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Ukuleles are smaller and easier to tote around than the average guitar. They also feature fewer strings, making them easier to learn and master. But ukes come in many sizes, begging the question, “Does ukulele size matter?”
Ukulele size matters, as it affects the tone, depth of sound, and tuning. It can also impact playing ability, as young or small players may find baritone or bass ukuleles physically uncomfortable to hold. Also, some ukulele sizes are better suited for specific music styles than others.
This guide will explore how ukulele size affects a player’s experience. You can use this information to help you select the right size for your play style, stature, and preferences.
How Does Size Affect a Ukulele?
If you’re unfamiliar with ukuleles, you might assume they’re all the same size. However, ukuleles are available in several standard sizes, and each one produces a unique tone and depth of sound.
A ukulele’s size affects a ukulele through its tuning. The three smallest ukuleles utilize a G-C-E-A re-entrant tuning, and the largest two ukulele sizes feature unique tunings specific to their body size. Ukulele size can affect the instrument’s depth of sound and the player’s comfort.
Many beginner-level ukulele players are children who practice music at school, and the ukulele is quickly becoming a more popular alternative to recorders. Others are adults who’ve found guitars too large and unwieldy. A baritone or bass ukulele may prove physically uncomfortable for players with a more diminutive stature or arm length.
Let’s take a quick moment to dive deeper into these factors to discover why ukulele size matters.
Ukulele Size Affects Tone and Sound Depth
Small instruments produce a small range of high-pitched sounds, whereas larger instruments can produce a wide range of low-pitched sounds.
Naturally, there are occasional exceptions to this rule, but not when it comes to ukuleles.
That’s because ukuleles produce sound by vibrating air through the hole in the ukulele’s body. Each time you pluck a string, its sound enters the cavity of the instrument and resonates, amplifying and enriching it.
Small ukuleles have smaller apertures and bodies, so the sound has less room to vibrate and resonate. This quality results in reduced sound depth and a slightly higher tone.
For this reason, soprano ukuleles are often described as having a tinny sound with little depth. Alternatively, larger tenor, baritone, and bass ukuleles have larger bodies, and therefore, larger internal cavities, producing lower-pitched tones with a smoother and richer depth of sound.
For an audiovisual guide to the different tones and depths of ukuleles based on their sizes, check out this related video now:
Ukulele Size Affects Tuning
Like guitars, ukuleles feature a set of tuned strings. Each of these four strings produces a specific note when struck, allowing players to play chords and master scales.
But the proper tuning for a ukulele depends on its size. Soprano, concert, and tenor ukuleles are tuned to G-C-E-A, with the first string (G) producing a higher tone than the second string (C). This tuning is called re-entrant, and it means that the strings don’t transition low low-to-high in a straightforward pattern.
Baritone ukuleles feature a completely different tuning, typically D-G-B-E. This progression goes low-to-high, and it matches the notes on the bottom four strings of a standard-tuned guitar. Bass ukuleles utilize a different tuning, E-A-D-G, which is the same tuning for the first four strings of a guitar.
Ukulele Size Affects the Number of Frets
The larger the ukulele, the longer its neck. As you might suspect, the longer the neck, the more frets there are. The spacing between these frets affects how easily players can produce specific notes or strum chords.
For example, a person with a soprano ukulele will need to work harder to master precise finger positions than a person with a concert or tenor ukulele. That’s because smaller ukuleles feature smaller gaps between each fret.
Naturally, this difference in fret number can impact a player’s comfort when learning to play the ukulele.
Ukulele Size Affects Physical Comfort
Your physical stature and arm length impact how comfortably you can play stringed instruments like guitars and ukuleles.
If you can’t wrap your hand around the neck of your chosen stringed instrument, you’ll likely struggle to depress the strings along the neck, resulting in a frustrating experience when attempting to play chords.
If the body of your musical instrument dwarfs your own, it can be challenging to hold it securely on your lap while playing. Proper posture is crucial to playing both ukulele and guitar, so it’s vital to choose an instrument that is appropriately sized for your body.
Fortunately, many ukuleles are small enough to sit comfortably against a person’s torso. They also feature skinny necks, allowing even the youngest players to master chord finger positions.
That said, baritone and bass ukuleles can be challenging for some players.
Soprano and concert ukuleles are well suited to children of almost any age, as they’re the smallest ukuleles. They also tend to be a comfortable choice for adults. Tenor, baritone, and bass ukuleles are often a more comfortable fit for teens and adult players.
If possible, visit your local music store and try holding ukuleles of different sizes so that you can select a comfortable size for your body size. You’ll also have the chance to strike the strings, ensuring that you’re choosing a ukulele that produces tones that are music to your ears.
What Are the Five Ukulele Sizes?
The five ukulele sizes are soprano, concert, tenor, baritone, and bass. The smallest of these is the soprano, with a standard length of 21″ (53 cm). The largest is the bass ukulele, with a standard length of about 31″ (79 cm).
Refer to the chart below for a quick breakdown of the five ukulele sizes.
|Ukulele Size||Standard Length||Standard Tuning||Number of Frets|
|Soprano||21″ (53 cm)||G-C-E-A||12 to 15|
|Concert||23″ (58 cm)||G-C-E-A||15 to 20|
|Tenor||26″ (66 cm)||G-C-E-A||15 to 20|
|Baritone||29″ (74 cm)||D-G-B-E||19+|
|Bass||30″ to 32″ (76 to 81 cm)||E-A-D-G||19+|
Ukuleles are typically available in five sizes. The soprano ukulele is the most common of these, and it’s also the smallest. The bass ukulele is the largest and one of the least common options.
Ukulele size affects the instrument’s tone, depth of sound, tuning, number of frets, and the physical comfort of the player.
Those looking to enjoy the bright tones associated with ukuleles will want to choose a soprano, concert, or tenor ukulele. Players looking for deeper and richer tones may want to opt for a baritone or bass ukulele.