10 Reason It’s Easier to Learn the Guitar than the Ukulele

It’s a good job no one pays any attention to a word I say. If they did, they’d realise how often I contradict myself. I change my mind more often than I change my underpants (i.e. about once a week).

I’ve stated a few times that it’s easier for a beginner to play the ukulele rather than the guitar. But is it easier to learn the ukulele than the guitar? I thought I might run with the hypothesis that on this subject, and many others, I’m talking a whole load of fanny-rot.

It’s easier to learn the guitar than the ukulele because…

1) It’s easier to tune: The shorter scale length of the ukulele makes it decidedly tricky to get in tune. A slight tweak of tuner can send it wildly out of tune. Add to that the fact that strings take a couple of weeks to bed down and you’ve got a big problem. If even professional musicians like Amanda Palmer and Stephin Merritt can’t get their ukuleles in tune, what chance has a beginner got?

2) It’s possible to find a teacher: Google results for “guitar teacher” = 316,000. Google results for “ukulele teacher” = 1,480. The best way to learn a new instrument is sitting face to face with someone who is already an expert. It’s much easier to find those people with the guitar.

3) It’s easier to make it sound OK: Guitars naturally have a big sound which is generous to less careful playing. It takes a bit more experience to tease a good sound out of a ukulele. It’s all to easy to smother all the tone out of the poor thing.

4) You don’t have to worry about holding it: Sometimes ukeing standing up is a little like playing whilst juggling a sack of potatoes. And using a strap feels like giving in.

5) They don’t have friction tuners: The friction tuners on beginner level ukuleles are universally awful. I wonder how many people have given up on the ukulele because they couldn’t get the tuners to stick and didn’t realise you could tighten them.

6) It’s easier to find tabs and lessons online: There’s a whole lot more than there used to be. But the uke stuff still doesn’t come close to the amount (and, dare I say, quality) of guitar stuff.

7) You can buy a decent guitar in a shop: Imagine that. Walking into a shop and being able to try a wide range of instruments of playable quality and decide which one you like best. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a shop with more than one ukulele for sale. And I’ve never been in one with more than zero good ukuleles for sale.

8) No one cares what strumming pattern you use on the guitar: In my many years on the dark side, I don’t ever remember anyone discussing any strumming patterns.

9) The strings are in the right order: What the hell kind of sense does re-entrant tuning make anyway?

10) It’s physically possible to play and E chord on the guitar.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments.

(And, no, this isn’t an April Fools joke).

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129 Comments

  1. Michael February 15th, 2013 10:27 am

    I had to laugh at this discussion cos its exactly how I felt with the E chord at the time..E is one of the first and easiest guitar chords but a bit harder on Uke.

    I too flip-flop between guitar and uke..the funny thing is when I pick up my beautiful Cole Clark Ac2 Guitar now it feels like I am playing a mexican guitar. ;-)

    However, I think they are both great instruments…and lots of those comments above are spot on…e.g if you pull out a guitar expectations are high..pull out a uke and immediately people think of Tiny Tim or George Formby (my dads era).

  2. toomuchmusic... February 20th, 2013 10:39 pm

    On a slightly unrelated note, composing is a little easier on uke, because although you have limitations in range, you have less to worry about (I.e two less strings)

    Loving both though anyway, but I think I would say uke is slightly easier
    But hey each to their own :)

  3. toomuchmusic... February 21st, 2013 9:03 am

    Hey there,
    On a slightly unrelated note, I think uke is easier to compose on as although you have a limited range, you have less to worry about (I.e. 2 less strings)

    I’m loving playing both though, but I think uke is slightly easier
    But hey each to their own right?

  4. Pedro March 19th, 2013 10:43 am

    I tried guitar 1 month and i couldn´t play it, I´ve been playing ukulele for 1 week and I can play some songs.

  5. Woodshed March 19th, 2013 7:26 pm

    Pedro: Glad to hear it!

  6. I love ukulele May 13th, 2013 12:22 am

    I still prefer the ukulele! It’s easier to learn and it’s more fun to play. Guitars are too big for my taste.

  7. Conor Brown May 24th, 2013 1:43 am

    I went into a music shop, and it was great! Along with a wall full of guitars, There was a whole (smaller) wall of ukuleles! They had all the sizes, and even one with a built-in pickup. They had a bunch of Lanakaii and even a couple Flukes and Fleas. It was the best music shop ever. I think that the odds of me having that within walking distance of my house, there must be more of those. Or I just won the lottery.

    Even though it may be harder (*cough not really cough*), the ukulele is way more appealing than guitar. I brought it camping, and pulled out my “Thrift Shop” riff (not a very good song, just a cool riff to play on the ukulele) (thanks to Woodshed for the arrangement), and everyone was bamboozled and amazed. If you play it on the guitar, people would just give you funny looks.

    I also found out that to all Japanese enthusiasts the word “uke” means something obscene.

  8. Yamos June 3rd, 2013 6:00 pm

    My back went out last May as a result of playing acoustic and electric guitars and the basic dis figuration around holding the instrument. I’ve had a very intense year or chiropractic work done, and I am still very cautious about playing guitar as my back can tweak out very easily. Moreover, I’ve found that players such as Jimi Page have suffered from back problems resulting from playing guitar. When you love music, not being able to play is heart breaking.
    However, I’m a singer/strummer kinda guy.
    Enter the Ululele. I can play again. For hours!!! I have a Cordoba Tenor, and I carry it with me everywhere. I played a gig a couple of nights ago and it was great. Best of all, I did not have to give up music for the sake of walking.

  9. Woodshed June 4th, 2013 7:18 am

    Yamos: That’s fantastic! I’m glad you’re still able to play.

  10. Helene June 22nd, 2013 4:42 am

    I play guitar and my daughter plays the ukulele. Both are beautiful instruments. The sounds of guitar are NOT the same as the uke. There are some songs that go really well on the uke and not so on the guitar..vice versa. The Ukulele is a an upbeat..happy go lucky thing.. The guitar can whine, moan, and sound like a crisp tinsel. How can you really compare? I mean just because their body shapes are similar..does not mean they are the same instrument.

    I love playing the guitar… and it’s fun playing the ukulele too, but they are not the same to me at all.

  11. Susi June 22nd, 2013 6:16 am

    People who say its easier to play a Uke because it has 4 strings is like saying its easier to ride a unicycle because it has one wheel ! I’ve been playing my new Uke since jan and loving it. I also play guitar, (befinner at both ) but when I’m tired and just want to relax I always sit back with the Uke as it is just so easy to hold and get creative with. There are actually a lot of good songs that sound great on the Uke. Bob Dylan, Malanie Safka, to name a few , and if you use Clawhammer , there are some great old time tunes that you can play such as ‘Shady Grove ‘ and ‘ Wayfaring Stranger ‘ I use a capo a lot on my guitar , but I find the Uke fits my voice easier on many tunes. What I love the most is that it is just fun and so easy on the fingers that I can play a long time .. I do wish I knew others in my area who played but people seem to still think of it as a novelty or toy here . But I do think that is changing . My Guitar teacher just bought one ! ( ok it’s a baritone , but it counts I guess :) I play a Big Island Tenor and really happy with the sound ! PEACE . LOVE . UKE !!’

  12. Natalie July 23rd, 2013 10:27 pm

    This is a website that’s meant to promote the uke, not dis it. Confusing much?

  13. Jacque July 25th, 2013 5:30 am

    Lol true,the E chord is the pain in the ass to switch to, but when I do hit it in time it makes me feel like a boss! I reckon the only reason I play the uke over the guitar is because the uke actually fits on my sofa and doesn’t take up my whole room.

    I reckon the learning curve for the uke is a lot flatter that other instruments at first though, as everyone can learn a couple of chords. However the curve picks up and the real challenge begins when you try to play more elaborate and complex pieces, as you only have four freaking strings to work with. Which limits you to very simple melodies and the nonexistant pitch range doesnt help either.

    Since writing intermediate and expert level music is so hard, tabs are no where to be found, and beginners struggle to progress. This lack of tabs sucks! I almost exclusively play only your music and I’m forced to actually learn how music works and start writing my own instrumentals (which are still shit.).

  14. Chinney October 12th, 2013 8:11 am

    Wow! So earlier I’ve read one of your posts about the tips before buying a ukulele for beginners and then I bought the ukulele after, and now I’ve read this and I feel awful. Lol -_-

  15. ngik October 22nd, 2013 6:52 am

    Guitar and Uke are just the same…It depends on which instrument captures your interest….

    I started to play guitar…make the best out of it..

    practiced bass guitar…not to say..became an excellent player…

    so does piano and drums… and now starting ukuleles…..all are just the same..it’s not easy at the start, but as long as you have the heart of learning things then everything is easy….

  16. Arlo James Barnes October 22nd, 2013 8:07 pm

    @Chinney – the ukulele and the ukulele culture are not intended to make anyone feel awful!

    Really what matters is that you enjoy playing it, and the more proficient you get the more you can enjoy it. I think the article is just saying that assuming something about the ukulele (“It looks simpler in design, therefore it must be trivial to learn or master, therefore there is not much to the instrument”) will lead you to wrong conclusions.

    This is true about the guitar or any instrument (although definitely people’s experiences with a given instrument will have common threads) but since this site is about the ukulele (Note, @Natalie, that does not mean it includes only vapid praise) Woodshed focusses on that.

    @Jacque: Interestingly enough, the “learning curve” is not a graph of the difficulty someone experiences learning something over time, but how much they have learned over time – most people have it backwards. So something with a steep learning curve is not difficult, it means you learn a lot initially in a short time! Which I think is true of the uke [in my experience]; I think you are right that then a good amount of effort needs to be put in not to plateau.

    I think I have somewhat contradicted my previous comment in this thread, but no matter.

  17. Israel Martinez October 27th, 2013 6:56 pm

    I was making very little progress on the guitar, but I find my progress on the ukulele is much greater–at least as far as strumming and singing is concerned. I’m not giving up on the guitar or the uke. I think they’ll complement each other.

  18. bill August 10th, 2014 12:21 pm

    I’ve been playing acoustic guitar for years and for sheer versatility and tones a good guitar produces I would say it beats a ukelele hands down. I also play bluegrass banjo which is unbelievably good fun, once you’ve mastered the various rolls.

  19. Page August 23rd, 2014 1:59 am

    This has a lot of comments but let me pipe in from this experience of having grown up playing guitar b/c my dad wanted me to play. It never really stuck and I dropped it at about age 12. Since I’ve picked up the ukulele many years later, I cannot put it down and have found it so easy to play. If I can’t find uke music I use piano sheet music over guitar.

    I also have tried playing mandolin since picking up ukulele and uke is easier and more enjoyable for em. I like to play solo arrangements.

  20. Felicia November 21st, 2014 7:56 am

    I’ve got really small hands so uke is perfect – having fun transcribing and playing lots of songs – but even a 3/4 size guitar is causing cramps in my fretting hand. So I’m swapping to a 1/2 size because it’s closer to a tenor uke, just with two more strings! I’m getting better at working out guitar and uke chords from looking at standard notation chords, and there are many similarities in chord shapes. I’m finding the swapping adventure very interesting! 1/2 size is the way to go.

  21. Dave December 7th, 2014 11:16 am

    The 3rd reason is the very reason I almost gave up on the ukulele. Having played guitar for years I thought it would be an easy transition, and it mostly was. The chords took no time to learn, same with the strumming method. I couldn’t get it to sound good though, and with an acoustic guitar within easy reach that I knew I could get a much better sound from I almost gave up completely. I’m still working on getting a better sound, it will come.

  22. Dani December 30th, 2014 10:09 pm

    I’ll stick to my ukulele, thanks. I found it quite easy with a lot of practice, and I didn’t need a teacher, I taught myself! I actually learned how to play the ukulele first. Now I know how to play guitar and ukulele, though I prefer my ukulele.

  23. Elene May 3rd, 2015 11:32 am

    I see I’m coming to this conversation very late… It’s great to see that your incredibly useful site has been around so long and is still going strong. It’s been such a help to have it available.

    Using a strap isn’t giving in! The soprano ukulele is not at all easy to hold without it, especially when changing to chords like the infamous E, when the left hand isn’t supporting the neck for a moment. I have some issues with my right arm and my wrist was killing me, trying to hang on to the thing. You want to sound good and feel good, right? Give your body the chance to relax with the instrument. Even WITH a strap the uke balances a bit strangely– at least for those of us without a beer belly.

    I had to chuckle when I saw the recommendation for Aquila strings. I’m glad to hear they make decent ukulele strings. I made the unfortunate decision to go with them for my 10-course lute when I was having trouble finding Pyramid strings. They are practically inaudible and pretty much worthless. Pyramid forever in the future.

    Since my bachelor’s degree is in classical guitar, I suppose I have a little different perspective from most people here. (I mostly play classical piano these days.) The ukulele has provided a pleasant break for me. I don’t spend enough time at it to really develop with it, at least not as yet, but it’s easy for me to read tab so I can get nearly instant gratification. It’s nice to play an instrument for which I have no obligations or expectations– just to literally play.

    And I’m getting gradually less freaked out by re-entrant tuning.

  24. Peter Forrest June 23rd, 2015 11:39 pm

    Great article! Too bad it’s all true. hehe

  25. Claire July 3rd, 2015 11:10 am

    About #7 — I don’t know where you all are from, but where I live in Taiwan, there are a BUNCH of ukulele shops! You can’t walk a few blocks without spotting one. Usually they’re guitar-uke shops, and there’d be a few guitars on window display along with many brightly colored ukes. They usually offer teaching as well, which addresses another item on the list.

    To be fair, I have no idea about the quality, but I did get a decent wood one here. Common to see guitar-uke stores in China when I lived there too.

  26. Woodshed July 3rd, 2015 4:28 pm

    Claire: The article was written in 2009. It was much more true then than it is now.

  27. Claire July 4th, 2015 3:13 am

    Oh yeah, I guess that’s true. Is availability there no longer a concern now?

  28. Woodshed July 4th, 2015 1:36 pm

    Claire: I wouldn’t include it if I was writing the post today.

  29. Preston July 8th, 2015 7:25 am

    First off are you trying to guitar players are chimps with stump hands. Let me just say I’m sure if you even bother learning more than marry had a little lamb on guitar you would know that here are strum patterns. Not only that but tuning on any string instrument is hard, ukulele being amongst the easier of the bunch. And if you are dedicated you should be able to hold your ukulele standing. And you can’t just strum whatever and people go wild if you get too close to the frett you are a dead man and if you hit the wrong note people will know. I’m not saying the ukulele is easy either, but the guitar is no picnic either and when they are played together they slam it. Just saying think before you speak and unless you have played guitar do years don’t say it’s easy try and tell me the b chord is easy on your first week.

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