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Ukulele vs Guitar - How Are They Different & Which Is Right For You?

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Stringed instruments may seem very similar in concept, but learning and practicing on each will show you that there is more than meets the eye. Deciding on playing either the ukulele or the guitar can be a difficult one. In some cases, learning one can help you understand the other more quickly, so you don’t have to settle on just one instrument.

Even though both instruments can be great for beginners, some differences need to be pointed out before deciding which one is the right one for you to learn. They both do have similarities, but there are multiple facets about playing each that are vastly different. Whichever one you decide upon, it is essential to note that learning a new instrument requires dedication, discipline, and a lot of practice to master.

MUSICAL BACKGROUNDS

Guitars and Ukuleles are found across many different musical genres and styles. The guitar has more popularity in most cultures, but the ukulele has also grown in popularity in more recent years. 

Stringed instruments have been around since people discovered that they could suspend strings and connect hollow gourds with long sticks to make music. These were the first signs of the modern-day guitar, dating back to 1050 BC. 

Ukuleles have always had an association with Hawaii, but the literal translation of the instrument means “The gift that came here” in Hawaii. It was discovered that the first uke-like stringed instrument was brought to the island by Portuguese immigrants back in the 1880s and then adopted by others to be Hawaii’s primary instrument.

UKULELE vs. GUITAR – THE SIMILARITIES

Before getting into the differences, let us first explore what makes these two instruments similar. They do, on the surface, pose a lot of similarities. The first thing to note is that they both have strings, meaning the sound generated when the open strings are plucked or strummed over the hollow hole reverberates and is projected out. This process of sound being projected is known as amplification.

Since there are electric and acoustic guitars, it is helpful to know that electric guitars require more amplification than acoustic or classical guitars, which are more similarly structured in sound and body to the Ukulele. The methods of playing a guitar and ukulele are also the same. Combining strings by pressing your fingers down and strumming or plucking on frets produces different chords and scale lengths, and you can play the notes individually and together.

One last common similarity between the two instruments is that they are easily portable. Compared to other great beginner instruments like the piano or the drums, guitars and ukuleles are lighter and easier to transport for live gigs, performances, or other events and get-togethers.

UKULELE vs. GUITAR – OBVIOUS DIFFERENCES

If you decide on which instrument to purchase to learn, note that it will be much easier if you are just starting as a true music beginner to work with the Ukulele. Why is this? Some of the more apparent differences between these stringed instruments are outlined below.

SIZE

One of the first differences you will see right from the get-go is their size: the ukulele is smaller than the guitar. They can be almost half the size of a regular acoustic guitar. This small size adds to the ease in portability if you are looking for an instrument that will be the easiest to get from point A to point B. The uke is also an excellent instrument for young children since it is a much more manageable size.

Ukuleles also come in different sizes for their various types. There is a soprano ukulele, concert or tenor ukulele, and bass ukulele. The bass ukulele is the biggest of the measures, but it is still much smaller than a guitar. Guitars also have different types, typically acoustic, electric, and bass guitar.

STRINGS

The ukulele has nylon strings, which are easier to press down on than the guitar strings, which are steel-string or nickel-plated. The string tension might mean that the ukulele strings being easier to press on make it the more preferred instrument for young children as the best option to start with when learning to play. Many of the skills learned with the ukulele can be transferred over to the guitar.

Another difference you’ll find with the strings of a guitar is the number of strings each has. Classic guitars have six strings, where on a ukulele, there are only four. The extra two strings on an acoustic guitar make a significant change in terms of more chords, scales, and progressions.  So, the fewer strings on the uke make it more limited for chords and scales. Most guitars have a featured range of 18 or more frets, and the uke only has up to 12 frets.

Some alternate string configurations are available on these musical instruments, such as a 12-string guitar or an 8-string ukulele. However, it is less common and more likely that the majority will have the standard six and four strings. The change in string numbers will also change the chord shapes, scale length, and limit or broaden the availability for songs to play. Having versatility also explains why you see many bands feature guitar players rather than ukulele players since the modern guitar has a broader range.

SOUNDS

One of the last noticeable differences you will find in these instruments is the sound that each one makes. The guitar and ukulele, when played side by side, produce very different sounds. Being the smaller instrument, ukuleles have a much more limited sound that doesn’t project or sound as broad as the guitar’s sound. 

The guitar tends to project a very loud, broad, and bright tone, and the uke sound has a more soft, warm tone. The guitar and uke’s different sound is partly because of the string tension, which is another important factor you will see to differentiate the musical instruments.

TENSION

One significant difference to point out is the strings. The strings on the uke are more delicate and stretchier with low tension. The string tension is far tighter on a guitar, which is why it feels more comfortable to most. Again, this makes the ukulele a preferred option for young children as a beginner instrument since their fingers won’t hurt as much pushing down on the uke strings rather than on the guitar.

THE TUNING 

Another important difference to note with ukulele vs. guitar is the standard tuning. Because of the difference in the number of strings, the tuning is also very different between the two instruments, as shown below:

Ukulele vs Guitar String Tuning

The uke string names go in the order of G-C-E-A, and the guitar goes E-A-D-G-B-E. The guitar strings are positioned for tuning from low to high, and the uke is the opposite, with the highest string at the bottom. 

Even though they are tuned differently, the way that you tune each is similar. Many of the chord shapes are the same for both, but they each play different notes. For example, the standard guitar’s D chord uses the same finger pattern for a ukulele’s G chord. 

The bass ukulele is tuned the same way that a standard guitar is on the top four strings, as D-G-B-E, so that the tuning can vary depending on your uke type. Bass guitars have lower tension like a uke, which is another string instrument you could consider.

PRICE DIFFERENCE

Though it may not always play a factor when deciding what instrument to play, it can be a good idea to know the price differences between the musical instruments. Depending on the type of guitar or ukulele, the uke, in general, tends to be a cheaper purchase. You can get a high-quality beginner uke for around $50.00 or so, whereas trying to get a high-quality guitar for a beginner usually will cost somewhere about $150.00 or more.

WHICH ONE TO PLAY? 

The world of stringed instruments can be tricky, but whether you take either ukulele lessons or guitar lessons, both are a great choice. But, which one should you choose? 

Based on all of the reasons mentioned above, the guitar seems to be a more complicated instrument than a ukulele. The ukulele is indeed an easier instrument, with stretchier strings and smaller sizes. 

They are both popular instruments, and anyone willing to learn music theory and put in the practice time can do great things with either instrument. The best part is that learning either one will provide you with the skills and mastery to tackle the other, so you could easily choose to learn both musical instruments. 

You might consider some things when choosing which instrument might include price, comfort, and portability (or weight). Another important factor that you should also note is that it is good to know which instrument will be easier to learn your favorite songs on. You will be far better likely as a general rule of thumb to pick songs you want to play since it will make you more apt to practice and learn. 

The fact is that it is entirely up to you which one to choose. If you are choosing an instrument for a child, since they tend to have a smaller body and hands, it is more recommended to start with the easier uke and work up to a guitar. However, if you are older or have some knowledge of music, or just really love the guitar, take on those extra strings and tackle the guitar.

When you begin your learning, it can help or be a good idea to try out one or the other for a little bit, just to see which one sticks with you. They are different instruments, and one may be more suited for your playing style than the other, so give yourself some time to gain a better understanding of each before you make your final decision. The most important thing is to remember to have fun when learning and enjoy yourself!

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