Can Ukulele Players Play Guitar?

Can Ukulele Players Play Guitar

So, I’m assuming that you are a Ukulele Player and wondering: “Can Ukulele players Play guitar?”

A ukulele player can play guitar to some extent without having any prior experience. The ease of playing guitar by a ukulele player will depend on his/her expertise on the ukulele.

Both of these stringed instruments have quite similarities as well as differences. So, the similarities make it possible for a ukulele player to play the guitar while the differences make it tricky for an expert player to play the other stringed instrument.

Guitar and Ukulele: Differences and Similarities

When you know the differences between the ukulele and the guitar, you’ll automatically get a hold of the guitar playing techniques. Here are some obvious as well as subtle comparisons between the instruments.

Feature Ukulele Guitar
Size Smaller size Bigger size
Number of Strings 4 strings 6 strings (standard acoustic/electric guitars)
String type Nylon strings Steel strings (acoustic guitars), Nylon Strings (Classical guitar)
String tension Lower tension Higher string tension
Tuning Standard ukulele Tuning G-C-E-A (from top string to bottom) Standard guitar Tuning E-A-D-G-B-E ( from top string to bottom)
Scale Length Shorter scale length Longer scale length
Type of tone High, bright, and warm tone, comparatively lower range Wide range of deep, low and fuller tone
Learning Difficulty Easier Comparatively difficult

Similarities

Besides knowing the differences, the idea about the similarities of these two musical instruments would give you a good advantage when you attempt to play the guitar. Some of the obvious and ‘not so obvious’ similarities are:

  • Both are stringed instruments, with wooden bodies and tuning structures.
  • The strumming pattern of the ukulele could be used on guitars.
  • Some of the chord shapes of the ukulele are the same as that of the guitar, although they are named differently. Example: Ukulele chords G major, G minor, D minor, and E minor are of the same shapes the guitar chords D major, D minor, A minor, and E minor (triplet style) respectively.
  • Soloing techniques such as legato, run, tapping is applicable for both instruments.
  • Fret positioning and fret markers are almost identical, just they differ in spacing. The number of frets might differ a little: the average ukulele has 12-15 frets while average acoustic guitars have 19-21 frets.

Challenges to Overcome for Playing Guitar

As we compare guitar to ukulele, you can already see the challenges you might face when you pick up a guitar.

The Size of the Stringed Instrument

A full-sized guitar is almost twice as big as a standard soprano Ukulele. Tenor ukulele and concert ukuleles are a bit bigger in size, but nowhere closer to a standard guitar. Only the Baritone ukulele is about 80% of a full-sized guitar acoustic guitar.

So, you probably guessed, the bigger the musical instrument, the bigger the mobility of your hands. To, mobilizing your hands should be the first introduction to your beginner guitar skills.

Adapting to the Strings

Ukulele is a four-stringed instrument with soft nylon strings whereas guitars have 6-strings made of steel with nickel/brass/bronze plating. Strumming or finger-picking the steel strings by bare hands that are used to soft nylon strings would result in finger pain.

This can happen to both your fret hand and strumming hand. So, don’t lose hope under such initial finger pain. Eventually, your finger strength will increase through adaptation.

Playing Position

You know very well that, a ukulele is placed against your chest in a tricky way with the help of your strumming hand and its short neck is supported by the fretting hand. So, whether you play the ukulele sitting or standing, doesn’t make much of a difference.

But when you play the guitar in a sitting position, it sits on one of your legs and your strumming elbow rests on the top of the guitar’s body. No support from the fretting hand is required. While in a standing position, you won’t be able to play the guitar without a strap.

As you can see, you’ll have to adapt your hands as well as legs for playing the guitar, and initially, it’ll feel like a lot of movements. The guitar might also feel heavy on your lap.

Difference in Tuning

You probably guessed it already, that, different tuning renders different chord shapes and scale positions. Knowing how to tune a guitar would be a piece of cake if you know the standard tuning and have a clip-on tuner.

The good news is, some of the basic guitar chords are very similar to some other chords on a guitar, as I mentioned before. The challenging news is, you’d have to learn some new chord shapes and they are pretty difficult than regular ukulele chords.

Barre Chords (Also Known as Bar Chords)

I don’t mean to scare you, but barre chords are a beginner guitarist’s nightmare. Major chord shapes as well as minor chord shapes, all have barre chord variants on guitars.

For a ukulele, you’d have only 4 strings to be managed by four fingers. So, practicing barre chords is not mandatory (although some do it for convenience). But for 6-string guitars, you have two more strings to play with your same four fingers (some even use their thumb in a tricky way). So, learning and playing barre chords is a must.

But here is the silver lining: once you’ve learned the barre chord shape of the major or minor chords, you can play a lot of different chords along the guitar frets. Because a specific shaped bar chord can be turned into any major or minor chord by proper positioning on the fretboard.

Tonal Range

The Ukulele tone is bright, high, and cheerful whereas the guitar’s tone is deep, fuller, and low. It also spans through a wide range due to its longer scale length (scale length is the length between the bridge and the headstock of the stringed instrument).

So, apparently, you’d have to deal with this wide range of tonality which is actually very useful when you learn to utilize it. And the ascending and descending of the tone/notes are different from the ukulele but pretty straightforward. For higher notes, you go down the strings and higher frets and vice-versa.

Playing with a Flat Guitar Pick (Flatpicking)

If you are already used to play your ukulele with a pick, then you are in luck! Otherwise, it is good practice to use a guitar pick while playing or learning a guitar. Along with fingerstyle strumming and plucking, Flatpicking is a really handy technique to play the guitar.

Flatpicking is quite easy for beginner guitar techniques such as strumming or individual string picking. In advanced guitar lessons, you can learn more advanced picking techniques if you are interested, but not mandatory for a beginner guitar player.

Tricks to Play Guitar with Ukulele Skills

Switching from guitar to ukulele could be challenging, but it is definitely doable. And following these tricks below, you can adopt the guitar skills in no time.

Finger Stretching Exercise

Even professional guitar players do this. Stretching your fret-finger through regular exercise will increase the flexibility of your finger and you’ll be able to play new guitar chords with ease.

There are numerous fingers stretching exercises you can follow. Just search for the “Finger stretching exercises for guitars” and you’ll find a number of videos to get the idea from.

Play with a Chord Chart in front of You

You probably know how to read a ukulele chord chart; a guitar chord chart is no different. The chart represents how to place your fingers along the six strings instead of four.

Since a ukulele player is used to playing ukulele chords, therefore, initially playing the guitar with guitar chord charts in front of them would allow fluent playing. This way, your finger’s muscle memory will develop quickly.

Strum with Fingers or Play Fingerstyle

I know I said that Flatpicking is a good practice and it opens up a lot of options. But it is surely not mandatory. A lot of great guitar players play just fingerstyle, even while playing an electric guitar; such as Mark Knofler, Derek Trucks, Paul Simon, and so on.

So, if you are really good with finger-plucking the ukulele, it’s not necessary to make extra efforts to learn Flatpicking. You can straight off play fingerstyle and put a show in front of your audience.

FAQs

Is Ukulele a Good Practice for Guitar?

It is definitely a good practice, but not the best I’m afraid. Like I mentioned, some of the ukulele techniques can be carbon-copied into guitar playing such as -the strumming techniques, legato, run, tapping, G-major chord of the ukulele as D major chord on the guitar, and so on.

Is Ukulele Easy for Guitar Players?

It is comparatively easier for guitar players to pick up a ukulele and play without much prior experience. I’m saying this from my first-hand experience. when I first picked up a ukulele, I had about 5 years of guitar playing experience, and playing ukulele was like a piece of cake for me.

However, as far as experience permits, other guitar players with moderate experience might not find it like a “piece of cake” per se. Actually, the ukulele itself is easier to learn whereas learning guitar is harder and trickier. So, any guitar player with sufficient guitar skills and knowledge of music theory will find it easier to play the ukulele.

“Ukulele to guitar” or “Guitar to Ukulele” – which transition is easier?

I guess you already know this answer by now, so I’ll keep it short. Yes, the transition from Guitar to Ukulele is much easier because the guitar is a much harder instrument to learn than the ukulele. By learning guitar, you’ll eventually gain more than the necessary ukulele skills except for some minor ones such as: holding the ukulele, island strumming techniques, etc.

Final Words

Now you know better that, that if you are experienced with playing the ukulele, you’ll definitely get an upper hand if you want to switch to a guitar. And following the tips and tricks I’ve mentioned, you’d be able to master a 6-string acoustic guitar in no time.

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