The ukulele is well known for its upbeat and happy music, thanks in part to its high harmonics, but the ukulele is a multi-talented instrument that is capable of playing some heart wrenching tunes just as easily as it does those sweet sounding melodies.
The key to making ukulele music sound more sorrowful is through the chords and strumming patterns.
Progress the chords through C, F, G Major, and A Minor and incorporate both upward and downward strumming, but the tempo and feel will vary from song to song.
Once you have mastered these, you can now start to play music more slowly and softly, which will naturally sound more sad to your ears. Now that is done, you just need some iconic sad songs to play!
Here are some sad ukulele songs for you to play that will bring some tears to your audiences’ eyes.
Number 1: Hurt by Johnny Cash
This heart wrenching tune is sure to get you just with its opening lyrics. Hurt was originally performed by rock band Nine In Nails, but in 2002, the song was covered by Johnny Cash.
Cash brought a sincere frailty to the song through his vocals, combined with lyrics about reflecting on the past, that spoke to a lot of listeners and touched hearts around the world.
Cash’s rendition of the song even brought tears to the eyes of the original songwriter Trent Reznor, and is sure to touch the souls of all your listeners if you decide to bring this song to life on your ukulele.
Number 2: We’ll Meet Again by Vera Lynn
This classic song is one of the most famous from the Second World War era, and has echoed through the years as a painful reminder of all the families parted during that difficult time.
Despite the melancholiness of the cords, Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again is also a hopeful song – reminding listeners that even if they are separated from their loved ones, that they will indeed meet again.
This song is bittersweet to a lot of people who are missing their loved ones, and will bring a tear to the eye of anyone missing someone dear to them.
Number 3: You Are My Sunshine by Jimmie Davis and Charles Mitchell
This song is rather like the ukulele itself – well known by the masses for its upbeat tune and beat. However, if you slow down that beat and gently play those ukulele strings, you can transform this traditionally happy melody into something more touching and hauntingly beautiful.
You Are My Sunshine has been a favorite lullaby sung by mothers ever since the song’s release in 1940, and is sure to hold a lot of memories for a lot of people. Listening to it played at a slower tempo will make them reminisce about the good times and perhaps shed a tear or two.
Number 4: Mad World by Gary Jules
Originally sung by Tears for Fears in 1982, Mad World became a sensational sad song in 2001 when it was covered by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules.
Unlike the original rendition, this version of Mad World is far more stripped back and puts more emphasis on the depressing lyrics.
This soft cover translates very well over to the ukulele with a gentle tone and slow tempo, making it the perfect song to play to tug on those heartstrings.
Number 5: Unchained Melody by the Righteous Brother
A song about longing and love, the Righteous Brother’s Unchained Melody is an absolute anthem for those missing the love of their life. With its heartbreaking lyrics and chords, this song translates the feelings of loneliness and being forgotten.
Unchained Melody connects with those feeling anguished and devastated, and hearing it played on the strings of a ukulele will surely make them have a good cry.
Number 6: I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry by Hank Williams
This classic song by Hank Williams was released in 1949 and is known for connecting to those who feel isolated and lonely, bringing tears to their eyes by interpreting their emotions into perfect poetry.
For these reasons, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry has survived through the decades and is known as one of the saddest songs of all time.
If played slowed down and gently on the strings, the ukulele has the potential to play this intensely personal melody as a melancholy ballad that is bound to make everyone in the room cry.
Number 7: Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley
Possibly the most beautiful song of all time, Hallelujah was originally written and performed by Leonard Cohen in 1984 but has been covered again and again over the years: John Cale, Alenandra Burke, Pentatonix, but the Jeff Buckley version remains the most heart wrenching cover of this timeless song.
Hallelujah is a song that merges both early rock and roll and gospel music with its religious lyrics, perfectly encapsulating Leonard Cohen’s own struggles and exploration around faith and isolation, depression and loss.
The chords of this song alone evoke strong feelings of pain and grief without the need for lyrics, making it one of the few songs out there that can evoke powerful emotions with only a few strums of a string.
Number 8: Say Something by A Great Big World featuring Christina Aguilera
This ballad is a song that speaks to a lot of people going through a break-up, expressing all the sadness and regret that comes with a failing relationship in the music alone.
It tells the story of a lover who pleads with their partner to say something as they are beginning to give up on one another – a story that a lot of people can relate to.
It is a beautiful song that engaging with – either by listening to or by playing – can help in the healing process that comes after a breakup, evoking tears from those wounded by the rejection of a former partner.
Number 9: Someone Like You by Adele
Talking about break-ups, no one writes or sings a breakup song like Adele can. Her most famous and saddest song has to be Someone Like You.
Released in 2011, this is another song that relates deeply to those whose former lover or partner has moved on and found someone new.
Someone Like You serves as a bittersweet goodbye, wishing your former lover the best while promising yourself better things in the future. It is a classic sad song, and one that can be played effectively on the ukulele.
Number 10: Can’t Help Falling In Love by Elvis Presley
One of the most covered songs in the history of music, Can’t Help Falling In Love has the potential to be an uplifting song – but also one that can sound sorrowful when played in the right chords and at the right tempo.
It’s a real tearjerker, even before the lyrics about unconditional love and devotion are sung. Originally sung by the King himself in his album Blue Hawaii, pretty much every cover makes this song their own and still manages to lure tears from the eyes of its listeners.
Number 11: Fast Car by Tracy Chapman
If you want to play a song that is wistful and yet incredibly depressing, then Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car is that song. The lyrics tell a gritty, realistic story about a poor woman trying to escape poverty.
While the voice of the song is quietly optimistic, the overt reality brings the sadness to this song – knowing that this narrator does not break free from the cycle of poverty, and ends up repeating the same wishes over and over.
It’s a very sad song that gives you a rather cruel outlook on the world, but is beautifully played on string instruments – ukulele included.
Number 12: Fix You by Coldplay
Fix You is a comforting song about grief and overcoming loss, and is sure to bring tears from the eyes of those who have lost someone very close to them.
The song was originally written by Coldplay’s lead singer Chris Martin for his then wife actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who was mourning her father at the time they first met.
This is why the lyrics focus so heavily on loss, and why the song builds in strength and optimism towards the end. It is such a moving song that focuses on recovering from grief, and is just as beautiful and sad on a ukulele as it is on any other instrument.
Number 13: Yesterday by the Beatles
The Beatles are possibly the most famous and most loved band of all time, but Yesterday stands out as an especially sad song by the band that focuses on the break-up of a relationship.
This melancholy ballad is strangely nostalgic as the singer laments for yesterday and their previous relationship.
The fact that McCartney is the only one out of the group singing vocals highlights the isolation that this song evokes, and makes it one of the saddest songs performed by the Beatles.
It’s so well known that your listeners are sure to start singing along and wipe a tear from their eyes as they do so.
Number 14: Everybody Hurts by R.E.M.
It’s probably one of the most iconic songs of all time, with lyrics that can be noticed anywhere and is played all the time in movies and TV shows during those sad, sad moments. R.E.M. ‘s Everybody Hurts is a touching song first released in 1992, played at a slow pace to make it especially moving and deeply affecting.
It’s powerful and yet a simple song, so it is easy to carry over to the ukulele without losing any of that emotion.
Number 15: Wake Me Up When September Ends by Green Day
Green Day are a rock band known for their heavy songs that utilize a lot of electric guitar and drums – so everyone was surprised when they released this moving acoustic ballad that touched a lot of hearts.
Lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong originally wrote the song about losing his father to cancer when he was only 10 years old, but a lot of Americans related to the song in the wake of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.
Wake Me Up When September Ends is a moving song about loss and tragedy that is instantly recognizable no matter what instrument it performed on.
Number 16: Father and Son by Yusuf/Cat Stevens
For a song that absolutely breaks your heart but is yet deeply relatable, consider learning to play Father and Son by Yusuf/Cat Stevens.
While the chords and tone of the song are powerful on their own, the lyrics center around an exchange between a father and his son.
The father does not understand his son’s desire for independence, while the son struggles to explain himself to his father but ultimately knows it is time for him to leave.
Whether you relate to the son or the father, this song is sure to touch a spot somewhere for every listener, making this sad song incredibly moving to a lot of people.
Number 17: Somewhere Only We Know by Keane
This piano-rock anthem may be an unusual choice, but with Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know, there is a child-like nostalgic potential here that can be further amplified by the ukulele.
If you strip back the drums and heavy use of piano, you have a rather bittersweet song about someone seeking a brief moment with someone they love before they part.
The melancholiness can be ramped up by playing this song on a lonely ukulele, making this tune sound far more isolated and nostalgic than it is in the original version.
Number 18: Dancing On My Own by Callum Scott
The original version of this song was performed by Swedish singer Robyn as a sad disco anthem, but its 2016 cover by Calum Scott brought a whole new level of sadness to this classic dance song.
Calum Scott showed the world that slowing down a song’s tempo and isolating the instruments can turn any song into a haunting heart wrenching tune.
Dancing On My Own is a striking song about rejection and heartbreak, sure enough to resonate with anyone who has felt betrayed and ignored by someone they cared about. When played at a slower tempo, hearing it is sure to bring a tear to your eye.
Number 19: With or Without You by U2
With or Without You is one of U2’s most well recognized songs, and is a troubled love song inspired by Bono’s conflicting feelings about his life as a musician and as a domestic man.
Listeners can relate to the message of the song and empathize with how difficult it can be to love someone at times, voicing their frustrations and inner conflict through the music.
It’s a song that causes the listener to look inside themself at their own feelings and their relationships, which is why With or Without You is considered to be a tear-jerker of a song.
Number 20: Skinny Love by Bon Iver
Bon Iver’s Skinny Love goes to show that a song doesn’t need to be slow and downbeat to be considered a sad song. Although the 2011 cover by Birdy is much slower and received more international success, the original cover is no less depressing.
The lyrics focus on a dying relationship and the vocalist tries to encourage the relationship to last a little longer, even though it won’t last forever.
While the tempo is a little faster than some other sad songs on this list, the message is one that is sure to strike a chord with those who know their relationship is not going to last.
Number 21: I Will Always Love You by Dolly Parton
Yes, you hear us right – Dolly Parton. Although this song is most well known for its iconic rendition by Whitney Houston in 1992, I Will Always Love You was originally sung by Dolly Parton way back in 1973.
Parton’s version is less dramatic and more countrified, but the touching message remains the same. This song focuses on a breakup where both partners leave each other with a shared mutual respect.
Parton originally wrote the song for her partner and mentor Porter Wagoner who she was separating from professionally to pursue a solo career, but the more platonic origins of this song does not undercut the strong emotion felt by listeners who relate to the message.
This song is iconic and is sure to pull on heartstrings when played slowly and gently.
Number 22: My Immortal by Evanescence
Now this is a sad song! Evanescence are a rock band known for being one of the few to have a lead female vocalist, and one of their most loved songs is this intense power ballad with gothic origins.
My Immortal is an emotional song, capable of making you feel pain and despair associated with loss through its melody alone.
This song is incredibly moving in its key of A major and slow tempo, making it one of the saddest songs on this list emotionally.
Number 23: Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton
A lot of sad songs are written because the songwriter has experienced something upsetting and tragic in their life.
It could be a separation, or the death of someone close, but the song that has probably the most heartbreaking origins is Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton. The song was written for Eric Clapton’s four year old son Conor, who had died after falling from a window 53 stories high.
As part of the grieving and healing process, Clapton wrote Tears in Heaven to help him come to terms with his tragic loss. This makes it one of the most personal songs ever written, and knowing the origins alone is enough to make you cry.
Number 24: The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel
The opening line of The Sound of Silence is enough to move you emotionally, and the chords of this iconic song are instantly recognizable to a lot of ears.
First released in 1965, The Sound of Silence is a hauntingly beautiful song about the inability of people to communicate with one another, making for an isolated tune that perfectly captures feelings of loneliness and depression.
Number 25: Let Her Go by Passenger
Another ballad about regret and loss, Passenger’s Let Her Go stormed music charts around the world in 2012 as the perfect ballad about a breakup where the vocalist only realizes his mistakes until it’s too late.
This slow and sad song sums up the regrets and devastation that comes with the fall-out of a relationship, and is sure to relate to a lot of listeners and cause them to tear up.
Number 26: Before You Go by Lewis Capaldi
And finally, we have this recent tearjerker released in 2019. Capaldi wrote this song about dealing with the emotional aftermath of suicide after his aunt died when he was a child.
It’s an incredibly personal song that conveys all the remorse and guilt that someone can feel when they lose someone close to them through suicide.
It’s softly played yet paired with sorrowful lyrics that are deeply emotional and evoke some pretty powerful feelings when sung.