The Ukulele: A Guide for Guitarists

By | April 3, 2015

guitar and ukulele

There are too many introductory how-to’s for ukulele, but few if any cover what the many guitarists out there are looking for. Guitarists already know a lot about the ukulele, even if they don’t know it. This guide is for them – it leaves out what they already know and fills in the blanks to get them started with the ukulele on day one.

No Longer Considered a Toy

The ukulele has enjoyed this latest “boom” going on 15 years now. At first many assumed it was another fad, the likes of which the ukulele has enjoyed a couple of times in the past. But this time, ukulele interest is backed by a rapidly growing industry creating very high quality and affordable instruments, professional musicians pushing the boundaries of the instrument and an army of amateur musicians gathering for meetups and on Internet across the world. I think it’s safe to say, the ukulele is here to stay.

An Obvious Second Instrument for Guitarists

With its similarity to the guitar, its no surprise that many guitarists are drawn to the ukulele. A competent guitarist can pick up a ukulele and make music on it right away. Guitarists turn to the ukulele when seeking a simpler instrument that is more fun than work, when they want a cheap and portable instrument to bring on vacation to noodle on, or are just looking for something different to keep things fresh. Current and former guitarists make up a huge part of the ukulele playing population, myself included.

Why I Sold My Guitars for Ukuleles

I played guitar for 25 years before ever picking up a ukulele with the intent to play it as an instrument. When my daughter was two years old, I bought her a $30 soprano ukulele on Amazon for her to use as a toy guitar. As a serious ukulele player, the thought now makes me cringe a little as this is exactly how many guitarists view the instrument. She beat the hell out of that thing for years and we had fun with it. When she was five or six, someone at the UU church I attend offered a ukulele class and I decided to go just for the hell of it. I hadn’t played the guitar much for a while and thought maybe the ukulele would get me out of my rut. I showed up with my daughter’s soprano uke and haven’t looked back. I now play a considerably nicer ukulele (Pono MT) that sounds and plays like a real instrument. While I can still play the guitar, I don’t actually have one in my house any more and the ukulele is my primary instrument. Along the way I’ve learned everything I can about the ukulele, and thought it would be fun to collect it all here – a reference I wished I’d had a few years ago.

Intended Audience: Guitarists

To be clear, this is not a guide for non-musicians. There are hundreds of those. As a competent guitarist, you know all that basic information and just want to quickly understand how the ukulele is different, what of your guitar knowledge you can use, and what you need to leave behind. So let’s get started.

Part 2: Ukulele Sizes

Part 3: Tuning

Part 4: Chords

Part 5: Buying Guide

Part 6: Playing Styles

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