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What are the differences between the ukulele and the guitar?

What are the difference between the ukulele and the guitar? What technics are similar?

Many people wonder if ukulele is easier to learn or to play than guitar. Which one to start with? There are many factors to consider.

"Ukulele is just a small guitar"

Even if it has similar origins, ukulele and guitar differs in size and much more than that. I hear very often that a ukulele is just a small guitar. I hear it by kids walking down the street when I am playing downtown. I hear it by some adults too passing by.

To some extent, it might be considered that way. The ukulele is about 55% smaller than a guitar with 33% less string (53cm vs 64.8cm).

However, because of the size of the box, ukulele will have a different sound than a guitar. Higher in pitch, it sound more to me like the sound of a paradise island. The ukulele is indeed associated to Hawaiian music, where it originates from.

The ukulele is indeed a symbol in itself. Iconic, it is linked to Hawaiian culture thus to holidays, sun, being relax, and happiness.

To dig a little bit into history: Portuguese migrants brought to Hawaii in 1878 small guitar-like instruments. They made similar instruments, and the ukulele was slowly born in the 1880s.

The word "ukulele" come from Hawaiian, literally ‘jumping flea’.

So yes, ukulele is smaller than guitar. But how does it differ?

What are the string names of ukulele vs guitar?

Another difference between ukulele and guitar is their strings.

What are the pitch of the ukulele compared to the pitch of the guitar?

To go back a little bit to the ukulele specifications, it has 4 strings, instead of 6 for the guitar. It is tuned in a different way. It means in this case that each ukulele string will have different notes than the guitar: a ukulele is most of the time tuned in G C E A (or sol do mi la), when the guitar is generally tuned in E A D G B E (mi la re sol si mi), from the lowest pitch (low E2) to the highest pitch (high E4).

To be more specific the ukulele is tuned in G4 C4 E4 A4, and the guitar is tuned in E2 A2 D3 G3 B3 E4. It means that the last E (E4) of the guitar has the same pitch than the string E (E4) of the ukulele!


What does the number after a note means (for instance A4)?

The numbers after the notes are the octave of the note. Both the letters+the number is a method of specifying musical pitch. It combines a musical note name (with accidental: if needed - ♭ or ♯) and a number identifying the pitch's octave.


The funny things about ukulele's strings is that the G string sounds higher than the A and the E strings. It's called re-entrant tuning.

Generally, for music instruments, each string has a higher pitch than the previous one.

The violin is tuned G3, D4, A4, E5. G3 is the lower string, then D4 is higher, then A4 is higher and E5 is the highest.

It is true for cello: the cello is tuned C2 G2 D3 A3.

It is true for the guitar: E2 A2 D3 G3 B3 E4.

But for ukulele, it is not: G4 C4 E4 A4, where G is higher than C and E - then E is higher than C, and A is higher than A.

The ukulele has a reentrant tuning: the last string (G) has a higher pitch than the two next (strings C and E)

As we have seen, guitars and ukuleless are tuned differently.

Similar technics

As ukulele and guitar are tuned differently, the chords won't have the same fingering from the ukulele to the guitar. It means that the place where you put your fingers from the left hand to do a A chord will be different.

Finger picking, strumming

Fingerpicking (when you pluck each string separately to play a melody) and strumming are the same than guitar. Of course there is less strings for the ukulele, and you have only 5 fingers on your right hand, not six, but it is kind of the same difficulty.

Strumming technics are the same for ukulele and guitar - even if we differentiate less ups and downs on the ukulele than on the guitar. On the guitar, when you go up, you want to accentuate lightly on the higher pitched strings. And when you go down, you want to insist a litle bit more on the lower pitched strings. Ukulele players usually don't do this.

When you learn ukulele, you can learn "easily" guitar

Nothing is easy. But the time that you spend learning and playing ukulele will be helpful to learn guitar. All the rhythm and the strumming technics will be (almost) the same. Of course you'll have to do some adjustment. But it'll help.

When you learn guitar, you can learn "easily" ukulele

And vice-versa. When you play guitar, you can learn "easily" ukulele. Many technics are similar. But of course, if you want to master ukulele, you'll have to dedicate some extra time and years of study... years of fun time :)

It's not just about the length of the instrument

For many, playing guitar or ukulele is great. But there is more than that. The capacity to learn, and be consistent in your practice is important. You'll learn guitar or ukulele if you put your heart to it. And if you do what you love.

If you like singing over your music, then no matter what instrument you play, you can also progress with your singing. Progression is fascinating and stimulating, but it should be encouraged by the pleasure you get playing music.

Ukulele is easier to travel with

Ukulele is easier to travel with. I have mine everywhere where I go. Do I go downtown for shopping? I have my ukulele. I go to meet some friends for dinner? I have my ukulele. I take the train or the car for a week-end trip? I have my ukulele.

I like to have a sit anywhere, and play a tune or two. Or more. It's so convenient, so easy. I have 10 minutes to wait? I can go in a park, sit on a bench, and play some chords to have fun.

The ukulele is extremely portable.

You can say that that doesn't make ukulele easier to play than guitar. And that's true. But the more you play, the easier it'll be for you -or at least, the better you will get. And the more you have it near you, the more you can play. Simple.

Is ukulele easier than guitar?

Is ukulele easier to play than guitar? Is ukulele easier to learn than guitar?
As the ukulele has two less strings than the guitar (four instead of six), it's generally much easier to play music and to play chords.

No muted string needed to play chords (99% of the time), much less finger "distortion".

After years of ukulele, I've looked to start guitar. When I saw that most of the basic chords use muting (or at least one should not strum on all strings), I just went back to my uke'.

For the guitar, out of the 21 basic chords (7 major chords, 7 minor chords, 7 seventh (7) chords), 11 have at least one string that is not played in the chord (C, D, A, B, Cm, Dm, Am, Bm, C7, D7, A7, B7). 0 for the ukulele.

Of course you have more than one voicing for each note (you have more than one way to play the same chord), but I'm here just keeping to the standard way of playing the chords.

In my opinion, you may have a lot more fun starting to play the ukulele: if it's easier to start playing, you will have more fun to start with.

That said, even if ukulele seems easier than guitar, don't be lured by these words: it requires some regular and consistant practice to improve over time, and self motivation to keep improving.

We could help you achieve that.

Can you play everything you play on a guitar on a ukulele?

Most of the thing you play on a guitar can be played on a ukulele.

You can play the A chord on a guitar, so can you on a ukulele. So main of the songs that use a guitar, you can play them with a ukulele. Of course, there are some exceptions.

Regarding classical acoustic music, the ukulele will have a smaller note range than a guitar. It might be a problem sometime, but it is always possible to arrange some music partition to play it on the ukulele all the same.

Ukulele or guitar, pick the one whose sound you prefer

During your practice sessions, you can have much more fun playing ukulele if you like the sound better.

In the end, if you prefer the sound of the ukulele, go for it!!

But if you prefer the sound of the guitar, then I'd advise to... play ukulele! OK, this is a joke as I might be a little biased on this one. After all this site is called youcoolele.com and not "not-so-cool-guitar.com".

Conclusion

Despite having a similar origin, there are many difference between the ukulele and the guitar. Mainly its size and its pitch, its tone. About 55% smaller than a guitar and with 33% less string, the ukulele has a higher sound than its bigger counterpart.

They have many similar technics, and both can be used as great acoustic instrument to play modern pop and rock songs. In some regards, the ukulele is easier to start with and easier to play.

So pick the one you like, and go for it!

And you?

  • What do you like the most about ukulele?
  • Do you agree about this comparison Guitar VS Ukulele?
  • What is the hardest on the ukulele?
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