Kennedi Brown has written fiction under a pen name for years now. She plays the ukulele and writes songs no one will ever hear (hopefully).
Every instructional video or article I’ve seen on the web for beginner-friendly Christmas songs opens with a sentence like, “Just got a ukulele for Christmas and looking for some easy songs to play?”
I always thought that was kind of sad, because as soon as you get comfortable with the songs on the list Christmas will be over, and everyone on January 1st will be telling you to stop playing "Run, Run, Rudolph" already, for the love of champagne hangovers and all that is holy.
New Year's Eve doesn’t really have any songs for you to learn—at least any that aren’t by the Black Eyed Peas (which is now probably stuck in your head just because I mentioned it even though you probably haven’t heard it for five years). That in itself is unfortunate, but if you were sad you got your uke too late for the Christmas song extravaganza last year, have no fear. I’ve got your back with some songs that are easy enough to learn in just over an hour, even if you’re a beginner.
The list includes songs that use some combination of the chords Am, Am7, D, D7, G, G6, G7, C, C7, Cm, E7, F, Em, Dm, and A7. If you saw any in that infodump you don’t know, there are many ukulele chord websites out there to get the fingering down.
Note: Some of these songs may not be in the key that you’d hear if you listened to the song on the radio. If you look up the chords for older songs that have been played a lot through the years by various artists, you'll often find chord sheets in a lot of different keys and no indication as to which one was the "original" key. In that case I usually just play it in whatever key is easiest out of sheer laziness. The version I link to on this list is the easiest one I could find.
1. "White Christmas," by Bing Crosby
This Christmas classic is made up of only beginner chords and sounds good with just downstrums played on the beat if you’re still learning. It also sounds good with an old-fashioned swing strum (DD-UU) and, if you’re looking for easy practice at picking, a simple 1-2-3-4-3-2 fingerpicking pattern.
2. "Run, Run, Rudolph," by Chuck Berry
Oldies are ridiculous fun to play on the ukulele. Chuck Berry songs are also ridiculously fun to play on the ukulele. This is a win-win situation for everyone involved, and that’s all there is to it. There’s a simple strumming pattern for this song that you can easily convert to all downstrokes if you’re just starting, and the only chords are C, F, and G7—the first three chords many ukulele players ever learn.
3. "Silver Bells," by She & Him
This is my favorite Christmas song of all time hands down, and I didn’t even realize it until I sat down to make this list. The lyrics themselves just absolutely ooze holiday imagery. You can’t help but picture New York City in the middle of the biggest shopping season of the year—snow falling outside, jingles blasting over the PA system, and twinkling golden lights everywhere. The chord sheet I’ve linked is for the She & Him version, but the original song is in C and also easy to play.
4. "Last Christmas," by George Michael (and Wham!)
I’ll admit that I had a bias against this song for quite some time. Back in high school someone sang this as a solo in the Christmas choir concert every year, and every year without fail they butchered it. People even asked me who was going to be singing “Last Christmas” this year since everyone knew I was in choir. I listened to the Wham recording a few years later and had to admit that I did like the song. And yes. I had been soured on it so much that I’d never sought out a professional rendition of it. It’s all over the radio this time of year, so I have no idea how I managed to avoid it for so long. The chords are easy to play, so I’ve even played it myself a few times on the glorified karaoke machine I call my ukulele.
This version by George Michael is requires a capo to be in tune with the recording, but the version by Wham! is easy even in its original key if you can play B minor.
5. "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," by Brenda Lee
"Silver Bells" may be my favorite Christmas song now, but "Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree" was definitely my favorite as a child. I had a Loony Tunes tape of holiday music, and I used to rewind this song and play it (and only it) for days at a time. It’s weird how something like hearing a song played a thousand times can drive you nuts as an adult but actually keep you entertained as a kid.
6. "Christmas Don't Be Late," by Alvin and the Chipmunks
Annoying live-action franchises that have overstayed their welcome aside, you gotta love how the chord progression on this Chipmunks' classic sounds on the ukulele. I’m a huge fan of how just lifting one finger off of a string can completely change the sound your ukulele is playing, and you really get that a lot in this song with the transition from G to G6. Chord changes like that are so unique to the ukulele because it has so few notes playing at once. Changing the sound just by adding or taking away a single finger doesn’t work as well for beginners on the guitar with the exception of a few chords because there are more strings and further for your hands to move. On the uke you can make a chord progression instantly more interesting because it’s so easy right to change chords quickly.
7. "Jingle Bells" (Traditional)
"Jingle Bells" isn’t just a holiday classic: it’s also easy to play! You can use a simple D-DU strumming pattern and, if you’re really feeling frisky (you can tell I get out a lot), speed up your strumming so it sounds like an old-timey sleigh ride.
8. "Mele Kalikimaka," by Bing Crosby
No Christmas ukulele song compilation would be complete without "Mele Kalikimaka," the first nearly everybody looks up when they decide to play something holiday-themed on their uke. Fun fact: "Mele Kalikimaka" is actually a phrase made of English loanwords using the sounds available in Hawaiian to form the closest approximation to the English words “merry” and “Christmas.” Good to know if you’d assumed “mele” was Hawaiian for “happy” like a lot of people did before Google.
9. "Silent Night" (Traditional)
"Silent Night" is as traditional as Christmas songs can get, and easy to play, too. I’ve always had a bit of trouble singing it though, seeing as I have a vocal range smaller than a duck’s. When it comes to actually playing it I like to use the same D-DU pattern as for "Jingle Bells," but much slower and with a bit of a swing to it to jazz things up. I’m aware that "Silent Night" has probably never been described as “jazzy” before, but I’m always that person who just has to make everybody uncomfortable at parties by doing something like leaving the room and whipping out a ukulele to play a jazzy rendition of "Silent Night" alone while everyone actively goes out of their way to not watch.
10. "Holly Jolly Christmsa," by Burl Ives
Like most old-school rock and roll songs, "Holly Jolly Christmas" can easily be played with the same D-DU strum that I’ve mentioned throughout this list, but with a faster tempo. I personally think this song sounds nice if you play a typical island strum (D-DU-UDU) through most of the song but switch to a quick D-DU strum for “Hey, Ho, the mistletoe” and then back to island strum when you go back into “Holly Jolly Christmas” again.
ChuckB on August 17, 2019:
Do you have any experience with entry level ukes? What do you think about the ukes in this article: https://www.beginnerukuleles.com/best-cheap-ukulel...
I'm not sure if they're any good or not and it's so hard to find reliable information online :]