Learn to play "A Horse With No Name" by America on Ukulele
We're kicking off the new month with a brand new episode of Uke Lessons! This time, it's the 1970's classic, "A Horse With No Name" by America. This 2-chord song is perfect for beginners, but has elements like strumming (intermediate) and picking (advanced) that make it fun for all players to learn and play.
To jump right in, play along with the "A Horse With No Name" Ukulele Play-Along video above, or start with any of the steps below if you need help learning this song:
STEP 1 - Chords
To begin, you'll need to know 2 easy chords on your ukulele:
Practice switching between the two chords and getting the change down smooth. For more info on holding and switching between these chords, check out the video below:
To help switching between these chords, here are a few tips:
1. Find the right position for the Bm7The Bm7 is the harder of the two chords because it involves baring across all 4 strings with one finger. Be sure your main knuckle is off of the fretboard and your thumb is moved to the back of the neck, slightly offset, to help support the chord. Play around with your finger's placement across the strings to find a way of holding the chord so none of the strings buzz when you strum it. Once you get it, remember that position and try to go back to that position every time you bar.
2. Em to Bm7 Switch
Let go of all of the strings, push the neck up with the palm of your fretting hand, and move your thumb to the back of the neck. Do this all in one fluid motion. It will take some practice to get this down smooth, but do your best and try not to over think it.
3. Bm7 back to Em SwitchAllow your thumb to slide off the back of the neck so you're cradling it in your palm, place your fingers back onto the Em frets. This switch is a little easier, but you have to trust that your ukulele won't slip away from you.
Because it's only two chords, you should be able to get the switch down pretty quickly with a little practice. After that, head up to the top of the page and play along with the Play Along. Use simple down strums and switch chords whenever indicated. Nice job, you just played the beginner version of the song! When you can switch chords at their proper times, move on to Step 2.
STEP 2 - Strumming Rhythm
This song has a pretty steady, swung strum. You can essentially just use a steady repeated "down, up" strum for the whole thing, adding a bit of a swing. You can think of the "swing" rhythm as emulating a horse's gallop. Check out the following video and follow the steps below to get your strum to a level you're comfortable playing:
1. Count 4 beats and strum down on beats 2 and 4Hold your ukulele properly and do a steady strumming motion. Count a steady repeated "1, 2, 3, 4" and strum down on "2" and "4."
2. Strum on all 4 beatsContinue counting "1, 2, 3, 4" but strum on all beats now. If you can, still emphasize beats 2 and 4 by playing them slightly louder and playing 1 and 2 slightly softer. For absolute beginners, feel free to stop here - you'll be able to play the entire song with this strum already. For more seasoned beginners, continue to the next step.
3. Add up strums in between each down strumIf you've been strumming with your thumb, be sure to switch to strumming with your pointer finger with proper form. From here, add up strums in between each down strum.
4. Keep emphasizing beats 2 and 4Elongate beats 1 and 3 and make them quieter, while putting emphasis and volume on beats 2 and 4. You can do this by:
- Strumming beats 1 and 3 with less force and speed (softer tone) OR
- Doing a "half strum" (just strummming the G and C strings) on beats 1 and 3.
5. Add a variation strum to Bm7Once you are able to do the basic swung strum with emphasis, you can vary the strum between chords. Do the same strum for the Em chord, and when you get to the Bm7, switch to a simple "down, up, down, up, down, up, down, up." This will break up the pattern and get it a little closer to how the strum is played in the original song.
Feel free to strum at whatever level works best for your current ability. Try playing along with the "A Horse With No Name" Ukulele Play-Along at the top of the page. Great job!
STEP 3 - Advanced Picking
Finally, if you're a little more advanced of a player, you can add in that fancy picking in the middle of the song. Check out the video below to see Aldrine explain how to play the picking and use the "A Horse With No Name" Ukulele Picking TAB for guidance:
Here are a few tips for the picking
1. Start off learning all of the notes on the E stringOn the E string you'll use Frets 0, 2, 3, 5 and 7. Get comfortable with these notes.
2. Learn how to pick tripletsPlaying "triplets" involves cramming 3 notes into a certain note value space. For this song, you can practice by counting "1, 2, 3, 4" and picking 3 notes (you can practice by picking 3 times on the A string 7th fret) on each of the beats.
3. Get familiar with the D ScaleThe last phrase of the picking is basically just a descending D scale exercise. From high to low notes, the D scale on your ukulele can be played: A String frets 5, 4, 2, E String frets 5, 3, 2, and C String frets 4, 2, 1. Get comfortable with those notes and the last part of the picking will be 10x easier for you to learn.
4. Learn a two finger picking methodAldrine usually picks using his thumb nail. This provides the fullest, roundest tone when picking. But for fast runs, like in the second half of the "A Horse With No Name" ukulele picking, he often switches to techniques that offer fast, clean notes. One technique is to alternate the thumb and middle fingers of your picking hand (thumb picking down, middle picking up) to pick faster runs.
Awesome job! No matter how far you got, be happy with your progress having added another fun song to add to your ukulele learning and playing list. If you like this one, be sure to check out our ukulele tutorial for "Ventura Highway" also by America. And if you have any questions with your playing or need help with a song, please contact us! Have a great one, UUers, keep strummin'
Super-observant player questions:
*If this song is in the Key of D**, why is there no D chord?
Great question, super-observant player! Both Em and Bm7 are part of the D chord family, so it works out because there's no rule that the root chord needs to be in the song. However in this case, the real chord on guitar is a D6/9 (instead of Bm7). This serves as the root chord of the song. The notes in D6/9 are D, F#, A, B, E. But because the ukulele only has 4 strings, we can only play four of the notes in the chord. The notes in Bm7 are B, D, F#, A which is a close enough approximation to the full D6/9 for our purposes (and easier to remember) so we went with that.
**Why is this song in the Key of D when the internet says it's in the Key of Em?
As with all music theory, it's up for interpretation. People often assume that the first chord of a song is the key of the song, so it's often labeled that way by default. However this song prominently features the C# note, both in the main melody line and in the picking of the song. This leads us to believe it's in the Key of D and not Em (there's no C# note in the key of Em). Another reason people might label it as Em, is because it actually uses an "E Dorian scale" - which is just the second mode of the D major scale.