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Is a ukulele just a little guitar? I mean, it looks very similar, right? The answer is no, actually, they are different instruments! I’ll show you how exactly they’re different.
|Has 6 strings
|Has 4 strings
|A standard guitar is definitively larger than a ukulele, but additionally comes in 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 sizes
|A concert ukulele is definitively smaller than most guitars, but comes in baritone, concert, tenor, and soprano sizes
|Traditionally tuned to consecutive intervals fourth, fourth, fourth, third, fourth (E2, A2, D3, G3, B3, E4)
|Traditionally tuned to intervals fourth, third, fourth (G4, C4, E4, A4) – notice how the tuning is not consecutive. Also, the Baritone ukulele is typically tuned to DGBE (Guitar tuning)
|The guitar is a modern music staple and is still extremely common. Guitar shares this notoriety with piano and drums. Guitar is in rock, punk, indie, folk, pop and more
|Ukulele is a niche instrument that is featured in hundreds of well-known songs and you’re more likely to hear it when you listen to indie, but you will hear it in folk, and some pop
|Guitars usually have metal or nylon strings depending on if they are an “acoustic” guitar or a “classic” guitar, respectively
|Ukulele strings are traditionally catgut, but they are often some variant of nylon
What’s the Difference Between the Ukulele and the Guitar?
Is the Ukulele just a tiny guitar? Nope! Take a look:
You can notice in the picture that I have two guitars and a ukulele. It turns out you can have small guitars, but the size isn’t what makes a guitar a guitar or a ukulele or a ukulele.
The biggest difference is the number of strings and the traditional tuning.
Guitar Tuning vs. Ukulele Tuning
Guitars are tuned sequentially, meaning as you play the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th strings of the guitar the notes are tuned from lowest to highest. (E2, A2, D3, G3, B3, E4)
On the other hand, the ukulele is tuned with the 2nd note being the lowest, followed by the 3rd, then the 1st, with the 4th note being the highest. G4, C4, E4, A4.
Ukulele Vs. Guitar Sound
This is what the 6 notes sound like on a guitar:
This is what the 4 notes sound like on a Tenor Ukulele:
That’s just one type of guitar, and one type of Ukulele, there are thousands of different guitars and ukuleles out there–but the ukulele has a much lighter pluckier sound than a guitar. Most guitars have a much deeper sound (due to their being much more bass).
Which Is Harder To Play, Ukulele, or the Guitar?
The ukulele and guitar are very close in difficulty. While the guitar has more strings, some ukuleles are remarkably difficult to hold and advanced ukulele music requires intense coordination to be able to really make the non-sequential note progression shine.
I know… you’re probably thinking–easy answer! The guitar is more difficult! It has more strings!
From personal experience, I’d say that it’s kind of a mixed bag.
What’s Hard (and Different) About the Guitar
- 6 Strings means more fretboard to memorize
- The guitar strings are all four notes apart, except for one string where it’s three. This can trip up new players.
- Pushing down the strings is really challenging as a beginner
- Classical guitar frets are so far apart they can really stretch your hands. (see classical vs. acoustic details here)
- Barre chords are difficult, especially when you have to press down all 6 strings.
What’s Hard (and Different) About the Ukulele
- The notes are non-sequentially tuned–this makes it less intuitive to play.
- Ukuleles can be really difficult, physically, to hold and play. I actually traded my concert ukulele for a tenor ukulele for this reason. It’s not that they’re too heavy, it’s that they are so small they are hard to keep in place.
- Although there are only 4 strings, there is a surprising depth of songs to play even with multiple rhythms that require a lot of coordination. I feel like it’s worth mentioning because of the funky ukulele tuning.
- Call me crazy, but I feel like the chords on the ukulele are more tricky to play than on the guitar. The standard open chord shapes for the guitar seem much easier to me.
I go much further into this subject about the difficulty of the ukulele here.
I practiced the both the guitar and the ukulele for 30 days for an hour every day to kind of get a feel for the two instruments and to see which was more challenging. You can see my 30 days of guitar here, and my 30 days of Ukulele here:
Is It Better To Learn Guitar Or Ukulele?
This is hard to answer since both are phenomenal instruments, but if you’re an adult looking to learn an instrument, the depth and breadth of the guitar is unbeatable. Generally, I’d recommend learning the guitar over the ukulele.
The guitar will push you, but if you can pass through the trials of learning the guitar (first you need o get those callouses on those fingers), then you have one of the most versatile instruments ever invented at your fingertips… so to speak.
Music composition, jamming with your friends–the guitar can do it all. The ukulele can do much of this too, but you won’t have the same volume and richness of the chords that the guitar has.
Many of the skills that you learn as a guitarist transfer over to the ukulele, so if you are interested in picking up the ukulele at some point, you can do that easily. In my opinion, it’s easier for a guitarist to play the ukulele than someone who has only ever played the ukulele to play the guitar.
Is the guitar hard? I talk extensively about this in my post, here.
Is A Ukulele a Good Instrument For a Child To Start With?
Now, if you’re a parent, I’m going to give you a different answer. Ukulele is a superior instrument for kids because it’s slightly less complex and there are many beginner songs that can be very rewarding to learn for children.
The hardest part about learning to play the guitar is simply being able to press down the strings. It sounds trivial, but it really isn’t. It’s discouraging to want to play and not being able to because your fingers can’t handle the sharp strings.
Getting a ukulele, or a small classical guitar really helps with this. The strings are easier to press down and the frets are not so far apart, two big hurdles for the budding player.
Lastly, because several chord shapes are dead simple to play on the ukulele, I think it’s a pretty good option for kids.
That being said, if you go with a small guitar with nylon strings, you can really do a lot with that. Just make sure you get one that actually sounds good and stays in tune–a knick-knack tourist trap 1/2 size guitar is not worth anyone’s time.
Ukulele Vs. Guitar Cost
In general, average-quality guitars are more expensive than average-quality ukuleles. For example, at one popular online music retail store, most guitars for sale are between $400-$625, while most ukuleles for sale are between $150-$250.
This makes sense, there are far more guitars produced than ukuleles, and guitars are generally much larger so they take more materials.
The price range for both ukuleles and guitars are the same–anywhere from $25-$2500.