Ukulele beginners tips - the dreaded E Chord | GOT A UKULELE - Ukulele reviews and beginners tips

9 Feb 2011

Ukulele beginners tips - the dreaded E Chord

Hang on Barry - you told me the ukulele was easy!  What's with this E Chord??

Still, how to play this chord is probably one of the most common I see from beginners.  Why is the E chord so difficult to learn?  Help! I really think I shouldn't have used the word 'dreaded' in the title actually, as I am only fuelling the discussion...

But, yes, the E Chord is somewhat tougher than some other chords - but really - it is just another chord and it's something you should learn not to avoid.  I have said many times that the ukulele is an easy instrument to START to learn.  That learning curve is not all that steep in the early stages, but sooner or later you are going to hit some hurdles, and a common early hurdle is the E Chord. Hey - you don't have a right for the ukulele to be easy you know! (this is why I have such a gripe with people saying the ukulele is easy 'full stop').

So let's take a closer look at it. If you take a look at my ukulele chord charts, you will see that the standard shape for the E Chord is as follows:

E chord ukulele
To play E in this way, you put your first finger on the A string at the second fret, and then need to cram fingers onto the other strings at the fourth fret, either individually, or more commonly using a single finger as a  'barre'.

For beginners, it can be awkward, it hurts, and is just plain difficult, particularly when trying to effect a smooth transition to or from other chords. This is normal - you are trying to tell your hands to form shapes that they probably never have done before. You need to build up some strength and muscle memory. That may seem like a pain, but there you are..

But in short, it would be plain wrong of me to tell you to avoid it.  Its a chord that you really do need to learn, and I understand that this one will take more practice to get right.  But it will reap rewards. Add to that, the mechanics of playing a barre chord are going to pay you HUGE dividends in your learning further down the line - trust me. If anything I think you should be focussing a good part of your early learning on the E chord as soon as you start (and for that matter, chords like Bminor).  If everyone did that, perhaps it wouldn't hold such mystique..  There are, however, some other alternatives, that you may find easier to play if used in the right circumstances.

You could try to play it 1402 (ie G string at the 1st, C string at the 4th, E string open, and A string at the second) which many recommend but you may also find a bit of a stretch.  It does however sound great because you are creating two E notes in the chord. That's still an actual E chord, and that is important.

One of my favourite alternatives is to do a fourth fret lay across.  This involves using your index finger to barre across all strings at the 4th fret and use your ring finger to hold the A string at the 7th fret.  This is written as 4447, and whilst its a bit of a leap in distance from the nut for chord changes, its not too difficult to actually finger and sounds nice.  I actually find this more comfortable than 4442, but you may disagree. You could even try barring those first three strings at the fourth fret by laying your thumb across them - unconventional, but many play this way. The only downside to that is that it does make the chord 'feel' and sound higher on account of that 7th fret addition. It's not wrong, but it's a different feel of the E. With a low rooted song it may not fit just right. Still, it's still an actual E chord, which as I say, is important..

But that does have to bring me on to 'cheats' as I see so much talk of them. The 'oh, just play an E7 instead, it's the same thing' brigade. Attention... it's NOT the same thing AT ALL.  Sure, in the right progression, an E7 can substitute an E...But.. A warning - this will not work on all songs by any means, you will have to try it and see if it sounds and feels right for the passage you are playing. In bluesy stuff it can work, but not always. I stress, this is NO substitute for an E major. What I find depressing are those people who have been told that it's 'the same' and now play E7 as a matter of course for every E chord they see, totally oblivious to it sounding wrong in a lot of cases.. You see now why I was re-iterating those which ARE actual E chords? You can't just fudge something and call it an E chord just because it's easier. It either is or it isn't.

My advice - don't try to avoid the E, its a very common chord, and whilst on the face of it, it just doesnt seem fair when you have such nice easy chords as C and A, you will come across it more and more as you advance your playing and learn more songs. To avoid it means avoiding so much the ukulele has to offer. And bear in mind that if you go the barre route - learning barres early is a great key to unlocking so much on the fingerboard. This piece may also interest you in that regard.

As with everything in life though - the real answer here is practice and not cheats! Just because the media told you the ukulele was easy, doesn't mean they are right.. I genuinely believe that if an absolute beginner concentrated a chunk of their practice to learning the E chord early on, they would soon reach a point where they would look back and wonder what all the fuss was about. Sadly people don't do that though as there are too many people pushing the 'easy' and 'cheat' routes..

Good luck with it!


  1. Aloha from California BAZMAZ:

    I do find the E (4442) a bit tricky.
    Here's my suggestion.
    Play a Bm chord with a bar of (2222),
    but it will become (4222).
    1st finger aligned on 2nd fret.
    3rd finger aligned on 4th fret.
    Strum... Then try folding down the 3rd finger,
    so that is covers (444x), strum...
    release back to Bm (4222), strum
    now back to E (4442)

    As an skill building exercise strum 4 beats of each, over and over for a minute. Then do it tomorrow, and for a week, see if that works.

    Jeff / Humble Uker

  2. Thanks Jeff - great tip for my readers!

  3. Hi, the link to this page on your beginners guides is (there are two '.com'

    Great site though, it's helping me a lot

  4. Thanks so much for bringing to my attention - have corrected the error!


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  6. Thanks for all the info on this site_it's invaluable. I struggled with the E and then tried this: keep the E chord shape but use the first finger on the A string at the second fret and instead of cramming all my fingers on the fourth frets I use my thumb to cover top 3 strings on the fourth fret.

  7. I like the various cheats, but more than that I like the sound of the basic E chord position. As a guitar player that picked up the uke, I use the fingering that made playing the A chord easy on the guitar.(it also helps that I have big fingers) I cover the three strings with two fingers. Basically I use my first on the A second fret, my third finger on the E fourth fret,and lay my second finger down to cover the G & C forth fret. I hope this will help some of you struggling with this chord.

  8. Agree with Jeff the humble uker, a first finger barre at the second fret with a ring finger 3 string barre at the fourth. This technique gives you much more flexibility when working with reduced space higher up the fretboard.
    As the many says - keep practising, the improvement will be worth it

  9. Thank you so much for this blog. I am a beginner in playing the ukulele and I find these tips very helpful. Thank you so much and please keep posting such blogs.

  10. Very nice website. It's very useful for guitar learners, me also. Thank you so much for posting. <3

  11. Hi. What is the E chord if you take your high finger away so it's an open A string please? (In Keith Richards book he says the 12 Bar Blues progressions often sound great with some difficult to fret dropped for ease or to put it his way, something else added. And this uke chord does sound nice and 'rinnnnngy'. Why? Anyone know?

  12. This E chord is WAY easier than the one I was trying to learn earlier! The E I was learning was first finger on the first fret of G, 3rd finger on the second fret of A, and had to stretch my pinky all the way to the 4th fret of C! Not fun at all! So I'm glad to see there is an easier alternative! Thank you!

  13. I just learned that you can use an E7 chord, but you mute the C string rather than fretting it. Works great and it's easy to transition.

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  15. Kind of - it includes the notes Ab, E and B, but I have a couple of issues with that method. First, muting that C string can be tough for beginners, but mainly I am not a big fan of removing strings from a chord on a uke. On a guitar, muting is more common as you are still left with 5 strings. The uke only has 4 to begin with and a 3 string chord starts sounding a bit thin.

  16. Hi, beginner here on the ukelele. My question to anyone here is this, I have a few song sheets with the chords and diagrams, I find some of the songs are either quite low or too high when singing along. Is there a chord chart that may use alternative chords to what is originally on the song sheet? Hope that makes sense.Thanks in advance

  17. I don't know of a chart, as that would be a cumbersome thing to cover every option. There are some websites that do it for you like Chordie, but what you are really looking for is the skill of 'transposing' - that is to say adjusting all the chords in a song to another key.

    This page may help you, as the Circle Of Fifths can be used as a transposing tool. You will need to do it manually, but its a good skill to learn


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