guitar vs ukuleleThe ukulele and guitar are two amazing instruments that share a lot of similarities but also plenty of stark differences. Both instruments are easily portable and a blast to play, but everything from size and construction down to tuning and how to play chords is completely different. Knowing how to play one instrument will certainly help you play the other, but there’s lot’s of small differences you’ll need to know about in order to be proficient on the uke and/or guitar. Trying to decide which instrument is right for you or your child? In this article, we’ll talk about the pros and cons of the ukulele vs. guitar. We’ll give you tips on how to get started playing both instruments and also a tutorial on how to play the same song on the ukulele and guitar.

 

Backgrounds and origins

 

The ukulele and guitar are two very popular instruments in the world right now, but guitars are virtually inescapable within popular music and culture. The guitar is considered to be a more “serious” instrument than the ukulele, but there’s plenty of incredibly challenging, relevant and virtuosic music being written for the ukulele right now.

 

Ukes and guitars can be found in a myriad of different musical genres and styles, but the guitar has more of a foothold within popular culture than the ukulele doesfor now anyway. Ukuleles have enjoyed an explosion in worldwide popularity over the past thirty years that shows no signs of slowing.

 

The guitar’s history goes back all the way to 1050 BC. Instruments that were created by suspending strings that connected hollow gourds with long sticks are likely the first examples we have of the guitar’s ancient predecessors. It’s a common misconception that instruments like the lute made way for the modern guitar, but crude instruments like the one we just described are now widely believed to have paved the way for the lute and modern guitar.

 

Ukuleles are commonly thought of as originating from Hawaii, but the instrument wasn’t always there. According to legend, the instrument, which means “the gift that came here” in Hawaii, was brought to the island nation by Englishman Edward William Purvis. In reality, we now know the small instrument was brought to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants in the 1880s. The uke is a combination of simplified versions of other Portuguese stringed instruments.

 

Obvious similarities

 

ukulele
The smaller four-stringed ukulele

The largest similarity between the ukulele and guitar is that they’re both stringed instruments. This means that the sound of these instruments is generated when strings are plucked or strummed over a hollow wooden body. The sound of the strings reverberates within the guitar and ukulele’s hollow body and is then projected. This process is called natural amplification. Electric guitars rely on electronic amplifiers for their amplification, so acoustic guitars are far more similar to ukuleles than their electric counterparts.

 

Ukuleles and guitars use the same fretboard system of playing. Both instruments include strings suspended over a long strip of wood (the neck) that’s separated by metal bars (frets). Pressing your finger down on a fret will generate a note, and combinations of frets and open strings will produce different chords and scales depending on if you play the notes together or individually.

 

Guitars and ukes are easy to carry around compared instruments like drum sets and keyboards. This makes both instruments ideal for traveling to shows, camping trips and commuting around town.

 

Obvious differences

 

Larger six-stringed acoustic guitar

If you’re trying to decide between purchasing a ukulele vs. guitar, this next section should be really helpful for you. It’s much, much easier to learn how to play the ukulele than it is to play the guitar. Why? There’s a few reasons for this.

 

Ukulele strings are made of nylon which are easier to press down compared to the nickel-plated strings you’ll find on most electric and acoustic guitars. If you’re looking for a starter instrument for young children, the ukulele is a fantastic option because it’s so welcoming to beginners. And many of the skills students develop on the ukulele can easily be transferred to the guitar.

 

While both the guitar and uke are portable, the ukulele is a much smaller instrument. Taking the guitar on the subway during rush hour can be a nightmare, but traveling around with the ukulele is a cinch. The uke’s manageable size is another reason why it’s so welcoming to young children and new students.

 

Most guitars include six strings while ukuleles only have four. The guitar’s two extra strings mean a world of difference in terms of increased options for chords, scales and sound textures. The uke is an awesome instrument, but it’s pretty limited as far as scales and chord shapes go. Most guitars feature a range of at least 18 frets, while most ukes only go up to 12.

 

Acoustic guitars boast a broad, loud sound that the uke just can’t compete with due to its limited size. And the ever-advancing world of effects pedals are bringing the sound of the electric guitar to new and uncharted places that the uke could never go. Yes, ukes and guitars are similar, but in many ways they couldn’t be more different.

 

Tuning

 

Ukuleles are tuned much differently than guitars are. Guitar strings are positioned from being tuned low to high, while the uke’s highest string is positioned at the bottom of the instrument in the same spot the guitar’s lowest string sits. This can be disorienting at first for guitarists checking out the ukulele for the first time.

 

The uke’s string names are G-C-E-A while the guitar’s are named E-A-D-G-B-E. Here’s a visual guide to help show you how each instrument is stringed and tuned:

 

 

ukulele vs guitar

 

Scales and riffs

 

Like we mentioned before, scales and riffs are harder to play on the uke than they are on the guitar. This is because the uke only has four strings, and one of those strings is tuned in an unexpected way that takes a while to get used to.

 

Closed riffs and scales (passages of notes that don’t require you to play any open strings) are more prevalent and easier to play on the guitar than they are on the ukulele. The guitar has the advantage here because it has more strings and range than the uke does. Translating parts like the gorgeous guitar intro from The Beatles’ song “Across The Universe” to the ukulele range from being difficult to downright impossible depending on the part (the intro to “Across The Universe” doesn’t translate well to the uke), but chords are a totally different story.

 

Single-note riffs found in guitar songs typically translate to the ukulele pretty well. Riffs that require you to play multiple notes at the same time are harder to play because there’s so much less access to string and note combinations on the uke than there are on the guitar.

 

acoustic guitar 

 

Chords

 

How do chords stack up on ukulele vs. guitar? For beginners, this is where the uke really shines. Chords that require two, three and even four fingers pressing down different fret positions are easily played on the uke with sometimes just one finger. Things are also much easier in general on the uke because the frets are so small and close together.

 

The guitar’s two added strings give it a ton more options as far as chords and alternate chord voicings go, but if you’re looking for an instrument to help you play simple versions of chords, the uke won’t let you down.

 

Here’s a C major chord on the ukulele and guitar. The uke’s version of the chord consists of just one finger pressed down on the third fret:

 

ukulele vs guitar

 

 

Strumming

 

Ukulele vs. guitar strumming isn’t all that different except for a few key things. The uke is much easier to play with your fingertips than the guitar is. You’re free to play the uke with a hard pick, but it’s so easy to play with your fingers that you don’t have to. The guitar can be played with your fingertips, but it takes a while to develop the skills you’ll need to get the right tone and volume from the instrument.

 

Guitar strumming will ultimately sound broader and more filled out than the uke because of it’s larger size and added strings. But any simple strumming pattern you find on the guitar can be easily played on the uke in the same way. It just takes a little practice.

 

Now we’re going to show you how to play a simple song on the ukulele and guitar. It’s “Last Night” by The Strokes, and it’s in the key of C major. The chords you’ll play will sound the same on both instruments even though the shapes you’ll use to build the chords will change.

 

“Last Night,” by The Strokes

 

 

ukulele chords

guitar chords            

[Verse]


C
Last night she said
           Dm  
Oh, Baby, I feel so down
       G
Oh, and turned me off
       Em        Dm
When I feel left out
  C
So I, I turned around
           Dm  
Oh, Baby, I don’t care no more
      G
I know this for sure
      Em              Dm
I’m walking out that door

C
Well, I’ve been in town
C
For just about fifteen minutes now
           Dm
Oh, Baby, I feel so down
     G
And I don’t know why
       Em           Dm  
I keep walking for miles


[Chorus]

F                        G       
But the people they don’t understand
F                          G  
No, girlfriends, they can’t understand
F                         G
Your grandsons, they won’t understand
F                                G
On top of this I ain’t ever gonna understand


[Verse]

C
Last night she said
           Dm
Oh, Baby, I feel so down
        G
Oh, and turned me off
      Em         Dm
When I feel left out
  C
So I, I turned around
              Dm
Oh, Baby, I’m gonna be alright
        G
It was a great big lie
     Em           Dm   
As I left that night, yeah


[Solo Сhords]

C F G


[Chorus]

   F                  G
Oh, people they don’t understand
   F                       G
No, girlfriends, they don’t understand
   F                     G
In spaceships, they won’t understand
   F                      G
And me, I ain’t ever gonna understand


[Verse]

C
Last night she said
           Dm
Oh, Baby, I feel so down
        G
She had turned me off
       Em       Dm
When I feel left out

  C
So I, I turned around
                  Dm            
Oh, little girl, I don’t care no more
      G
I know this for sure
           Em       Dm
I’m walking out that door, yeah


[Outro]

C F G

 

Things to consider when choosing between the ukulele and guitar

 

Like we said before, the uke and guitar are both amazing instruments. But if you have to choose one or the other, there’s some key things to keep in mind:

 

Price- If you or your child is completely new to music and you’re looking for an easy instrument to get started on, the uke is your best bet. There’s great ukes out there that you can buy in the $50-$100 range. Ukes are priced low enough to where you won’t lose a ton of money if you decide it’s not for you or your child after making the purchase.

 

Versatility- The guitar is a vastly more versatile instrument than the uke. The guitar gives you much broader access to riffs, chords and intervals than the ukulele does. Effects pedals widen the sonic capabilities of the guitar even further to the point that the instrument is capable of creating sounds that sound nothing like a stringed instrument. If you already know a lot about music and want to create and play an instrument with lots of different sounds to offer, you may want to consider the electric guitar.

 

beginner ukuleleSuitability for beginners- The uke definitely wins in this category, hands down. If scientists were trying to create the world’s most friendly instrument to play for kids and new music students, they’d probably come up with something like the ukulele. New students typically struggle with a painful month-long period of building calluses on their fingers before they can move on to be able to play the guitar, but uke students never experience that. Ukes are easy to learn and fun to play. And there’s more access than ever to helpful resources on the internet so that students of any age can learn to play their favorite songs.

 

That’s our two cents on the ukulele vs. guitar debate. If possible, we recommend learning how to play both instruments. No matter what you decide to do, it’s a good idea to get help from an experienced teacher in your area. Working with the right teacher can help develop your skills and understanding of any instrument. For more helpful articles about the world of music, check out the Musika Lessons blog.

 

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