If you’ve found your way to this article, chances are pretty good you are a uke player who’s curious to know not just if you can play the guitar, but if your uke skills will transfer well onto the guitar. That, or you are interested to know if one instrument can play another, and accidentally typed the word ‘play’ twice in your excitement…
I’m guessing it’s the first one, but hey, all are welcome!
Can Ukulele Players Play Guitar?
Now, to answer the questions at hand, we are first going to take a look at the ukulele and guitar from the perspective of what is different about them, and then what is the same or similar.
Let’s get started!
Ukulele and Guitar: What is Different?
No matter how much you know about music, some of the differences between the ukulele and the guitar are pretty self-evident. For instance, the guitar is noticeably bigger, and has six strings, whereas the ukulele is smaller and has only four strings (most of the time). These aren’t unimportant differences, but have less to do with how well your ukulele abilities will transfer. So what is important?
The six strings of a guitar are tuned, from top to bottom, E – A – D – G – B – E.
The four strings of the ukulele are tuned, from top to bottom, G – C – E – A.
Not only is the tuning different, but as you know, most ukuleles have a “high” G string, meaning the deepest string is actually the second string from the top, the C string. This gives the ukulele a very different sound.
String type makes a huge difference in what sound an instrument produces. Ukuleles generally use plastic strings, while most acoustic guitars use steel strings.
There are exceptions to this rule, for instance, classical guitars use nylon or synthetic strings more like a ukulele, and some ukes do have a metal string or two (especially baritones, but more on that later), but for the most part, the sounds we associate with these two instruments are tied to the difference in string type.
Size isn’t the only reason acoustic guitars outweigh ukes. Steel strings have a much higher tension than plastic strings, and require an instrument to have a sturdier build, which is why acoustic guitars feel so solid. Also, the steel strings are much brighter and louder than their mellow plastic counterparts, and also have more resonance. This is the big reason why the two instruments sound as different as they do.
Also, as a uke player looking to transition, it is important to note that steel strings are much harder on your finger tips, meaning it might take a while for your finger tips to strengthen up.
Read more: Ukulele Case… Do You Need One?
This one is pretty straight forward. Strings tuned differently means different chords.
Or does it…
Ukulele and Guitar: What is the Same?
If you are feeling discouraged by what you’ve read so far, don’t despair – the similarities far outweigh the differences!
Tuning and Chords
Wait a minute, how can these be different, and similar? I’ll show you!
Let’s start with tuning.
- Again, for guitar we had: E – A – D – G – B – E
- And for the uke: G – C – E – A
Ok, still not the same right? But check this out…
If we put a capo on the fifth fret of the guitar – and ignore the top two strings, E and A – look what happens:
The tuning of an ukulele has the same intervals as the highest four strings of a guitar, just with all the notes a fifth higher on the scale.
What This Means for Chords
If the tuning pattern is the same, just a 5th higher in the scale, that means that the same chord shapes you use on the uke will work on guitar, only they will be a 5th lower on the guitar.
You’ll get a D chord, the note that is a 5th lower than G (G down to Gb/F# down to E down to Eb/D# and finally down to D – notice it’s 4 steps down but there are five notes so the interval is a 5th).
So, if you want to transfer your uke chord onto the guitar, you just need to figure out how to convert chords down a 5th, or, get a capo for your guitar and put it on the fifth fret to begin with.
That just leaves us with those pesky two low strings, E and A. This is where you will realize some chord shapes have additional fingerings.
For instance, a C shape on the ukulele is a G on guitar.
Notice it requires 3 fingers instead of just 1. However, on guitar, both the top and bottom string are the same note (E), so you’ll notice your finger goes on the same fret as it does on the high E (the 3rd).
You could use this information, along with a knowledge of the notes within chords, to figure out what fingerings are needed on that additional A string, or you can just look up guitar chord charts. Either way, the point is that there will be a bit of a learning curve, and some finger stretching to get more fingers down on a larger neck, but there are similarities to build off of, and you won’t have to start back at square one if you want to pick up the guitar!
For more lessons on chords, techniques, and songs to help you along on your own uke journey, make sure to check out our site www.ukelikethepros.com. We offer you a bunch of great ukulele content that comes hand-in-hand with an awesome ukulele community that will support you in this journey.