Are you thinking of jumping from guitar to ukulele? Or maybe hoping you can play the same ukulele chords on a guitar? Just curious to know how these two instruments relate musically? You have come to the right place! SPOILER ALERT: THEY AREN’T THE SAME. But don’t be discouraged! They aren’t that different either. How can this be?
We are here to answer all these questions and more as we break down the similarities, and the differences, between chords on a ukulele, and chords on a guitar.
First let us take a look at the biggest differences.
Guitar Tuning V.S. Ukulele Tuning
At first glance, it is easy to see what makes guitar and ukulele chords different.
A guitar is tuned E-A-D-G-B-E.
Whereas a ukulele is tuned, G-C-E-A.
After looking at those, what sticks out to you? The two extra strings on a guitar? Or the fact that the strings on each instrument are tuned to different notes? Either way, you have spotted one of the two fundamental differences between the instruments.
Read more: Ukulele With Low G… What Does It Mean?
And different notes means different chords, right? Sort of…
Chord Shapes V.S. Chord Sounds
To understand the connection between ukulele and guitar chords, it is first important to understand the difference between a chord shape, and a chord sound. A chord shape refers to the pattern your fingers make on the frets when holding a chord, while the chord sound refers to what notes we are actually hearing that make up the musical name of the chord.
For example, let’s take a look at the basic ukulele chord of G (this is a ukulele site, what can I say, we’re biased).
To play this chord, we generally put our first finger (pointer) on the 2nd fret of the C string (3rd string), our third finger (ring) on the 3rd fret of the E string (2nd string), and our second finger (middle) on the 2nd fret of the A string (1st string).
When we strum this chord from top to bottom, we are playing the notes G-D-G-B, the G major chord. The chord shape is G, and the chord sound is G.
But what if, without changing the pattern of our fingers, we slide that G shape up to the 7th fret?
Suddenly we are playing, from top to bottom, G-G-C-E, the notes of a C major chord. Now we have a G shape but the chord sound is a C. Make sense?
You can move the same shape to the 5th fret and get a Gm7, or the 10th fret and get a D3 major.
So what does this have to do with how guitars and ukuleles relate? Hang in there!
Let us go back and take a look at the tunings of both the guitar and the ukulele.
Guitar – E-A-D-G-B-E.
Ukulele – G-C-E-A.
Notice anything? Look at the last four strings of the guitar again, D-G-B-E. And then at the four strings of the ukulele, G-C-E-A. What happens if you go to the fifth fret of the D string on a guitar?
Open string D – 1st fret D#/Eb – 2nd fret E – 3rd fret F – 4th fret F#/Gb -5th fret G.
What about on the G string of the guitar?
Open string G – 1st fret G#/Ab – 2nd fret A – 3rd fret A#/Bb – 4th fret B – 5th fret C!
Do you see where I am going with this? What do you think the notes on the 5th fret of the B and E strings of a guitar are? That’s right! E and A!
The open strings of a ukulele are the same pattern as the first four open strings of a guitar, just tuned a fifth higher! Or, you could say the first four open strings on a guitar are tuned a fifth lower than a ukulele, if you prefer to center everything around the ukulele like I do!
So let us jump back one more time, to the difference between chord shapes, and chord sounds, and how that plays a role in the similarities between ukulele chords and guitar chords.
Same Shape Different Sound
Take the G chord again. We make it by putting the first finger on the 2nd fret of the C string (3rd string), the third finger on the 3rd fret of the E string (2nd string), and the second finger on the 2nd fret of the A string (first string). This gives us G-D-G-B. G major.
But what if we took this same shape and played it on the guitar, just on the first four strings? We would have the first finger on the 2nd fret of the G string (3rd string), the third finger on the 3rd fret of the B string (2nd string), and the second finger on the 2nd fret of the E string (1st string). This gives us, from top to bottom, D-A-D-F#. The D major chord.
Same shape, different chord.
The first 4 strings of a guitar are the same as a ukulele, just tuned a 5th lower, so if you only use those four strings on a guitar, you can play your ukulele chords, you’ll just be playing in a different key, a 5th lower. With that in mind, if you put a capo on the fifth fret of a guitar, you will be playing in the key of a ukulele (or a guitarlele).
As you can imagine, going from guitar to ukulele is probably a little easier, given that if you’re going the other direction, you’ve suddenly got two extra strings to worry about.
But as you can see, it requires 2 extra notes to be fretted in order to make it work.
Another minor difference is the material the strings are made of. Most guitars will have all steel strings, while ukuleles will have something softer like nylon.
One final point I’ll throw out there is that if you’ve ever played a baritone ukulele before, those are tuned to D-G-B-E, quite literally the same as the first four strings on a guitar. Which means that the same chord conversion that works for guitar to ukulele and vice versa, works from ukulele to baritone ukulele. So if you don’t want to deal with those extra two strings, but you’d like to play something that sounds more like a guitar, why not look into a baritone ukulele?
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.