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:
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!