Ukulele is often thought of as the younger sibling to the guitar. While fairly light in historical repertoire, the ukulele has recently become more popular with contemporary artists searching for a unique accompaniment sound. When it comes to learning music, and specifically stringed instruments, the question that often comes up is “is the ukulele easier for beginners to learn?” as they research where to start their musical journey. Ultimately the decision between ukulele vs. guitar may depend on your personal goals and several factors including size, feel, comfort, complexity, sound, portability, and cost.
What is the difference between a guitar and a ukulele?
There are obvious differences between the two instruments, but also more subtle differences that can often be the deciding factor in determining which is the best for you.
Both the guitar and ukulele are stringed instruments, consisting of a head, nut, neck, body, and bridge. Both typically have curved sides and are played with either the fingers or with a plectrum (pick). Guitars come in many different sizes and styles. Typical guitars used in popular and contemporary music are dreadnought shaped with slim tapered necks that have six (or twelve) steel strings running alongside. Classical guitars have a bit wider necks with six nylon strings for a significantly different tone and timbre.
Ukuleles do not come in as wide a variety of types and styles. The most obvious difference between the guitar and ukulele is their size. The ukulele often resembles a small classical guitar, with a much smaller body and only four nylon strings. The ukulele is tuned differently than a guitar with fewer notes and a much smaller sonic range. The size difference and simplified construction can often make the instrument much easier to learn, especially for younger students with smaller hands.
Is it better to learn a guitar or ukulele first?
This one is a bit of a trick question… The idea of one being “better than the other” to learn is a bit misleading because, for all their similarities in appearance, they are actually quite different when it comes to their sound and use. As a student of music, if your goal is to achieve sounds specific to the guitar, learning a ukulele will likely cause more frustration than anything else. Conversely, if the goal is simply to develop skills with a stringed instrument, learning on a ukulele will most likely have a faster learning trajectory.
The ukulele is often seen as a springboard instrument. The question is often asked, is “ is the ukulele easier than guitar?” Young students who lack fully developed fine motor skills or hands big enough to navigate the neck of a guitar, will find a ukulele far more satisfying and a great way to build confidence. The fewer strings, smaller neck and body, and simplified arrangement of notes make it a great instrument for a young person to start their musical journey.
The caveat to starting with ukulele is a bit more abstract. Because the instruments are tuned differently, many of the hand or finger shapes will not translate and require the student to relearn neck placements. Older students with more advanced fine motor skills will benefit from starting on guitar, if that’s the ultimate end goal.
What are the benefits of ukulele?
In addition to the same benefits from learning any musical instrument, ukulele may have some unique benefits as well.
Learning music, in general, has proven to stimulate minds, enhance brain power and creativity, improve self-esteem and self-confidence, and promote happiness. Music has been shown to improve brain processing speeds and delay cognitive decline in older students.
The ukulele has wonderful unique benefits as well. The ukulele is more affordable than most instruments, and extremely portable due to it’s small nature. It’s an extremely comfortable instrument to play and can be played at a very low volume, making it a perfect instrument to play and practice in most settings.
Is the ukulele easy to learn?
By comparison, the ukulele can be easy to learn. The ukulele is a perfect choice for very young children who are fascinated with guitar but too small to hold the instrument or navigate the neck with proper facility.
Chord fingering shapes are often simpler on ukulele compared to the guitar. Since the ukulele uses nylon strings, the playability is a bit easier as well, and students will experience less finger soreness from long periods of playing.
And just like any other instrument, another key factor is making sure you find a great music teacher that understands not just the ukulele itself, but how to help you achieve your personal goals.
What is the best ukulele for a beginner?
This is a common question with a fairly broad answer. The best ukulele, like the best guitar, is the one that feels and sounds the best to you. We all learn differently and we all come in very different shapes and sizes, just like the ukulele. There is also a cost comparison between an introductory model and a professional model. While not as significant as guitar, the cost difference between different ukuleles will likely be a consideration in which is the right one for you.
Some ukuleles have slightly smaller necks or bodies, and some might be slightly larger. The tone will vary from instrument to instrument as well. Those with slightly smaller bodies will often be more percussive and quieter with a thinner tone. The ukuleles with larger bodies will have deeper tones and project more loudly.
A beginner ukulele may cost between $50-$150, with an intermediate model between $150-$350. Professional ukuleles will likely cost from $400 on up. Some factors that influence the cost include the type of wood used, body and neck construction, and brand name. Handmade instruments from solid wood will likely be far more expensive than off-brand production models made from cheap wood.
Whether you’re ready to learn the ukulele, or guitar, Forbes Music will work with prospective students to give them the best chance at success and help find the best teacher for your needs. Contact us today if you’re interested in taking advantage of all the benefits music has to offer.