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We associate ukuleles with Hawaii, where they first became popular in the 1800s, but the four-stringed instrument has a lot of influence on music today as well. Ukuleles continue to sell well (think more than a million a year) and famous musicians and celebrities alike have all hopped on the trend to perform with ukuleles, including A-listers like Taylor Swift, George Clooney, and Zooey Deschanel.
The sweet and light ukulele chords have been used as inspiration for many popular songs, too. Elvis played a uke for one of his most famous songs, “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Meantime, the Wizard of Oz classic, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow, was famously adapted on the uke by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. And many Beatles songs (most notably “Hey Jude”) were also inspired by the instrument.
When it comes to learning new music for your uke (including some of those songs mentioned above), your best bet is to buy a songbook. In some books, the ukulele serves as the main melody, and the books will feature notes, similar to say, a piano songbook. Other books use the ukulele as background accompaniment, and will feature chords. The best ukulele songbooks will break down popular songs into easy-to-follow frets, showing you the finger positions needed to hit a particular note, or to strum a chord. Pick a book based on your learning style, and your familiarity with reading music.
Most people will want to get started with a ukulele songbook with chords. The books will show you the chord progressions needed to get through each song, and give you space to improvise in between each bar. While you can download chords online, you will often find mistakes or missing sections, which can be incredibly frustrating. Many websites also transcribe their own chords, meaning it won’t be the same arrangement as what you hear in a recording. It’s much easier to buy a songbook you can trust to be right.
We’ve rounded up a couple popular songbooks for the ukulele, which are great for learning some of your favorite songs on the uke. These books are ideal those who are just getting started with the instrument, and seasoned musicians alike.
1. The Beatles for Ukulele
It’s been said that George Harrison (the guitarist of The Beatles) often used Hawaiian melodies and ukulele chords as inspiration for the Fab Four’s songs. This compilation of songs will help you explore some of the band’s most famous songs that naturally fit your uke’s sound.
This book features 25 hits and is designed for advanced players who can read music as well as those who can’t. It includes both sheet music and chords and tabs to follow along with.
From “Eight Days a Week” to “Hey Jude” and “Here Comes the Sun,” this book has plenty of songs that are sure to be popular, no matter who you’re playing for.
PROS: Easy-to-read and plenty of song variety.
CONS: Not suitable for inexperienced uke players.
2. Soprano Ukulele Beginner Pack
If you are interested in learning to play the ukulele, look no further. This value-packed kit comes with everything you need to get started: a beginner uke, a digital tuner, two picks, a spare string, a strap, a bag, and a songbook that includes lessons.
The ukulele itself has a blackwood fingerboard and a maple bridge, with nylon strings that can be easily tuned with the tuning gears.
PROS: All-in-one starter kit including lessons.
CONS: The strings that come on this uke require frequent tuning.
3. The Daily Ukulele – Leap Year Edition
This pick is perfect if you want to make a daily commitment to learn new songs. The Daily Ukulele has a song for each day of the year, so that you can learn something new every day.
This option is a “fake book,” which means that the melody and chord names are included instead of the full score. If you’re looking for a songbook that will let you play with the melody, this is the right pick for you.
Full of familiar songs like “Sweet Caroline,” “I Got You Babe,” and “Lean on Me,” this songbook will encourage you to keep pushing yourself and learning new songs.
PROS: 366 well-known songs.
CONS: Not suitable for players who expect a score.