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Home Ukulele Ukulele Vs Violin: Everything You Need To Know

Ukulele Vs Violin: Everything You Need To Know

Comparing and Contrasting Two Stringed Instruments

by Jennifer VanBenschoten

Ukulele Vs Violin! You might be thinking, what on earth do the ukulele and violin possibly have in common? Well, for me, this is a very special relationship between the two instruments. I actually got my start in music over 40 years ago when I was just seven years old, and I was given my first violin. See, I come from a long line of violin players (I’m a fifth generation violin player in my family!), and so being able to share the best of these two very special stringed instruments is ___!

Let’s take a look at ukulele vs. violin and compare and contrast these two stringed instruments.

Ukulele Vs Violin

History Of the Violin

The history of the violin is a rich and storied journey that spans centuries and continents, evolving from its early origins to become one of the most iconic and beloved musical instruments in the world. The violin’s roots can be traced back to the early 16th century in Northern Italy, with makers like Andrea Amati and Gasparo da Salò credited as pioneers in its development. These early violins had a rounded shape and relatively crude construction compared to modern standards.

The 17th century witnessed significant advancements, particularly with the work of Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri, whose violins are still highly prized today for their exceptional craftsmanship and sound quality. The violin gained prominence in orchestras and chamber ensembles during the Baroque era, becoming an essential part of classical music.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, virtuoso violinists like Niccolò Paganini and composers like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven elevated the violin to new heights of expression and virtuosity. The instrument continued to evolve with innovations like the chinrest and the modern bow.

Read more: Top 15 Best Ukuleles Under $150

History Of the Ukulele

Most ukulele enthusiasts also know that the ukulele is a relatively modern instrument. While it has roots and relatives in some of the lute family instruments that date back to the 15th and 16th centuries, the instrument that we know and love as the ukulele wasn’t invented until 1879.

Some of the instruments that preceded the ukulele in Portugal are the machete, cavaquinho, timple, and rajao. Each of these instruments has a similar build and tuning to the modern ukulele, but have differences in the number of strings, tuning, and overall size.

The ukulele as in instrument has evolved over the last hundred years and now can be found in a number of different sizes and string configurations.

All About the Violin

So let’s start looking at the construction and design of the violin. Most of us are very familiar with what a violin looks like: the violin has an arched top with f-shaped sound holes, and a body shape that is somewhat similar to a ukulele or guitar.

The inside of a violin has bracing that is also similar to the bracing you’d find in some of the finer ukuleles. One difference between the ukulele vs. violin is that the violin has a soundpost inside of it, resulting in the violin’s characteristic resonance and projection.

One major difference between the violin and the ukulele is that the violin has a tailpiece and chinrest at the base of the instrument for spacing the strings and for holding the violin while playing. (I have seen a couple of ukuleles with a tailpiece similar to the tailpiece on a mandolin, and I actually own one that has that feature, but that’s where the similarities end between the violin and the ukulele.)

Just like the ukulele, the violin has four strings, and these strings are usually made from gut (usually sheep), or more commonly in modern times from nylon and steel. The names of the strings are G, D, A, E, also similar to the ukulele, and start on the low G below middle C, the same note that a low G ukulele string is tuned to. Violins are not tuned re-entrant the way the ukulele is, but there are similarities between the low G ukulele and the violin.

In contrast, the re-entrant ukulele starts with the G above middle C for the fourth string, and then drops down to middle C for the third string, the E above middle C, and then the first A above middle C. That re-entrant tuning can be found on some of the Portuguese lute family instruments I mentioned earlier, even though some of them have more strings than the ukulele. The modern ukulele as we know it took that re-entrant tuning and simplified it with just four strings.

Unlike the ukulele, there are no frets on the violin. This makes learning the violin a little more challenging because you have to learn by feel (muscle memory) and by ear to make sure you’re playing the correct notes. For some beginners, using little dot-shaped stickers made with a special adhesive (that won’t harm the violin fingerboard) can be a lifesaver!

Holding and Playing the Violin vs Ukulele

While the violin and ukulele may have some similarities with their build and strings and tuning, that’s where most of the similarities end. Holding and playing the violin are both completely different than holding and playing the ukulele!

To properly hold a violin, you nestle your chin onto the chinrest down at the bottom of the instrument, usually on the left side of the tailpiece. If you have a very long neck, you may need to put a shoulder rest underneath the instrument to prevent repetitive motion injuries in your neck, and unlike a ukulele, there’s no way to use a strap when holding a violin. It’s all you!

Playing the violin requires the use of a bow, which is made with a long, narrow, round piece of wood that has a pointed tip and a squared handle called the frog. The bow is strung with hundreds of strands of horsehair (or synthetic fibers meant to simulate horsehair).

The bow is used to produce a tone on the violin by drawing it across the strings, either individually or in multiples. There are many different techniques to learn in order to properly use the bow to play the violin.

Playing the violin is similar to playing the ukulele when it comes to pressing down on the strings in order to create a tone or note. However, as I mentioned earlier, there are no frets on the violin fingerboard, so muscle memory and ear training are of utmost importance when playing the violin. In addition, since the violin strings are either metal wound over a gut (sheep) core or made from stainless steel, the sound and feel of the strings on your fingertips is going to be quite different. You’ll still need to build up callouses on your fingertips when playing the violin.

During a ukulele lesson earlier this year, my teacher noted how I pointed my fingertips down the ukulele fretboard and commented that it made great technique for playing the ukulele. I mentioned that I had decades of experience in playing the violin as my very first instrument, and he said that experience translated very well to playing the ukulele! Who would have guessed?

Holding and Playing the Ukulele

Ukulele players hold their instruments in a completely different way than violin players. The ukulele is held similar to the way a guitar is held, usually in front of the body near the chest or heart, or possibly slightly lower depending on the size of the instrument and the player.

Another big difference between ukulele vs. violin is the use of a strap to hold the ukulele. While there isn’t an option to use a strap when holding a violin, most, if not all, ukuleles can use a strap of some kind. Whether it’s a strap that hooks into the sound hole on the front of the instrument or a regular guitar strap that attaches with the use of strap buttons and/or a tie at the top of the neck of the ukulele, a strap can definitely be a ukulele player’s best friend.

Similar to playing the violin, the ukulele player will press down on the strings using their fingertips. The ukulele has well-marked frets, that are metal rods inserted into the fretboard. The fretboard on the ukulele is the equivalent to the fingerboard on the violin. And yes, there are even colorful self-adhesive dots out there that can help you quickly learn chord shapes and help you memorize things like scales and notes on your ukulele fretboard!

Musical Styles on the Ukulele Vs. Violin

One of the things I love the most about comparing and contrasting of two of my favorite instruments is the musical styles that are possible on both of these stringed instruments.

With the invention and production of steel string electric ukuleles, you can get a real rock-and-roll sound. Likewise, there are also electric violins that give you a wider range of options when it comes to the sound you get out of your violin.

Both instruments are capable of playing beautiful and powerful classical music, and both are capable of playing heavy metal music. Really, with all the innovation and invention that has gone into these two instruments over the last few decades, the sky is the limit!

Are you ready to explore more with the ukulele? Make sure you take a look at all that is available at the Terry Carter Music Store! You’ll find everything you need to make music on the ukulele! Whether you’re in the market for a new ukulele or an upgrade to your current ukulele, or you’re looking for great online classes and lessons, you’ll find something to challenge you and advance your skills on the ukulele.

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