E Chord Guide: Alternative Ways to Play it on Ukulele (2024)

Dramatic title aside, E major is notorious for being a difficult ukulele chord. Its inside-out shape is the first major finger-twister that most beginning players run across.

In this guide I’m going to discuss some suggestions and alternatives for playing this tricky shape.

I did a Q&A a while back that answered a question about if there is an easier way to play E major

The Traditional E Major Shape

E Major, as seen in most ukulele chord books, is held as 4442 with your index finger on the 2nd fret of the bottom string and your ring finger barring the top three strings on the 4th fret:

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In order to play this shape with this fingering, you have to be able to bend your knuckle backwards like this: E Chord Guide: Alternative Ways to Play it on Ukulele (2)

If you can’t bend your ring finger into this shape off of the ukulele (or it’s painful), as shown in the picture, you probably shouldn’t try to play E this way.

But that’s ok! Skip to the alternative fingerings or shapes sections.

If you are able to bend your finger backwards like this, but your E chord is still buzzing or thumping, you need to do some optimization.

Pay attention to where your finger is at inside the fret space. It’s easier to get a clean sound with less pressure if your finger is on the higher side of the fret, towards the bridge of the ukulele.

E Chord Guide: Alternative Ways to Play it on Ukulele (3)

Since you’re placing your finger across many strings at once, it’s easy to get sideways and have certain strings pressed less precisely than others.

An alternative way to play this same shape is with a double barre fingering, placing your index finger across the entire second fret in addition to the ring finger. The index doesn’t need to press on the top three strings, only at the base of the finger on the A-string. This allows your hand position to be more natural.

E Chord Guide: Alternative Ways to Play it on Ukulele (4)

One last tip.

When you barre, in addition to keeping the finger on the high side of the fret, be mindful of where the creases in your knuckles land on the strings. If you try and hold a barre and one of the strings is disappearing into a finger crease, you won’t be able to apply adequate pressure in that spot.

You can adjust your finger vertically, up or down towards the ceiling, to align it with the strings in an optimal place.

Alternative Fingerings

While the partial barre is usually touted as the standard way to play E major on ukulele, it’s not the only way to finger the chord.

E Chord Guide: Alternative Ways to Play it on Ukulele (5)

You can try replacing the barre with one finger per string. Usually your index finger will remain on the bottom string and your middle finger will jump up to the top string with the ring and pinky landing on the C- and E-strings, respectively.

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An alternative is to do a two-string partial barre with your middle finger and use your ring finger to clean up the edge on the E-string.

Alternative Shapes

When you play a chord, the sound is usually defined by the “melody” note in the shape – the highest sounding note (or the last played a note on the way down if you have a high-g ukulele). This is the easiest note for the human ear to hear, and in the normal E shape, the “melody” is the B on the second fret, A-string.

Depending on your ear and tastes, the melodies highlighted by certain chord voicings are going to tend to sound better than others to you.

As a performing ukulele player in a rock band, I end up playing in the key of E more often than most folks. However, because I don’t like the sound of the B melody on top of the other notes, I hardly ever use 4442.

My band playing “Olinda Road” in the key of E. I don’t think I hit a single 4442 E in the whole song!

To me, alternative E major shapes are a better-sounding option in 99% of situations. Almost all of them are easier to play too!

Here are the two I use a lot:

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444X

This is probably the shape I use most. 444X is a barre on the top three strings, mute the bottom string by lifting the base of your finger so it makes poor contact with the A-string. Or bring an extra finger on your left hand up to lightly touch the bottom string.

The G# note as the melody makes for a more mellow sound. With a low G string, this shape lands in a lower register, which is nice for making the ukulele sound big and full.

E Chord Guide: Alternative Ways to Play it on Ukulele (8)

4402

This shape is very similar to the traditional E major shape, but it’s actually a power chord. It highlights the 1 and 5 tones in the chord formula so it sounds very pure.

Even though it’s not an actual E major chord, the sound is close enough in most situations that you can use this easier fingering when you want to highlight the B note melody.

Finally, you can try the shape that is often sold as the easiest cure-all for the normal E major: 4447.

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This is basically the same shape as a open C chord, you’re just moving everything up the same amount by four frets.

It’s fingered the same way as the three-string barre shown above, you just add your pinky on the A-string.

Conclusion

Ukulele, while being a very approachable instrument, is plagued by some bad advice and insistence on certain ways.

Experiment. If something works for you without causing pain, it’s fine. Use it.

If you can play E the traditional way and like the way it sounds, great. If not, explore some of the alternatives presented here. Hopefully one of them can ease your frustration.

Should you want to explore more chord shapes and chord families, I encourage you to check out my reference book, Ukulele Chord Shapes.

ʻUkulele Chord Shapes

PDF Ebook

A neo-traditional chord reference book. Learn to create 2,268 chords out of 189 moveable shapes and learn the theory behind the magic.

Learn more$19

E Chord Guide: Alternative Ways to Play it on Ukulele (2024)
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