How To Play Riptide On Ukulele

Although Riptide by Vance Joy has bizarre lyrics, the song has won over many hearts and became a top choice for songs to play on the ukulele since its release in 2013. Thanks to only the need of four chords in this song, it’s a beginner-friendly option. Plus, the positive feeling that the song creates encourages people to learn to play it on the ukulele. With that being said, in this article, we will guide you on everything you need to know about how to play Riptide on the ukulele starting from the chords and strumming pattern to its structure and tuning adaptation. 

Chords For Riptide On Ukulele

Even if you are a beginner at playing this instrument, you should be familiar with the four chords that are in Riptide: Am, G, C, and F. It isn’t really tough to get these chords right if you have played ukulele for quite some time now. However, it’s good to be aware of the chord inversions so that you can increase your overall knowledge of chords. 

The original key in Riptide is C# which is half a step from regular tuning. The trick is to drop a capo on fret 1 if you choose to play along with the singer. What’s convenient about this song is that the three chords Am, G, and C are used in a similar order throughout the song: intro, chorus, and verses. For someone who’s not familiar with a ukulele at all, you’ll need to play 1 bar each of Am and G, followed by 2 bars of C. 

Strumming Pattern For Riptide On Ukulele 

Riptide has a very recognizable rhythm and the focal point is to get the rhythm right. If you do so, you’re very close to playing the whole song in no time. The strumming pattern for Riptide is down-down-up-down-up followed by its repetition. All you need to focus on to keep your hands moving up and down even when you’re not strumming the instrument. You need to think in a different way regarding the strumming pattern of this if you want to get it right. If you do so correctly, there won’t be any difference in your hand motion between the actual strum D D UDU and DUDUDUDU. 

While you try to achieve that, make sure that the timing is right. To help you understand the distinction between the two find the portrayal of the actual strum and the motion below. 

Actual Strum:  D     D        U D U

Motion:            D U D U D U D U

In the original pattern, there’s a gap at every point you don’t strum but that shouldn’t stop you from continuing the hand motion (as shown above) otherwise the song will sound all wrong. Therefore, the ukulele notation should look like this:


In Riptide, it’s suggested to go for a thin pick up as opposed to your finger for strumming or that’s what at least seems to be done by Vance Joy himself. With that being said, do not get overwhelmed to perfect it the first time (or even the first few times). With any musical instrument, the output gets better over time if you’re utilizing the right techniques and patterns. 

A tip to produce the perfect sound is to not hit the strings in every strum. Instead, you should try to keep your hand closer to your body when you’re hitting the string, and further away from your body when you’re not strumming. 

Song Structure 

Riptide has a relatively easy song structure in comparison to the other common songs played on a ukulele. With just the repetition of chords Am, G, and C, the song follows the same pattern pretty much throughout the song until the song reaches the end part where the chord F is incorporated as well. 

The Difference Between the Actual Ukulele Sound Output and the Recording 

The chord in the recording is A#m, therefore to match the pitch while playing ukulele the chords need to be A#m, G#, C#, and F#. You can either do this by using a capo or tune down way down to match the pitch of the recording. 

In the option where you can utilize the capo, you should do so on fret 1 or tune-up half a step by achieving the same output which is G#-C#-F-A#. In this case, the output will match the recording if you just for the easy Am, G, C, and F. 

On the other hand, you can go for the route Vance used in the recording. What you can do to achieve that is tune way down to a major third interval from the standard GCEA. So it should look like D#-G#-C-F or Eb-Ab-C-F. This is going to help you create a low sound that is correctly in sync with the original recording of the song. 

The Breakdown Riff Picking Tab 

According to the two methods used above, the first one uses high-G tuning which incorporates the open G-string which creates a ringing sound. The other option goes for low-G tuning which is ideal for low-G ukulele. Understanding the difference between the two and adapting the tuning will help you achieve what Vance creates in his song which is high-G tuning even though it’s toned down.  In this case, the ukulele should be tuned to Eb-Ab-C-F. 


If you are a beginner in playing the ukulele it’s always ideal to start with a song that has limited chords and Riptide is a great option. Not only is it a feel-good song but it creates sounds that make it seem like it’s a lot tougher to achieve with just four chords. We are positive that by following this article, you’ll be able to ace Riptide on the ukulele in no time.

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