Most of us have a whole library of music we love, and lots of people want to learn how to play an instrument of their own.
It can be overwhelming though, and sometimes you don’t know where to get started. Both the ukulele and the guitar are popular starter instruments, but one may be easier to learn than the other.
Ukulele is easier to learn than the guitar. It has fewer strings, and those strings are made of nylon, which is softer than steel guitar strings. Chording is also easier because of the ukulele’s smaller size. This combination of factors makes the ukulele easier than the guitar in most regards.
Of course, learning any new instrument requires time and effort.
Once you get past the beginner stage, the question of which is easier can become a bit more complicated. Becoming a skilled musician with either instrument can change the overall difficulty, and you may find that one becomes easier than the other over time.
Let’s talk about the differences between these instruments, as well as what it takes to become an advanced player.
The Basics of Each Instrument
When you look at the basics for each of these instruments, you’ll note that they have similar designs and basic techniques.
When you pick up a guitar or a ukulele, most people will encourage you to learn chords first. On the surface, it may seem like chording with either instrument should be roughly the same, but this simply isn’t true.
Guitars have six strings (usually made of steel) and a wide, long neck. Ukuleles have four nylon strings, and a narrower, shorter neck.
- The frets on a guitar are also wider and further apart than the frets on a ukulele.
This makes the ukulele easier to play in several different ways. With only four strings, there is less room for confusion and you’ll have an easier time finding which string you need to be playing.
Nylon strings are softer on the fingers than steel, so it doesn’t hurt as much when you start plucking a ukulele.
You’ll develop calluses over time if you play either instrument, but it’s much less painful to start with a ukulele. The narrower neck and frets make the fingering for chording far easier than it would be with the neck of a guitar.
This combination of factors makes the ukulele a great choice for beginners. Even children can play it because it’s an instrument that’s perfect for small hands.
The fingering for the different chords you play is also a lot simpler on the ukulele than they are on the guitar.
Take, for example, the C7 chord.
The C7 chord on the ukulele requires only one finger to be on a string. In contrast, the same chord on a guitar will require you to place four fingers on the strings. This is a really basic example, and it oversimplifies the difference, but it does help to demonstrate the point.
In reality, it is easy to see why chords would be more difficult on a guitar–you have six different notes that all have to work in concert to produce the desired sound. With a ukulele, that number drops to four. Of course, this means the chords are going to be simpler with a ukulele!
It’s quite easy to look up the chords that make up a popular song on the ukulele and work out how to play it. You can learn to strum along with your favorite songs pretty quickly.
With guitar, it is significantly more difficult to get to that point.
Check out this popular Ukulele here on Amazon.
Advanced Ukulele vs Advanced Guitar
It’s clear that the basics of the ukulele are easier to get a handle on than the basics of guitar, but there is much more to these instruments than just the introductory lessons.
As one Reddit user pointed out, the instrument that will be harder is the one you want to be better at.
You may love the ukulele and want to be a master, but also want to be able to jam on the guitar, or you may be exactly the opposite. Both can be difficult, and worthwhile instruments to pursue. Mastering an instrument takes time and effort and there are no shortcuts to becoming an advanced player.
Many things separate beginning guitarists and advanced guitarists, primary among them are their skill with fingerpicking.
With fingerpicking, individual notes are plucked on the guitar, which produces a very different sound than strumming chords. This is considered much more difficult than chording is because it requires a much higher level of finger dexterity.
If you ever hope to be a great guitarist or ukulele player, you will need to work at fingerpicking and learn to do it not only following a sheet of music but to improvise your own fingering as well.
This will improve your skills and help you to create your own sound. Many people are content with only strumming chords, and that is totally fine. But for those people, becoming an excellent ukulele player will be more difficult.
Much like advanced guitar techniques, one of the primary differences between beginner and more advanced ukulele players is fingerpicking ability.
Again, this requires far more dexterity than chording does, so it is far more difficult. Unlike guitar players, fingerpicking on a ukulele is often a breakdown of chords that are already played by strumming. Rather than strum across all four strings, the strings are played individually.
This can be quite difficult, and it isn’t strictly necessary for most players. You may just want to play pop songs, and that is totally fine. In that case, you may want to focus more on guitar, or you may be perfectly happy with the basics of either instrument. Really, either instrument can be difficult, but the basics of the ukulele are easier to pick up.
Check out this lesson on YouTube to start your Ukelele journey!
Learning Ukulele Before Guitar
You may be interested in learning both instruments but aren’t sure how to approach learning them. As we’ve established, learning the ukulele is easier than learning guitar, but it may actually be a good introductory step to help you learn the guitar.
This is true for several reasons. The first is that if you learn to read music and study music theory with the ukulele, those skills will transfer over to the guitar quite nicely. The second is that the ukulele will start to help you develop the calluses that are necessary for playing the guitar for long periods of time.
Additionally, your finger coordination and strumming coordination picked up from playing ukulele will transfer to guitar. Many chords are played with similarly shaped finger patterns on both instruments, so they carry over.
Ukulele may be easier to learn, but both instruments are well worth learning, and learning the ukulele can positively impact your ability to play the guitar.
I have written an article on my favorite 21 guitar accessories. You can find it here.