Frequency of Chord Use
At the moment, my master list of Ukulele Video Play Alongs is a catalog of 718 songs, not counting the baritone ukulele videos I have been making since this summer.
My personal approach is to teach ukulele as an accompaniment, as most players use the instrument in this way, and I have ukulele embedded into choir in my own program as a way for students to accompany themselves. I’m not opposed to teaching ukulele as a solo instrument, and I do introduce my students to playing a C scale, reading notes on a ukulele, and reading tablature–but I do not spend most of my time there. In truth, I try to get them to play chords successfully (greatly helped by the Ukulele Skill Drills) and to play ukulele in context of songs–and to get them to songs they know and love.
Last year, I reflected on my database of Ukulele Video Play Alongs, where I track not only the name, key, number of chords, and location (e.g. link) of a video, but what chords are used. My thought has always been this: why not teach ukulele in the order of chords that students will be called on to use those chords?
I do make some exceptions…the two most friendly chords for ukulele are C and G (and their relative minor keys). As a result, C and G are the most common chords that are called for, and they are used in each other’s keys. Even so, I don’t suggest teaching C then G…there is a learning curve where going from one finger to three fingers is going to be unsuccessful.
Likewise, I don’t want to encourage teachers to teach only one-finger chords. I know why this happens–it helps young students to play ukulele. In reality, however, a very small small number of songs exist that actually use a combination of those one finger chords–and your students are going to want to play more than songs that those that alternate between C, C7, CMaj, Am, and F9.
In my own teaching, I teach C, F, and G, followed by G7 and Am, because songs exist that can be played with those chords. The first part of my video ukulele method is currently available as a “thank you” to Patreon subscribers, where I do the work of collecting videos and placing them in a Google Slides presentation in instructional order, in increasing levels of difficulty–along with “how to” videos and Ukulele Skill Drills. If your students try, they WILL learn how to play, and they WILL be successful. Yes, you can organize/search for these resources yourself (the Google Slide collection), but I am hoping my work is worth a donation of a minimum of $1 per month to the cause.
A year ago (November 8, 2017), I found this order of chords with 304 songs in the collection:
Here is the latest (November 24, 2018) frequency of chord chart with 718 songs in the collection:
In both cases, I included chords used more than 10 times in the database, although the latest data total number of songs lists far more chords with 718 in the database!
While there is some motion between the chords, in the top 10 chords, only A changes position significantly (up “two places” in frequency)–and Em & G7; Dm & HI D7 (Hawaiian D7, 2020); and C7 & E7 swap places.
In my own method, the G7 swap isn’t significant as I choose to teach G7 before Am, resulting in a very large number of video play alongs that can be played, particularly once Am is added (close to 100 songs).
It is important to note that this frequency of chord use is not going to hold true to all songs on the Internet, particularly considering the popularity of the guitar and how many songs are written in the “open” key of E on guitar (as you can see from the charts, E is not a common chord choice when choosing ukulele friendly keys). Hopefully, ukulele players that are learning on their own are not trying to play things in the keys that are friendly for other instruments, but in keys that are friendly to ukulele (C, G, and relative minors of Am, Em). There are other good keys for ukulele, but they can contain chords that can (overly) challenge new players.
I also included the list of most commonly used chords from the Ukulele Hunt website, which appears below. I’ll re-post the most current chart from the ukulele play along videos below that chart…
The comparison simply tells me that the video play alongs that we create–with students in mind–tend to avoid the key of F where Bb would be used more frequently. Meanwhile, as a website, Ukulele Hunt can provide materials in any key, without worrying about the skill of the player. While some of our videos do go to the “Land of Bb,” I have read articles that indicate that a majority of guitar players (80%!) give up when reaching the F chord, which is the Bb chord on GCEA ukulele. It makes sense that we go out of our way to provide music that avoids barre chords (full or partial) as well as the “dreaded E chord.” Please note: I’m not saying to avoid learning to play barre chords (please note: my warm-up video starts with barre chords on Day 1) or to avoid learning the E chord in its various forms…but it does make sense to provide songs that are accessible for students. When I reach the point that students can play barre chords…Bb or full D7, I can then teach any song in any key, because they have the skill to decode and perform just about any chord. Not every student reaches that point, but that is the goal!
For those of you reading this post, hopefully this data helps you understand how the ukulele video play alongs work in terms of chords that are expected, how the ukulele video play alongs interact with different keys, and perhaps this data will help you as you make your own (pedagogical) choices as it comes to your own playing or teaching others how to play ukulele!