundreds of Songs On Your Ukulele With Just 4 Chords”
This is so true! It’s why the `ukulele is such a “deceptively” easy instrument: 4 chords and you can be a superstar! I saw Axis of Awesome do this live on stage…too funny! Mahalo for sharing this!
Wow, you saw it live, that’s amazing Lina! Thanks for commenting.
I got my first ukulele a few days ago and I’ve been in love with the instrument ever since. Thank you so much for this amazing article, I’m so excited to get started! I didn’t know about those chord relationships until you stated so here! It’s really helpful, I’m so glad you put this up!
Can you please show the tabs for these songs?
The websites I’ve used to show these tabs return more than just 4 chords.
Hey Koz, you’re right – the Axis of Awesome guys cheated a little but it was purely to illustrate the diversity of 4 chords. Some of the songs in their list do use more than 4 chords for the verses and other sections of the songs. That said, there are still hundreds of songs out there that do stick strictly to 4 chords throughout.
what is the strumming pattern for this song?
Hi Rachel, I’ve updated the post with some help on this.
HI…this is so cool that you only need these four chords…BUT where can I find the order of the four chords for each song? I suppose a real musician can figure this out…but I need a little more help…I’ve learned the four chords pretty well…but can you help with the order of the chords…at least for a few of the songs? Thanks so much…I truly appreciate your encouraging on line presence! Ellen
All of the ones in the list use the same order (C G Am F) although there are some other ones with the same chords but different order which you can find in wikipedia (google I-V-vi-IV)
I total agree I also know how to play the four chord but unable to play it into music, I find it frustrating may be like yourself.
Incorrect. There are many variations of the 4 chord pattern necessary to play these songs. For example, Let it Be by the Beatles begins with the standard pattern but then immediately changes to C G F. Then the bridge starts in Am to G F C. Once you familiarise yourself with the 4 its easy to pick out but almost every song on this list has variations to the pattern. With or Without you by U2 is a delightful exception and a great song to practice with. C,G, Am, F all the way through!!! Give it a go!
The point of the post is to show the versatility of the chord relationship. Axis of Awesome have picked sections of the songs where this will work and done a fair bit of transposing along the way. That said, I still think it’s a great lesson, particularly for those that thing learning to play an instrument is in an insurmountable task.
C G Am F
DD U UDU
Hi that was so inspirational. I can’t read music and bought myself a ukulele because i was told that it’s an easy instrument to learn. I love listening to music and will put Josh’s theory to practice. There is still hope for me to play music. I will start today
Hi I am very great full for your help but I need some tab chord sheet for the songs how do I get them could you help me you have a song list but but no music
Demons by Imagine Dragons Riptide by Vance Joy, and Love Yourself by Justin Bieber are three others that use the same four chords. All are C.G.Am.F.
Very inspirational post.
We could be surprised by how many songs we could find in the top 100 songs of the year that have in common C, F, G, Am…
Didn’t know Josh Kaufman yet. Thanks!
this is so true! the same goes for Am7, G, F and E7/E heres a list of songs i’ve discoved with those chords
netta – toy
heathers the musical – freeze your brain
ed sheeran – shape of you
heathers the musical – candy store
dua lipa – new rules
set it off – the haunting
and more! it seems this 4 chord this is quite popular bettween song writers, it’s their secret wepond lol!