Understanding ukulele song chords

Song chords are a template for how to play a song. They show the chords and lyrics of the song, and the positioning of the chords indicates when to transition from one chord to the next. I explain weird chords, transposing, and capos to help you understand ukulele song chords.

Weird chords

The two basic types of chords are major and minor. We use the following notation for naming chords. Major chords are a capital letter indicating the note name (ex: C). Minor chords are the note name followed by a lower case m (ex: Am). There are 12 notes. Due to the naming convention in Western music, some notes have ♭ (flat) or ♯ (sharp) in their name. For example, "B♭" is "B flat major" and "F♯m" is "F sharp minor".

You can add notes to basic chords to make them more complex. This results in chord names such as Cadd9 or Cm7. The song will still sound okay if you ignore the additional complexity. Make sure to pay attention to whether the chord is major or minor. For example, you can play C instead of Cadd9 and Cm instead of Cm7.

You might also see a / in the chord name such as G/B. Just ignore the note after the slash. It’s the bass note.


When you look up song chords, you’ll often see a transpose feature. It's super useful. To transpose means to play in a different key. This makes a song higher or lower to sing and changes the chords. For example, let's look at the song chords for Viva la Vida. At transpose 0, the chords are F, G, C, Am, and here is my cover. The original is actually transpose -4, and the chords are D♭, E♭, A♭, Fm.

Here are some common use cases for transposing:


You might also see "CAPO 1". A capo is a device you clamp onto your ukulele to shorten all of the strings. Capos allow you to use easy finger positions to play tricky chords. The number indicates which fret you should put the capo on.

Suppose a song has the chords Am, C, F, G and says capo 1, such as Stitches by Shawn Mendes. If you have a capo, put the capo on the first fret. Pretend that the capo is the top of the ukulele, and play the chords relative to there. Because the capo keeps all of the strings shortened, you are actually playing A♯m, C♯, F♯, G♯.

Putting the capo on the first fret is the same as transposing by +1. If you don’t have a capo and you want to play in the same key, you can just play the chords A♯m, C♯, F♯, G♯.