Uke versus Guitar
January 1, 2012 3:27 AM   Subscribe

So, I'm thinking about buying a ukulele. I have a small amount of experience on the guitar (less than six months, self taught). Is learning both at the same time a good idea, or a very bad one?

I'm wondering whether learning both at the same will be confusing. Will I get confused between chords, and will it have a negative effect on my progress in both? Good idea, or not so good idea?
posted by ultrabuff to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It really depends on what your goals are. If you want to reach a certain milestone with guitar by a certain date (like being able to perform a particular arrangement of a specific song in front of people at open mic night in March or being able to play back-up/rhythm confidently with others by April) then it may hurt you if you get too distracted. If you simply want to spend an hour a day making music and see where it takes you (if anywhere), it's probably not a big deal. In my experience, after 6 months I'd expect you could pick up a ukelele and not get confused learning different chord shapes.
posted by K.P. at 4:13 AM on January 1, 2012

I found it to be helpful. Ukelele chords are basically guitar chords (transposed G → C) missing the lowest two strings.

If you have a choice, go for a concert-size. They're slightly bigger than the typical soprano, and give you more room on the fretboard.
posted by scruss at 4:43 AM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Many chords on the guitar are directly translatable to the ukulele. For example, an open D chord on the guitar is G on the ukulele; open A is D. If you put a capo at fret five on a guitar and only play the four highest strings, you've essentially got a ukulele (the main difference being that on a ukulele the 4th string is tuned an octave higher). If you've been learning scales on the guitar, they will directly translate to the ukulele.

As someone who is a mediocre player of both instruments, I have found that playing the ukulele has improved my guitar playing quite a lot. I find that chords are generally harder to play on the ukulele because the instrument is smaller and, being a nylon-stringed acoustic instrument, you need to do a good job of fingering the chords in order to get a nice sound. I find the ukulele much more physically tiring to play – you really need to grip it quite tightly if you want to get a nice sound from barre chords. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

The main difference between the instruments is that one doesn't play 'lead ukulele' in the same way that one plays 'lead guitar'. You can certainly do things like play improvised blues solos on the ukulele. But if you're learning guitar with the intention of playing lead guitar in a heavy rock band, then there really isn't much point in taking up the ukulele.
posted by mattn at 5:01 AM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Focus on guitar but feel to play ukulele. Next to guitar, ukulele just isn't a big deal. If you know how to play guitar, you thereby automatically know how to play ukulele.
posted by John Cohen at 9:21 AM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

feel free to play ukelele, that is.
posted by John Cohen at 9:21 AM on January 1, 2012

I second going for a concert-size. It will also help you with playing guitar. It's also nice if you have children with small hands who aren't big enough to handle a guitar.

I play both guitar and ukulele. The nice thing about a uke, is that you can easily bring it with you on a plane -- it fits nicely in the overhead compartments -- even in the smaller regional jets. I've traveled with it for years and not once has it been an issue bringing it on board. The other nice thing about a uke is that you can play it in more public spaces because it can be played much more quietly than a guitar.
posted by Land Ho at 10:34 AM on January 1, 2012

The soprano ukulele is lighter, smaller and more portable than the concert-size, and is not that much harder to play. As I said before, learning to play with the smaller fretboard might improve your guitar technique – so the larger size of the concert ukulele is not necessarily an advantage.

Even though I prefer playing guitar, I play my ukulele quite a lot because its compact size means that it's easy to leave on the coffee table or my desk, whereas the guitar just sits in its case unplayed.

Of course, the best thing to do would be to go to a music shop and try out some different instruments.
posted by mattn at 1:35 AM on January 2, 2012

I bought one for $70 and I learned to play in a few weeks. Playing the ukulele can be a lot of fun. The sound can sometimes seem too high, however. I suggest getting one that produces a lower-pitched sound. Big rock candy mountain is my favorite song to play. Also, it's easy to transpose chords so most songs that you can play on the guitar, you can play on the uke.
posted by candasartan at 9:33 PM on January 3, 2012

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