“I’ve Been Working On the Railroad” is the first song I learned how to play on the ukulele. My grandfather, who actually worked on the railroad, taught it to me when I was just six years old.
This song is a great song to learn if you are just beginning to play ukulele. The chords are simple to play (scroll down farther for the chords). For a strumming pattern, I recommend just starting out with down-strums at first. As you get more comfortable, add some up-strums.
Chords Used in “I’ve Been Working On the Railroad”
“I’ve Been Working On the Railroad” Chords
I’ve been working on the railroad
all the livelong day
I’ve been working on the railroad,
just to pass the time away
Can’t you hear the whistle blowing?
Rise up so early in the morn
Can’t you hear the captain shouting,
“Dinah blow your horn!”
Dinah won’t you blow, Dinah won’t you blow,
Dinah won’t you blow your horn, your horn?
Dinah won’t you blow, Dinah won’t you blow,
Dinah won’t you blow your horn?
Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah,
Someone’s in the kitchen I know,
Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah,
Strummin’ on the old banjo
Fee fi fiddle-y-i-o,
fee fi fiddle-y-i-o-o-o-o,
Fee fi fiddle-y-i-o,
strummin’ on the old banjo
This song has made me ridiculously happy. I just received my first ukelele of my very own for Christmas. I grew up with my father playing this song to all of us kids–and then the grandkids. He can’t play anymore but now I can. Thanks for the great site and clear diagrams.
Jennifer, I love it! This song is one of those that has the ability to take me back to my childhood with my grandfather and dad. Funny how songs do that. Glad you’re finding the site helpful!
Is your uke a baritone uke?
My sister and I would sing this endlessly while driving long distances, and I thank you for giving it back to me!!!
You are very welcome. Enjoy!
I’ve really gotten a lot from your lesson guide; thank you kindly for all the amazing work you’re doing. I’ve been playing just a few months, and I am having a bit of trouble with the timing on this: are you playing full bars on the C7 and D7 or are they each half a bar?
Also, the same question for the “strummin’ on the old banjo line” is that a c and g each with a half bar and then a full bar c?
And then a similar question with the timing on the last line; I could use a little elucidation here, it messes with my beginners mind.
Was that all clear and coherent? Let me know. Hope you’re having a great new year buddy. Take care.
Joshua, you are correct. I am playing full bars for C7 and D7. The only chords that get a half bar are the C and G on the last half of the last line of the verses (“Dinah blow your horn”, “strummin’ on the old banjo”). So you are correct, the half bar is with the C and G and then a full bar of C.
It sounds like you got it. Let me know if I answered your question!
This was always a favorite song in the car on trips with mom and dad and my brothers some 50 years ago. I just took up the ukeulele at the age of 61, just about 2-3 weeks ago, and your guidebook, diagrams, and videos have been the best help to date! I practice every night for about an hour, and what a difference it makes to have a wonderful mentor and teacher like you around. Keep it up, Brett! And thanks!
This song definitely has a touch of nostalgia whenever I listen to it. I love that you are learning how to play ukulele, and I’m glad to hear the book has been helpful to you! Keep up the excellent work! 😀
whats the strum pattern it doesnt sound right when i play it
I go over a strumming pattern you could use for this song in this video lesson: http://www.ukuleletricks.com/ukulele-strumming-patterns-for-beginners/
Great song brings back memories when I was in the scouts back when I was a kid!! Thanks for a ‘newbie’ like me playing my uke, I enjoy the great time I’m having. Thanks
This site is Awesome! It’s the best and most helpful uke site I’ve found. I just started playing and I’m using your chord charts. Thank you! Thank you! Please keep up the good work!
Woohoo!!! You’re very welcome. Thanks for your nice comment! 😀
Thanks I almost have this song down !!
Oh yeah! 🙂
Is there a way to play a chord differently
There sure is! Go to the chord library to see different variations of common chords: http://www.ukuleletricks.com/ukulele-chords/
can you tell me if your ukulele strings are plastic or metal?
im thinking about buying one and yours sounds great 😀
You can call them plastic and most use them unless you are setting the ukulele up for the Low G instead of the High G, then they might have a wound string for the G and C like they do on a guitar, but I am using Low G on my Tenor ukulele and all my strings are still plastic or flourocarbon nylon which gives a mellower sound. All my ukuleles have plastic strings..Cheers.
Hi Brett..I know you like the low G for this song but I had a question. When you set the ukulele up for Low G do you set the G string a octave lower? Someone said that you do but I didn’t set mine up that way. I just tuned my G string so when I have my finger on the fifth fret the G string it sounds the same as the C string. Can you explain this? Thanks..Keith
Hey Keith, for my low G tuning, I use a low G tuning string set with a wound low G string. This low G string is made out of metal vs. nylon so it holds tension better and registers the low end a lot better.
This is great! My husband, who has never played a musical instrument, was able to pick this up easily! He loves your website and so do I. very informative!
That’s great to hear!
Thank you so much for this song! I’ve learnt it almost off my heart and I only got my ukulele yesterday 🙂 Now have just got start on adding some up strums!
Katy, that’s awesome! This was one of the first songs I learned on ukulele too. It’s a great one to start off on! 🙂
Hi Brett, your so good, so young, so cool and a natural born ukulele teacher, bought a cheap uke two weeks ago and your guidance is fantastic. Keep up the good work, it’s good to know the internet has some genuine stars.
That is very nice of you to say, Hag. Thank you for your kind comments. I’m so glad to hear you’ve found Ukulele Tricks helpful! If there is anything I can assist you with, don’t hesitate to post a comment! 🙂
So… I have no musical ear… But I’m good reading music. If I see the written music is a lot easier for me… because I get the strumming but I don’t know when I am supposed to change the chord. At what time… Is there a place I can find this simple songs written while I adapt?
Hey Raquel, thanks for your comment. I would love to help. I have a couple thoughts:
With having a “musical ear”, you have to train your ear a little bit and exercise it. Simply, you have to practice just listening. It’s hard and it takes time, but you can do it. In your own mind, I would try to come against this idea that you have that you have no musical ear. I believe you can develop a musical ear! 🙂
If you are familiar with reading music, you probably understand time signatures pretty well. Most songs, like “I’ve Been Working On the Railroad” are written in 4/4 time signature. This means there are four beats or counts to a measure. As you’re learning how to strum a song, it’s absolutely essential that you are counting out loud.
Most chord changes happen on the first beat of a measure. Sometimes chord changes will happen mid-way through a measure on the 3rd beat. All of the chord changes in “I’ve Been Working On the Railroad” happen on the first or third beat of the measure. Again, this is why it’s important to count out loud.
If you haven’t already, I would recommend checking out my “Ukulele Strumming Patterns for Beginners” video lesson. I actually teach a strumming pattern that will work really well for this song and explain more about how to create a strumming pattern around a count. Check it out here:
I started playing last year with a 1950’s harmony Roy Smeck soprano and then upgraded to an Oscar Schmidt Ou-5 Concert Koa. Both are nice, I needed the larger scale.
I did play a Boulder Creek Riptide at a local shop and found that to be a great little axe for 95 bucks. It’s on the list to purchase
Thanks for your lovely little gem of a lesson…This is officially the second song I’ve learned on the ukelele!
I’m able to sing while playing which came as a surprise since I really struggle with that on guitar. So, I’m looking forward to performing this one for my Dad. Anyway, I really appreciate the clarity of your diagrams and presentation. Tremendously helpful!!!
Hey Jodi, thanks for your comment! This is a great first song (or second!) to learn on the uke. It’s a classic. It sounds like you are making great headway. Keep it up! 🙂
Despite me and none of my friends having heard this tune this side of the pond (UK) it is now a favourite within the family despite my faltering renditions
For more verses
I’m just starting out, and am getting most of this song down pretty well. The E7 is taking some time, though. I’m trying to bend my fingers in ways I’ve never done in 62 years! Also, I’m a “lefty,” learning on an uke with reversed strings, and I’m finding that trying to “mirror” chords on a page takes some mental dexterity. However, I’m bound and determined to get there.
Thanks for creating this site. It’s fun, and very helpful.
Hey Tim, thanks for the comment. It sounds like you’re putting in the practice. It’ll all come with time! Keep up the good work, sir.
Thank you for putting all this great information out here! This site has been my go to site while learning.
After impulse buying this cute little uke. I’m obsessed!! I’ve tried playing guitar before and nothing stuck but the uke has been an eye opener. Maybe it’s the 4 strings instead of 6.. simple chords.. Not sure but I love it!
I have practicing and will continue to work on those strumming patterns 🙂
I am a rank beginner and I’ve really been enjoying your lessons. I have one small issue with the recordings. Your intro (and ending) music is much louder than the lesson, so I’m always turning my volume up and down to compensate.
Thanks again for the great material.
Hi Caryl, so sorry about this. I’ve tried to keep this in mind for my future videos. You’ll find that the Ukulele Strumming Tricks course doesn’t use any intro music like this. This is one of the first videos I made for Ukulele Tricks, so I was a bit of a noobie then 🙂 Thank you for your graciousness.
i just got my uke two days ago, i can already finger-pick well and now i’ve been doing strumming. i can’t tell when your strumming up or down, are there any really easy strumming songs you would recommend to me so i can practice strumming besides “I’ve been working on the railroad”
May I know the strumming pattern you use for this song ?
Hi Nathaniel, I recommend using the strumming pattern I teach in this lesson here:
IS there a way to print the lyrics and the chords? I seem to be having trouble doing it. Also do the different sections have different strums and/or speeds? Thanks again. Happy New year and be safe that is a strong storm. Enjoy the family.
What is the struming pattern? And also im a big Queen fan maybe you could put some of their songs on here.
Hi Brett another dumb question. When I am strumming as an example to “I’ve Been Working On The Railway” it sounds o.k to my hear. But I seem to be making the uke say the words, like “Fi-Fi-fiddley-e-i-o-o-o”,instead of keeping to a steady strum. I,m not sure I’ve worded the question well, hope you get the idea.
Hi Maggie, I recommend to practice not singing through this part for a little bit. Just strum the chord progression. Even try humming the melody very slightly under your breath. I think with a little bit more practice you will be able to get it so there is more independence between your strumming hand and singing. This takes a little bit of time, so keep at it.
Hi, I am finding it very hard to work out a strumming patten to make it sound like the song. How would it be? And I am struggling to read it as the chords above the words. Is it a strum per word or?
Hi Catherine, great question. This is one of the challenges with just using chord charts to learn a song. The chords are written over the lyrics to estimate where they would be played as if you are singing the song.
To make it easier, keep listening to this song over and over again. You want to get the song really stuck in your head. As you listen to me play it, try tapping your toe to the beat and even counting out loud (1, 2, 3, 4, repeat).
Once you’ve done that, just try strumming the chords with down strums as you hum or sing the melody out. As you get a sense for it and can do that, then try making your strumming more complicated with up strums and such.
For more help, I recommend checking out this lesson, where I teach the exact strumming pattern I use for this song:
Hi:)I have a problem because I am teaching myself.I can’t tune it because I don’t have a tuner and they are about 20 bucks.How do you strum?My ukulele always buzzes and I don’t think I am doing it right.Can you help me?
Love practicing this song!
Thank you very much Brett, for teaching me so much. I soooo enjoy your lessons. I live in South Africa, am 73 years old, got this beautiful red ukulele (Kamoa) from my children. Just love to improve all the time.
You are welcome, Ineken!So glad you are enjoying the lessons and learning to play ukulele.
Dude that was sooo fun. Metronome set really slow, and away I went. Even slowly, when one hits all the notes just right (which I did), it’s still “i’ve been working on the railroad”. Very cool! Also working into some really cool blues licks! You know I’m playing 12-bar blues with ya’ll!! Finger style is awesome too. Sooo much fun with that. Not greedy, just want to play it all! 😉 lol Happy New Year. :)))
Thank you so much for the free lessons.. I always wanted to play but never got around so now I’m devoting myself to play and in the future pass it down to my kids. Keep it up.
I got the short version of this song in your free book. I just found this video with the expanded version. Looking forward to playing the entire song now. NICE!
Love the way you lay out the words with the notes and then ref right above. This is by far the easiest way to learn! Props! Kudos!
I just wanted to say thank you so much for putting so much out there at no cost. Your tips, videos, and beginner’s ebook have been so helpful. I am a total novice, and am slowly but surely learning through your site. I think in a time when so many people are struggling, it’s so cool that you offer so much help. Music is healing, and I hunk what you do is wonderful.
*think, not hunk
You are very welcome, Leah! Thanks for your kind comment.
I noticed that the cords are different on this page than in your leason. Which one should I focus on?
Since I work on the railroad and so does all of my family and friends, I get twisted pleasure out of making this the first song I learn and drive all of them nuts with 🙂 My husband has probably heard this song 100 times already but practice is the only way to learn and I just bought my first ukulele.
Thanks so much for this Brett. I have just taken up the uke after playing only classical guitar all my life. Being able to play along with you has made me realise I can actually sing a bit while I play, just need practice and confidence. I have found uke players in our area to be so friendly and encouraging too – I just joined in with a group and they have helped me so much.
I love the song, didn’t know it before but I certainly do now!