4 Differences Between Ukulele & Guitar

Though it is often referred to as the guitar’s baby cousin, the ukulele has many differences that make it a singular and special instrument. From its unique history and tone to the way it has penetrated popular culture, guest blogger Matthew Quilliam discusses how the ukulele can so easily stand on its own merits…

#1. Tuning

Regular ukuleles boast a tuning system that is far removed from the guitar, called re-entrant tuning. On a guitar (and many other stringed instruments like the mandolin and cello), the strings are arranged in pitch order. So, as you move across the strings, the notes appear in order from lowest to highest, called linear tuning. Not so with the ukulele, where the notes are out of order. The lowest string (C) is in the middle of the ukulele, whilst it’s highest two strings (A and G) are on the outside of the string set. This gives the instrument a generally brighter quality, as the highest pitches tend to dominate when the ukulele is strummed in full and allows for many unique playing styles, such as…

#2. Technique

The split stroke and campanella are techniques that work really well on the ukulele, to the point where some may be impossible to recreate on other instruments. George Formby popularised the split stroke style of playing, which is a strumming pattern which also features some level of picking the top and bottom strings. The resultant overring is very distinctive and only works because the outer strings are pitched so close together that a melody can be created. If you try this on a guitar, the 2-octave disparity between the high and low Es will create a much weaker effect which makes this playing style virtually undoable on guitar. The campanella style, popularised by John King, is a system of playing consecutive notes on different strings so that melodies overlap each other. Whilst this is possible on all string instruments, the ukulele’s narrow range allows composers and performers much freedom to explore moments of campanella all over the neck, creating a bell-like sound.

#3. Size

Despite looking like a guitar that shrunk in the wash (so some say), it’s not all about size. The ukulele’s smaller size, especially that of the soprano and concert scales, lends itself to more percussive strumming which is what it would have originally been used for when it was first invented in the late 1800s. Its lively bounce adds to its charm as a delightful instrument, making it stand out within a band. The smaller scale also affords the player great mobility, with ukuleles fast becoming an essential item for the camper, backpacker and tourist. Take it anywhere and spread your love of music throughout the world!

#4. Variety

The ukulele can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. From soprano to baritone and bass ukuleles, from electric to banjo ukuleles, low G and high G, and more – there is so much variety and versatility to this instrument. So much so that the instrument has found its way into all walks of life, from classical compositions, contemporary jazz, popular hits and more. The typical ukulele player will have a lot of types to choose from, something that the guitar player cannot benefit from in quite the same way. And because they are relatively inexpensive compared to guitars, it is typically found that a player will have lots of ukuleles, resulting in quite a collection of interesting and unique instruments before long.

» Help! What Size Ukulele Should I Buy?

If you are a ukulele player, what about the ukulele appeals to you the most? Or if you are looking at getting your first ukulele, what are you looking forward to exploring the most? Let us know in the comments below!

See also…

» Ukuleles
» Guitars
» All String Instruments

» How to Hold Each Size of Ukulele
» 5 tips to improve your tone on the ukulele
» Ukulele Strings that Are Right for You
» Ukulele Rhythms: Learn Them Here!
» How to Tune Up & Play a Guitarlele
» Help! What Size Ukulele Should I Buy?
» Learn to Play Ukulele in 3 Easy Steps!
» How to Tune Your Ukulele
» Ukulele for guitarists: the 4 most-important chords
» The Difference Between the Ukulele, Mandolin, and Banjo

Guest Blogger Matthew Quilliam

Performer, teacher, composer and author, Matthew Quilliam is a fresh new talent on the ukulele, already making a huge impression.

Matthew’s primary instrument has always been the ukulele which has allowed him to grow a life-long connection and expertise with the instrument. Over his short musical career so far, he has already achieved so much; he has contributed to many ukulele publications and performed at some leading festivals in the UK, plus more.

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