The ukulele is a great way to begin your journey into stringed musical instruments. A ukulele can be purchased at an affordable price when compared to a guitar and there are many ways in which the ukulele can be easier than the guitar.
Many people see the ukulele as a good instrument to begin with and also one that can help them move into playing the guitar. If your main goal is to move towards the guitar, you might wonder if playing the ukulele will help you be a better guitarist.
Both of these are stringed instruments but they are very different in the way they sound and play.
Learning the ukulele can help with hand and finger coordination but it may actually be a hindrance in helping to play the guitar. The ukulele is much smaller in size and has four strings whereas the guitar has six strings. They also have different chord positionings.
The ukulele is great for those who already have experience playing the guitar and who can play at a proficient level. However, I would suggest that if you want to play the guitar, spending more time on the guitar rather than other instruments.
Having played both of these instruments for a long time throughout my life, I don’t believe the ukulele offers very much in the way of helping to play the guitar. In fact, I often find myself having trouble with guitar hand positions and chords after I have been playing my ukulele for a while.
There are a few reasons for this…
- The ukulele is a smaller instrument. Going from a ukulele to a guitar is a big difference simply because of the smallness of the ukulele versus the much larger guitar.
- The ukulele has a smaller neck. When you wrap your hand around a ukulele neck, you’ll notice a big difference in size. This can be difficult to adjust to when going from one to the other.
- The strings are different. If you have a steel-string guitar, the strings will feel completely different from the nylon strings on a ukulele.
- The chords are different. The chords are in different positions so you’ll have to relearn chords on a guitar if you have learned them on a ukulele.
The overall feel of a ukulele just makes it much different than playing the guitar.
With that being said, the guitar and ukulele are both stringed instruments and have similar playing styles so the ukulele could offer help in some ways.
Ways The Ukulele Helps With Playing the Guitar
Even though I don’t believe the ukulele should be used as a tool for improving your proficiency on the guitar, I do believe that it offers some benefits.
The ukulele helps you improve coordination
Playing the guitar requires that you press down strings with one hand and strum or pick the strings with the other hand. This requires some coordination and muscle memory. The same is true with the ukulele so in this way, playing the ukulele can help to build the coordination that might help when you move to the guitar.
The ukulele helps you become better at fingerpicking
If you are trying to learn to become better at plucking strings with your fingers rather than strumming, a ukulele may help ease you into it. Since the ukulele only has 4 strings, it may be easier to initially learn to do this.
There are many songs that you can play on the ukulele that uses the fingerpicking method. One of the biggest challenges of this style is training one hand to do one thing while the other hand does another. It’s like patting your head and rubbing your belly, it can be a challenge to do it in the beginning.
The ukulele helps with strumming patterns
Whether you are strumming the ukulele or the guitar, you’ll have to maintain rhythm on both. Whether you are practicing on the ukulele or guitar makes no difference. Maintaining a strumming pattern while switching chords is something that will need to be learned on any stringed instrument.
The ukulele helps you stretch your fingers
Playing a stringed instrument requires you to stretch your fingers to create certain chords. This may be easier on the ukulele since the frets are closer together. Most chords on the ukulele are simple but some do require a bit of stretching to achieve.
Consider the E chord for example. You’ll have to stretch your fingers a bit more to accomplish this one. Although not difficult, it is a bit more of a challenge than a C chord which only calls for one finger to be used.
It calluses your fingers less painfully
It will help you become accustomed to the pain associated with holding down strings on an instrument. This pain can be quite a bit more on a steel-string guitar so a nylon-stringed ukulele helps you to ease into this.
Eventually, you will develop calluses that become hard on the tips of your fingers. Until then, the ukulele is easier on your fingers than an acoustic guitar would be.
Ways the Ukulele Does NOT help with Playing The Guitar
The list above includes foundational skills that should be learned and the ukulele does offer some help in learning and mastering these areas. However, there are some ways in which I believe the ukulele does not help learn to play the guitar and could also be a hindrance.
The size is different
The size of the ukulele and the size of a guitar are vastly different. Even though the ukulele is available in various sizes, even the largest sized ukulele isn’t as big as a guitar.
When you play the ukulele as compared to the guitar, it feels like you are holding a toy and this can certainly throw you off when you are trying to remember finger positions.
If I have played my ukulele for a while, and then I switch to playing my guitar, my fingers all of a sudden are hitting strings that I don’t mean to touch. It takes a little while to get back to playing the guitar.
Chords are different
Another way that the ukulele is no help for guitar playing is that the cords are much different on the ukulele. Not only do you have to learn the chords on the guitar but you also have to learn the same chords differently on the ukulele.
This clutters your mind with two different sets of chords that you have to learn. For example, a G chord on the guitar is much different than the G chord on the ukulele. The G chord on a ukulele is just like playing a D chord on the guitar.
This could be confusing to a new player and someone who hasn’t been playing guitar long enough to have all of the major chords memorized. For the experienced player, this isn’t as much of an issue. After playing guitar for a long time, you build a muscle memory that allows you to play chords without even thinking about them.
A guitar player that has played for a while just knows where certain cords are without having to give it much thought. This isn’t something that’s easily forgotten and you could refrain from playing the guitar for long periods of time without forgetting them.
A ukulele has 4 strings
Going from a four-string instrument to a six-string instrument is quite different so it takes getting used to when you switch back-and-forth between the two. This alone can make for a difficult transition when going from the ukulele to the guitar.
Those extra two stings on a standard guitar make a big difference, especially if you are a beginning player.
Playing the ukulele can be of some help for improving your performance on the guitar. However, don’t expect it to be a substitute for the guitar. Both of these instruments are different and they have enough differences that it might be a hindrance to new players to switch from learning a ukulele to a guitar.
I love both of these instruments and find myself going through phases where I play one more than I do the other. However, I have been playing guitar for over 35 years so when I play my ukulele, it doesn’t affect my guitar playing nor does it help it.
It may take a little time to get back to being comfortable with the guitar depending on how long a phase I go through with the ukulele.
If you want to play guitar and get better on the guitar, I would suggest spending more time on the guitar rather than using another instrument to help your guitar playing.
The same can be said about the ukulele. If you intend to be a ukulele player, stick with it and learn it thoroughly until you have achieved confident command of it.