Guitars and ukuleles are versatile instruments. Each string and fret amount to a whole new sound texture. If you play either instrument really well, you can make most music tracks sound fantastic.
A ukulele can play any song when you know the chord progression and key of that particular track. The strumming patterns are identical for both instruments. Moreover, the reentrant tuning is what makes ukulele tones come out so bouncy and unique! To play any soundtrack on your ukulele, learn its key, chord structures, and fingerpicking pattern.
Ukulele players often strum a pentatonic scale over fast-paced chords to match a guitar’s rhythm and sound profile. An expert may also have some fresh barre chords at his fingertips. Then there are people like us who can show you how to play guitar songs on your uke with minimum effort!
So, if the question- “Can you play guitar songs on ukulele and vice versa?” popped up in your music lessons, you’ve come to the right place for answers! Today we’re going to tell you what actually happens when you play guitar songs on your uke and vice versa, and how to minimize those differences.
- 1. Matching Your Guitar to a Ukulele: 7 Things You Should Know
- 2. 6 Ways to Perform a Fantastic Guitar and Ukulele Duet
- 3. 3 Challenging Guitar Songs to Play on Your Ukulele
- 4. 3 Guitar Songs You Can Easily Play on a Ukulele
- 5. Is It Hard to Play Traditional Ukulele Songs on Guitar?
- 6. Turn Your Old Guitar into a Baritone Ukulele in 4 Easy Steps!
- 7. Frequently Asked Questions
- 8. Bottom Line
Matching Your Guitar to a Ukulele: 7 Things You Should Know
If you have a group of musician friends, chances are- they all play different kinds of instruments. And freestyle guitar-ukulele jams might have come up more than once.
The best way to enjoy these sessions is to know how to match your guitar to a ukulele as well as the other way around. And that’s exactly what we’re here for!
Before we share our guitar to ukulele transition story, we’re going to take five minutes to catch you up on the basics!
1. Names of the Strings
Ukuleles have two fewer strings than acoustic guitars. On top of that, they are tuned differently and go by different names as well. It’s common for ukulele players to have a hard time with acoustic guitar strings, especially with their order.
Hold your guitar like you usually do, and the strings are E, A, D, G, B, E from the top to the bottom.
You might notice that there are two E strings on your guitar. When guitar instructors refer to the low E string, they mean the top E string. Similarly, when they refer to the high E, it’s the bottom string on your guitar.
If you’re still having trouble with the instrument, there’s actually a fun mnemonic we learned back in the day that could help you out!
Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie.
Take the first letter of each word and voila! It’s the right order of your acoustic guitar strings.
A standard ukulele follows the G, C, E, A pattern. So, it’s easy for a ukulele player to get the hang of ukulele strings. If you’re learning both instruments simultaneously (which is an excellent idea, by the way), you can refer to these strings by numbers. Start from the bottom string and count your way up.
You’ll still need to memorize the names at some point because they’ll help you learn the notes for each string. It’s something you can’t replicate on your guitar like strumming patterns because the strings are, again, different on the other instrument.
2. Fret Shapes
As much tuning difference as there may be, a ukulele and a guitar share the same concept of frets. If you understand it for either instrument, you can easily transfer it to the next. Although, whether you get fret markers or not will totally depend on the brand. We like both instruments with markers on their 3rd, 5th, and 7th frets. They helped us learn to move up and down the neck pretty easily.
3. Know Your Chords
Transitioning from ukulele to guitar comes with a bunch of benefits. Not only do you get to start with easy chord shapes but also get fewer variations in the chord chart. So, learning the uke first gives you a basic idea about chord progressions in general.
If you’ve recently dived into ukulele lessons from a guitar background, you’ll notice an interesting thing. And that is- most chord names are the same for both instruments, but the formations are totally different.
Ukuleles can play guitar chords with some difficulty at the beginner level. Most guitar chords are complex three-finger chords. Ukuleles keep them simple with four soft strings, a lightweight body, and a wide fretboard. So, it’s quite easy to play guitar chords on a ukulele once you get the chord progression right and work past the tuning difference.
What Happens When You Transfer Ukulele Chord Shapes to Guitar?
Same chord shapes do not produce the same tones on the other instrument. The pitch is totally different, and that’s where inversions, transpositions, and barre chords come.
It’s something that can take you by surprise if you wanted to play guitar songs on your uke.
For example, a ukulele C chord formation is the bottom string third fret. However, when you use the same formation on your guitar, you don’t get a Cmaj tone.
A guitar C chord is much more complicated- which as you should probably know by now is pointer finger on the first fret of the 2nd string, middle finger on the second fret of the 4th string and ring finger on the third fret of the 5th string.
To get the ukulele C chord sound on your guitar, you need to put a capo on the fifth fret and strum out a C chord. It will sound very similar to what it does on your uke!
4. Chord Diagrams & Tuning
Your guitar chord diagrams will still help you in your ukulele lessons- only when you know how to improvise. Now, improvisations are successful when you know the tuning patterns of a guitar and a ukulele.
As a beginner, you might have questions like- Is the guitar tuned the same as a ukulele? The simple answer to this question is both yes and no.
Primarily, a uke will follow the standard G-C-E-A tuning. On the other hand, a guitar is tuned E-A-D-G-B-E, which explains its exciting pitches and sound textures.
However, on a low-G tuning, a ukulele and a guitar sound somewhat the same. Once played side by side, the audience can hardly tell them apart by just listening.
Electric guitars are fun to play. Their strings are popular for alternate tunings. Come to think of it, all types of guitars are tuned low-to-high starting from the first string.
Ukuleles, however, follow a reentrant tuning. It means that the third ukulele string is lower in pitch than the fourth string. You should consider this tuning difference when you switch to a ukulele or play your guitar alongside a uke.
5. Scale Patterns
Ukulele players have it easy in the sense that they don’t have a lot of scale patterns to worry about.
But, your fingers are constantly cramped when you’re playing the uke. Compared to a guitar, a ukulele is the smaller, 4-stringed instrument, after all.
So, when you finally transition to a guitar, your fingers might not stretch wide enough to form a few hard chords here and there. It’s nothing you should take seriously.
What you can do is practice building major scales in different keys. It’s going to train your fingers to stretch and reach over the frets. Especially when you’re transitioning from ukulele to guitar, mastering the scales will be the framework of chord progressions.
6. Sound Textures
There are a few things you have to do differently when it comes to playing ukulele songs on guitar. You might not be happy with the sound textures you get after transitioning. Ukuleles, after all, are bright-sounding instruments.
Guitars have a lower and fuller sound. It’s because it has six strings and a much longer neck than a ukulele. If you want your guitar to sound like a uke, the first thing you need to do is make its strings shorter.
One simple way to do it is to use a capo. It’s going to raise the pitch of the strings and make your guitar sound much louder than before. Ukuleles have the ability to cover music tracks within their limited chords and textures. You can make an acoustic guitar sound exactly like a ukulele if you put a capo on its 5th fret! There’s a lot of videos out there on how to make a capo at home so you can enjoy the ukulele experience on your guitar.
7. Strumming Patterns
A ukulele and a guitar may use different types of strings. For example, a standard uke will have nylon strings and a guitar has heavy-gauge strings. All differences aside, you can follow the exact strumming pattern on a steel-string acoustic guitar as you do on a ukulele.
The same holds true for electric guitars. You can strum both instruments with your fingers or a pick.
Although, picks make light gauge strings on a ukulele sound a bit tacky.
So, if you’re a complete beginner, we suggest that you learn how to play the Island strum. This strumming pattern goes effortlessly with a ukulele. You can transfer it to your guitar as well.
It goes- down, down, up, up, down, up. Anyone can master the Island strum in a short period of time.
6 Ways to Perform a Fantastic Guitar and Ukulele Duet
If you’re looking forward to playing ukulele songs on a guitar, you might as well know how these two instruments perform side by side. Learning their ways can make your transition to guitar or ukulele more natural.
Before we give our pointers away, remember to pick a musical genre both you and your friend are comfortable playing. This way you’ll get to focus on how the other instrument is complementing yours.
Okay, enough talking. Let’s get started!
1. Get Your Strumming Styles in Sync
Strumming patterns are transferable from ukulele to guitar and vice versa. But, did you know that there are more than 30 strumming styles for these two instruments?
You don’t have to memorize all of them. Just make sure that the ukulele player or the guitarist next to you is following a similar style.
Any mediocre guitarist will know at least ten strumming patterns and so will an intermediate ukulele player. For playing Hawaiian, country, rock music, and the blues, practice Slow 6/8 Blues, Country Waltz, Folky Hop, Gypsy Rock, and Southern Struts.
The Island Strum goes a long way, but if you like to play with the natural pitch of your guitar, you’ll eventually learn these finger-picking styles at some point.
2. Play Open Chords and the Same Chord Progressions
One helpful thing for you to remember is that if a song begins with a C chord on the ukulele, it will also start with a C chord on the guitar. Ukuleles, guitars, and pianos are referred to as C instruments because they can be played in the same key.
Ukulele chords at a glance
A C chord contains three notes- C, E, and G. You can play them in any order on either instrument. The only difference is the fingering. In fact, the tone you get is a C chord even if it’s in a different octave.
You can mix and match its root notes C, E, G and still get a C chord. We’ve seen cooler guitarists repeat these notes in the G, C, E, G, C, E order. You can try it on tenor ukuleles to get a matching pitch sound. And yes, be careful not to mute other strings while you’re playing an open chord!
3. Decide A Similar Pitch
All C chords won’t sound identical, especially when they’re on different instruments. “Voicing” is deciding which C chord to play. As you already know, a guitar is five half-steps lower than a ukulele. The best way to play a ukulele C chord is to follow the G, C, E, C progression.
When you’re playing solo, you can tune your guitar to any key. Duets call for tuning the two instruments to a specific key, even more so when you want to sync the instruments rather than play one over the over.
It’s good to develop a sense of time as you work past the tuning difference and play ukulele songs on a different key.
4. Choose a Finger Picking Pattern and Follow the Chords
Finger positions are very important for ukulele players as they are for rock guitarists. If you want a prominent ukulele sound in duets, try finger-picking one string at a time. This simple technique can make your ukulele sound much brighter over the guitar.
For this trick, you need to finger-pick the notes in the exact chord progression. Knowing how to count music is extremely helpful in this particular scenario.
Having trouble figuring out how to approach each string? The most simple way is to follow a strumming pattern based on your personal preferences. Island Strum goes incredibly well with modern music and most online guitar lessons will cover it in the first week.
5. Switch to Barre Chords on Your Ukulele
It’s a technique to switch from one chord to another on your guitar really quickly. Barre chords are often used in fast-paced music and a wide array of genres. Knowing how to move barre chords is extremely helpful when you’re transitioning from ukulele to guitar.
When you move barre chords, you basically press down multiple strings across the same fret with just one finger. It takes plenty of practice to master these chords like Jimi Hendrix and Paul McCartney.
Follow the G, E minor, C, D, E progression to touch the barre chord basics. What barre chords do is make you a fast fingerstyle player and add new dimensions to the tones.
6. Practice the Ukulele Pentatonic Scale
A pentatonic scale is picked up more often than not for guitar riffs, rhythms, and melodies. There are five pentatonic scales for guitar- all of which you’ll use quite frequently in rock, blues, and pop.
It’s basically a five-note scale and has its own ukulele version.
When Should I Play the Ukulele Pentatonic Scale?
You need to learn at least one of these scales because they sound awesome in between and over the chords. If you feel the coordination is stuffy, you could play a pentatonic scale over it and smooth everything out.
When our own instructors were teaching guitar scales, they started with the A minor pentatonic. It’s super easy to play this scale over A major, A minor, and C blues.
You can avoid awkward positions with a breezy G major pentatonic. One thing to consider is that electric guitar strings are more prone to fret buzz than the nylon strings on a ukulele. Make sure that your finger picking style is on point while playing these scales.
3 Challenging Guitar Songs to Play on Your Ukulele
We’re guessing you’ve followed our instructions so far and practiced diligently. Now it’s time we put your guitar skills to test and see how they come out on a ukulele!
We chose the songs based on their advanced chord structures and popularity. There are, of course, plenty of guitar songs that you can cover on your ukulele. Let’s get started with these three first and then we can move on from there.
This evergreen John Lennon and Paul McCartney classic contains fast-moving chords followed by an unforgettable riff. It’s going to be a tough song to play on the ukulele.
What’s special about this Beatles number is that it alternates between finger-picking and strumming. So, you need to have both skills to cover this track flawlessly on your ukulele.
This song is an awesome Coldplay hit and it’s still very popular in Ukulele clubs for its syncopated strumming. As a new ukulele player, you can practice Viva La Vida with a metronome. It’s got a few off-beat rhythms here and there which can baffle a beginner rhythm guitarist as well.
Breaker by Deerhunter is similar in the sense that it includes chords you don’t normally play on a ukulele. It can really tease your finger positions skills on the fretboard. The strumming style is straightforward; so, all you need to do is ace the chords on the ukulele.
If you look at the chord tabs of this famous song, you’ll see that it’s got five simple ukulele chords E, D, A, G, and B. So, the main challenge here is shifting the chords with your fingers.
The song begins with an E power chord and sports a crazy riff in the bridge section. Back in Black could sound stiff on standard tuning. In that case, tune your ukulele down or up ¼ step.
Since the song is comparatively fast-paced, replicating the guitar action on a small-sized uke is going to be difficult. Anyhow, ukulele strings are available in a variety of gauges, but you’re going to need heavier gauge strings to pull it off.
3 Guitar Songs You Can Easily Play on a Ukulele
If you’re a few weeks into your ukulele lessons, you can give the following songs a go. They were originally played on guitar; hence we’re calling them guitar songs to keep things simple.
We chose three all-time-popular hits so you can sing along and find the rhythm on your uke!
To cover the entire Beatles song on your ukulele, you need to learn four basic ukulele chords- C, F, G, and A minor.
Let it Be is an easy track considering each chord moves in pairs throughout the verses.
It goes like-
C, C, G, G, Am, Am, F, F, C, C, G, G, F, F, C, C.
See what we’re talking about? The verse follows a slightly different chord progression made up with the same four chords.
This masterpiece by the legendary Ben E. King actually follows the Island strum we talked about a while ago.
It’s got the same C, Am, F, and G7 chords from the previous song. The chord progression is C, Am, F, G7, and C throughout the entire track.
Stand by Me was, of course, an easy pick considering how simple it is to memorize the chord progression. You need to play the Island strum (DDUUDU) over all the chords except F and G7. And that’s it!
The specialty of this song is that it plays 3 easy chords, and two out of three are one-finger chords.
We’re talking about C, A minor, and F. Switching from F to A minor is incredibly simple, by the way. All you need to do is lift your pointer finger off the first fret second string.
According to Joey Tribbiani, could this BE any easier?
Is It Hard to Play Traditional Ukulele Songs on Guitar?
Usually, when someone transitions from ukulele to guitar, they get more room to play with existing songs they know. Traditional Hawaiian songs are different. They sound more natural on a bright soprano instead of a guitar, or so they say.
But we disagree! Over the years, we’ve found out that playing Hawaiian music as well as country, jazz, and reggae call for a certain finger-picking style and tuning.
Learn the Taro Patch
If you’re particularly invested in a Hawaiian genre, you might know about slack key tuning. A slack-key tuning is exactly what the name suggests- the strings are slacked to a different key.
For example, Taro Patch is a popular slack key pattern, and it involves lowering both the high E and the low E strings to D. Next, you slack the 5th string (the A string) to G.
So, the new tuning stands D-G-D-G-B-D instead of the standard E-A-D-G-B-E. It makes a Gmaj chord; and there are other slack-key tunings like the Taro Patch based on C, D, and F.
And the Classic Hawaiian Strum!
We’ve already discussed that strumming patterns are the same across a guitar and a ukulele. If you learn this particular pattern, you can use it on both instruments which are pretty cool.
Now, the classic Hawaiian strum is a little more advanced than the standard Island strum- DDUUDU. We’ve spotted this popular pattern in many folk, pop, and rock music tracks.
By the way, the style is better known as swing or double swing in ukulele clubs. D being “down” and U being “up”, a classic Hawaiian strum goes like this- D U D U D D U D U D. Want to go all in? Pop by your local guitar shop and get thicker strings.
Turn Your Old Guitar into a Baritone Ukulele in 4 Easy Steps!
If you’re expecting chord formation and finger-picking tips, prepare to be disappointed. This is where we go rogue and give your guitar a permanent makeover (to a point that it stops being a guitar!).
We all know how a baritone uke is the largest ukulele of all. It has a distinct sound profile you can’t quite find anywhere else. How great would it be if your old guitar was, in fact, a baritone ukulele? Let’s find out!
Step 1: Unstring the Guitar
Removing guitar strings is the first step to make your guitar sound like a baritone uke. If you already know how to take the strings off your guitar, jump to step 2.
First, turn the tuning key of your high E string and feel the tension. You need to lower the tension so that the string comes off its tuning post. Once loose, the string unwinds pretty easily. Repeat it for the rest of the strings.
Step 2: Remove the Parts
Now that all the strings are off their tuning posts, the next step is to remove the bridge pins from the bridge. You’ll need a string winder for this job. There’s a slot in string winders that go around the pin and pull it out of the bridge. If you need to polish the body of the guitar or scrape off an old sticker, now is the perfect time to do it.
Step 3: Mark the Bridge Holes
This part is going to take a while. Keep in mind that you’re physically turning your guitar into a ukulele. After this step and until you string it back the usual way, the instrument is going to “be” a baritone uke.
Grab your ukulele strings and leave the slots for low E and high E strings empty. Basically, you’re going to be using the middle four slots on the bridge and the upper four tuning pegs on the headstock.
Step 4: String it Back!
Trace the slot for the 5A guitar string, and slide one end of the new string (4G ukulele) inside the bridge hole. Press the bridge pin tightly down until it secures the ukulele string.
Now, go to the headstock and push the other end of the 4G string through the tuning post. Turn the tuning key the opposite way until you like the tension and cut off the rest. Repeat the process for the next three ukulele strings- 3C, 2E, and 1A. They go through the 4D, 3G, and 2B slots- exactly in that order!
Some of our friends tried this hack on their old guitars and got great results. However, the nut on the “guitar” might be too wide for ukulele strings. In that case, you can cut a sharpie lid in half, make four holes and wedge it below the existing nut. Draw the strings through these holes to get a deeper, buzz-free baritone sound!
Frequently Asked Questions
What gauge of strings is good for acoustic guitars and ukuleles?
You can find guitar strings in a variety of gauges. A heavier gauge of strings is better suited for a jumbo dreadnought. It’s also a great hack to use a heavy gauge of strings for your guitar, especially if you want it to sound as bright as a ukulele. Thicker strings will also reduce fret buzz on a guitar.
Should I learn the guitar or the ukulele as my first instrument?
It depends on what sort of music you’re trying to make, how much time you’re willing to invest and how focused you can be overall.
Learning the ukulele is fairly easy because- one, it has simple chord structures. Two, ukuleles are easy to maintain; they follow simple tuning patterns and kick out bright, groovy tones for any song.
Guitars are comparatively high-maintenance and the complex three-finger chords can give newbies a hard time.
A guitar and a ukulele have their differences, but the two instruments are surprisingly flexible when it comes to new music genres. If you already have a head-start in your guitar lessons, transferring those skills to a tenor ukulele can be really fun!
We hope you found all the answers regarding how to play guitar songs on your ukulele and vice versa. For a beginner, it’s challenging; but so is moving the same chords on a smaller instrument from a guitarist’s point of view. Playing the uke free-style is something you’ll eventually get used to. Remember- practice makes perfect!