If you are new to the ukulele and have some experience playing guitar, one of your first questions might be “Are the ukulele and guitar in the same key?” While there are some similarities, I will outline the “key” differences between the two instruments when it comes to how they are each tuned below. Let’s check it out!
What is a Key?
Let’s dive into a little music theory before going any further. You will often hear someone say that a song is in the Key of C or the Key of Am, etc. What does that even mean? A key in music is the main group of notes or pitches that make up the musical piece. The notes or pitches in a musical piece will often be from the same scale and this is how the key of the piece is determined. The Key of C has the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C. If you see a song with only these notes, you will know that it’s in the Key of C. It doesn’t have any sharps or flats and is considered the easiest key to play in.
Read More: Ukulele With Low G… What Does It Mean?
A Matter of Tuning
The differences between ukulele and guitar don’t necessarily lie in the key of the instrument, but more so in the tuning of each instrument. That is the more correct way to think of this. But we still need to be able to understand and identify both.
A ukulele is commonly tuned to GCEA, and DGBE for baritone ukulele. Because the ukulele is a chromatic instrument, it can actually be played in any key. When ukuleles are tuned to GCEA, they are tuned to the key of C. When baritones are tuned to DGBE, they are tuned to the key of G. They are played in other keys as well, depending on what notes you have your ukulele tuned to. It’s a very versatile instrument and as someone who likes to play in alternate tunings often, I can tell you that alternate tunings can be a fun area to explore and can give you another sound to play with.
In addition to the traditional high G tuning, a ukulele can be tuned to low G tuning also. They are both tuned GCEA, but with the low G, the G string is an octave lower which will give you a linear sound and tuning which many people enjoy. Check out this video short that Terry Carter made about the differences between the two.
The Guitar Difference
A guitar isn’t tuned to a specific key, but rather it’s able to be played in any key. When it is in standard tuning, it is tuned to the notes EADGBE. The tuning can be called E Standard and this is where many people get confused because E is not the key of the guitar. Rather, the notes are part of many other keys, too. The guitar could be considered the key of C major, which is also called the E Phrygian mode. While you can play any key of the guitar, the most common keys to play are C, D, G, A, and E. This is because the chord shapes are a little easier to form with your hand, thus the key is easier to play in.
Read More: Is Ukulele Better Than Guitar?!
What Do We Do With This Information?
Now that we have identified the difference between the tunings, what do we do with this information? First, knowing this increases your musical literacy. The more you understand, the more the dots will start to connect and you can use this knowledge in different situations. You can play and even compose songs in different keys and tunings. When you play in different keys and tunings, you will be playing different chords which will increase your knowledge. You may need to do a little more research to discover more tunings but it’s really fun to hear your instrument in a new way.
Conclusion: Are Ukulele and Guitar in the same Key?
Hopefully, this lesson helped you understand the “key” differences between guitar and ukulele keys and tuning. If you liked learning some music theory, you’ll be happy to know that you can check out the Music Theory Workshop over at UkeLikethePros.com. In this workshop, you will learn about the essentials of music as it relates to the ukulele, simple rhythms, notes on the ukulele, major and minor chord construction, and so much more. There is also a Course available on Chord Progressions in which you will also learn some music theory. And as always, you can chat with your ukulele friends over on the Community Forum and always ask questions about music theory and the ukulele. Happy playing!