The guitarlele is a great 6-string instrument for anyone who feels like a ukulele is too small and a guitar is too big. As you’d expect from the name, the size of a guitarlele sits somewhere between a guitar and a ukulele, and if you want to learn to play this smaller-than-average, but not-too-small instrument, then you you’re in the right place. Here, we’ll guide you through tuning up your guitarlele, how to strike the strings, and even how to play rhythms and chords. If you have any burning guitarlele-related questions at the end, feel free to leave a comment!

How to Tune Up & Play a Guitarlele

What is a Guitarlele?

The guitarlele is essentially a mini-guitar. The ‘lele’ part of guitarlele refers to the size, since a standard guitarlele is the same size as a baritone ukulele, while the ‘guitar’ part refers to the fact that these are shrunken-down 6-string instruments with the same tuning as a normal-sized guitar, just in a higher pitch. Just like ukuleles and classical guitars, the guitarlele has nylon strings. The guitarlele can also be called a guitalele, guitar-ukulele, ukulele-guitar, guilele, kīkū, or simply a 6-string ukulele. But this last one might be misleading since there are also other kinds of 6-string ukes out there that definitely aren’t guitarleles.

The Guitarlele Sound

Since it’s a little smaller than a standard guitar, has nylon strings and a higher pitched tuning, the sound of a guitarlele lies close to the ‘jolly’, bright sound of a standard ukulele. But since it has six strings rather than four, it does have a lower-pitched, deeper and more rich, ‘complete’ sound. Tip: If you want to make a normal guitar sound like a guitarlele, just place a capo at the fifth fret, and you suddenly have the same tuning as a guitarlele. Of course, the sound isn’t precisely the same. While you’re in the same pitch, a guitarlele has a much smaller body that makes the sound much brighter.

Pros & Cons of the Guitarlele

If you compare the guitarlele to a normal guitar, then the most obvious advantage is the size. A guitarlele is much easier to carry anywhere – even on your holidays – and is also much more comfortable for children to pick up and play. And as soon as they’re ready for a real, full-sized guitar, the step won’t feel so big and scary. All of the chords, technique etc are the same, it’s just that the names of the chords are different. So, when you grab the E chord you learnt playing a guitarlele on your guitar, you’re now grabbing an A chord. To avoid the confusion altogether, there are also smaller sized real guitars with a normal tuning and that are designed for children. A disadvantage of a guitarlele is that, while it has a nice, high-pitched sound, it doesn’t quite have the brightness of a real ukulele – a thing that draws many people to the ukulele in the first place. Also, the guitarlele isn’t exactly as powerful as a standard guitar. What the guitarlele does do is sit precisely between the two, which, if it’s what you want, is definitely an advantage.

Do Left-Handed Guitarleles Exist?

It can be hard to find a left-handed guitarlele. If you can’t find one at all, then it is possible to just get a normal, right-handed guitarlele that you like and take it to a guitar technician. They can swap the nut for a left-handed one (the nut is the little white strip that sits under the strings at the top of the neck, at the bottom of the headstock), and then you can reverse the order of the strings, hold the guitarlele the other way around and play the strings with your right hand and hold the neck in your left hand. The only other hurdle is that any standard chord diagrams are written with right-handed players in mind, so you will have to mirror the chords as you play them, but you’ll quickly get good at this.

Re-Stringing a Guitarlele

If your guitarlele is sounding less fresh, or even a little dead compared to when you first got it, or one of the strings has broken, then it’s time to change them. The first thing you need is a fresh pack of guitarlele strings. The process of removing the old strings and putting on new ones is exactly the same as with a classical guitar, and conveniently, you can find an entire blog explaining the process here.

Tuning Up a Guitarlele

  • The normal tuning of a guitarlele is A D G C E A.
  • The first A is a low A (the thickest, lowest pitched string), and the last A is a high A (the thinnest, highest pitched string).
  • The easiest way to tune your guitarlele is to use a clip-on chromatic tuner. Alternatively, you could even use an app. Just search ‘chromatic tuner’ in the Play Store of App Store and you should find plenty to choose from.

Tuning Up with a Clip-On Tuner

  1. Clip the tuner onto the head of the guitarlele.
  2. Play the first string closest to you (so the thickest, lowest pitched string) with your thumb. Is your tuner lighting up with an ‘A’? Great! Now skip to step 4. If not, move on to step 3.
  3. – Can you maybe see G displayed on the tuner? As you can see in the image below, a G is lower in pitch than an A. So, to bring the pitch of the string up to an A, the string needs to be tighter. Gently rotate the machine head button to tighten the string and make sure you’re not tightening the wrong string.
    – Maybe you see B displayed on your tuner. B is higher in pitch than an A. So, to bring the pitch of the string down to an A, the string needs to be looser. Gently rotate the machine head button to loosen the string and lower the pitch.
  4. If it’s working out, then you should see A on your tuner display. Time for fine-tuning! The meter of your tuner will tell you how pure the A is. If the meter is pointing to the left, then tighten the string a little to slightly raise the pitch. If the meter is pointing to the right, then loosen the string a little to slightly lower the pitch. When the meter is in the middle, and pointing directly at A, the string is perfectly tuned.
  5. Now you can repeat steps 1 to 4 for each of the other strings.
  6. Once done, check that all strings are perfectly tuned and make any adjustments as needed.

How to Tune Up & Play a Guitarlele

Tip: While tightening or loosening a string to tune it, keep plucking the string with your thumb so you can both hear the pitch changing, as well as see it on your tuner’s display and know that you’re rotating the machine head in the right direction.

How to Tune Up & Play a Guitarlele

Playing Guitarlele Chords

By learning even just a few guitarlele chords, you’ll already be able to play countless pop songs.

How to Tune Up & Play a Guitarlele

How Do Chord Diagrams Work?

  • In the chord diagram above, you can see a representation of a guitarlele chord.
  • The horizontal lines represent the metal frets along the fretboard and the vertical lines are the six strings, with the thickest and lowest pitched A-string on the left.
  • If you’re left handed, you’ll need to mirror the diagram to play the chord.
  • There are also symbols included in the diagram, and these mean the following:
    • x = string is not played
    • o = string is played open (no fret is held)
    • Numbers = this indicates the best finger to use. The fingers are numbered in the image below.

How to Tune Up & Play a Guitarlele

Playing a Chord

  1. Place the fingertips of your left hand in the fret positions you can see indicated by the dots in the chord diagram.
    • Make sure to press the string down in the middle of two frets. You shouldn’t need to press too hard at all, just enough so that the note is pure when you play the string.
  2. Slowly play each string, one at a time, with the thumb of your right hand (or with a plectrum)   to check that each note of the chord sounds good.
    • While playing each string, check for any ‘rattling’ noises, buzzing, and that the note doesn’t sound dead or damp. If you can hear any of these things then check for the following:
      • The most common mistake is touching a string that you don’t need to. If your fingers touch another string – even gently – the string cannot fully vibrate and it’s this that dampens it so you can barely hear it. The way to solve this is to make sure that your fingertips point down onto the strings as you hold each note of the chord, and bend the fingers you aren’t using away from the fretboard, so that you’re not accidentally brushing against any string that you shouldn’t.
      • While you don’t need to press the string down too hard, make sure you’re not pressing it down too lightly.
      • Shift your fingertip a little further towards to the metal fret that’s closest to the body of your guitarlele. This tends to result in a cleaner note (just remember never to press down on the fret itself – or just try it once to see why).
      • Does the string sound a little out of tune? You might be pressing it down too hard so that the string bends a little. If loosening your grip a little doesn’t work, simply tune up the string again.
    • Does it take an annoyingly long time to get all the notes of the chord sounding good? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Work on it for maybe 15 minutes, then take a well-deserved break and try again. The trick to getting good at it is doing it every day. Really, even within a few days you’re likely to notice how much better you get.

Open Chords: Major & Minor

The best and easiest chords to learn first are open chords. Open chords include open strings – so strings that you don’t press down on but still play. Take a look at the open C chord included below. You can see three black dots, letting you know that you need to press down on three strings. At the top of the other three strings, you can see the ‘O’ symbol, meaning that these strings are played ‘open’ (without pressing down on them). Remember that the ‘X’ symbol means that a string shouldn’t be played at all, which takes some practice and can usually be pulled off by simply missing them out, or (which is the much harder option at first) placing the fingers of your left hand in such a way that it dampens them. By learning just three or four open chords, you’ll already be able to play a nice bunch of songs – in fact, just a few fairly easy open chords is all you need to start writing songs.

How to Tune Up & Play a Guitarlele

Changing Between Two Chords

So that your guitarlele playing sounds smooth, and so that you can comfortably play along to a beat, learning to quickly and comfortably change chords is essential. Take the A and D chords as examples:

How to Tune Up & Play a Guitarlele

  1. Place your fingers in the right position, ready to play the A chord.
  2. Does it sound good? Then change to the D-chord using the following little steps:
    • Lift your index finger from the third string.
    • Then, you need to shift your middle and ring fingers back by one string, while holding the same shape.
    • Now place your little finger on the second string at the second fret.
    • Note! As you can see by the little ‘x’ included in the diagram above, the sixth string (the thickest and lowest-pitched A-string) is not played as part of a D chord.
  3. Once your D-chord sounds good, you can change back to the A-chord, by taking the same steps in reverse:
    • Lift your little finger from the fifth string.
    • Move your middle and ring fingers back to their original position, one string up.
    • And finally, replace your index finger in the first fret of the third string.
  4. The key to getting this right is basically a lot of repetition and a lot of patience. The more you do it, the smoother you’ll get and the better your chords will sound. Try not to rush yourself by doing it all at once. By going step-by-step, you’ll get faster and faster to the point where the chords seem to change themselves. Tip! It’s a good idea to just spend some time practising moving your middle and ring finger between the two positions. It might feel a little stupid, but it really, really helps to train your muscle memory.

Another thing worth noting is that, no matter how slick you get at changing chords, and even if you’ve been at it for a decade or more, if you come across a new chord or chord arrangement, while it might take less time to nail it, you’ll have to teach your hands how to change between them using exactly the same kind of steps as above. So, maybe take a little reassurance in the fact that there’s at least one seasoned pro, somewhere out there, maybe sitting on their coach, patiently moving from one chord to another and back again.

Playing Chord Progressions with Open Chords

The best way to practice open chords and changing from one to another is to practice a chord progression. A chord progression is basically a number of chords that are played in a certain order, and that order can be repeated. An example of a chord progression used in many songs is:

C     | G     | Am    | F     |

Here are some tips to help you practice your first chord progression:

  • Each chord is held for four counts. One vertical bar – ‘|’ – indicates that four counts have passed.
  • If you find four counts too fast, then just count slowly, or hold each chord for eight counts instead.
  • Play each chord precisely on the first count with your thumb or a plectrum (we’ll come to rhythms later).
  • Now you have four counts to get your fingers ready for the next chord. Use the time! Teach yourself not to wait until the last moment to reposition your fingers and don’t worry too much about how long it takes, the speed will come.
  • Always get your finger into position ready to play the first string of the chord and then follow with the rest. So, with the C-chord, that means getting your middle finger at the third fret of the sixth string (the thickest string that’s closest to you – and the one you’ll play first) before placing your middle finger in the second fret on the fifth string, and then your little finger in the third fret on the first string (the thinnest string that furthest away from you – and the one you’ll play last).
  • Use a metronome so that you can learn to play tightly in time. Start with a nice and slow tempo at around 70bpm (beats per minute) and then only speed it up when you get comfortable. You can either use a real metronome or an app. Simply search ‘metronome’ in the Play or App Store and you’ll have plenty to choose from.

You can also play the chord progression along with this backing track:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wa9ednm0Hc

We’ll look at more chords later on, but right now, we’re going to dive into some rhythms.

Guitarlele Rhythms

Ok, so you’ve nailed a few chords, got them sounding great and can move from one to another without too much fuss. What will really make them sound great is adding some rhythm. Before we get into them, we’re going to show you the best way to hold your guitarlele and strum the strings.

Holding Your Guitarlele

If you’re fairly tall, then you might be able to get away with standing and playing your guitarlele without needing a strap. Grip the body against you with your right forearm at around elbow height. Make sure that the neck is pointing up a little. The idea is that the guitarlele can comfortably hang without the need to support the neck. For most people, sitting down to play is more comfortable. Place the body of the guitarlele on your right thigh, making sure that the neck is pointing up a little – it can sometimes help to raise your right thigh just a bit. Then, gently hold the body against yourself with your right forearm so that it will stay in place without your having to support the neck. An alternative, especially when standing, is to use a classical guitar strap. This is hooked into the soundhole of the guitarlele, allowing you to stand and play without having to grip the body. If your guitarlele happens to be fitted with strap buttons, then you can just as easily use a normal guitar strap.

Strumming

Here are a few pointers for strumming your guitarlele:

  • You can strum with a plectrum. A lot of people prefer this since it has a more controlled feel and a more solid sound. The downside of strumming with a plectrum is that it can sound a little hard and sharp, which doesn’t really match up with the warm tone of this little instrument. In that case, maybe try a felt plectrum.
  • Another option is strumming with your fingers. The most traditional ukulele playing technique is to strum with the index finger while curling your other fingers in, slightly bending the index finger and then strumming the string up and down with the top of the index finger. If this doesn’t feel that comfortable, then you could strum as if you’re holding a plectrum by strumming the strings down with the nail of your index finger, then strumming them up with the nail of your thumb.
  • Remember to keep your wrist flexible since this is where all of the strumming movement actually happens. The rest of your arm should be doing very little, so avoid strumming from the elbow and make sure to relax your forearm and shoulder.
  • Place the thumb of your left hand on the back of the neck, holding your wrist just below the neck. This is so that you’re not arching your wrist under the neck and wrapping your thumb around the top. Learning to play this way will only make learning any playing technique that bit smoother and much more comfortable.

How to Tune Up & Play a Guitarlele

Rhythm 1

You can play along with most songs in counts of four, so 1, 2, 3, 4 – 1, 2, 3, 4 and each of the following rhythms will fit.

1 2 3 4
  • Count out loud, making sure that each count lasts as long as the next: 1, 2, 3, 4 – 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Strum the strings down on every count. These are referred to as downstrokes.
  • A little bored? Change things up by strumming the strings harder on counts one and three and make the strum on count one the loudest. So, it would look something like: ONE, two, three, four etc. These ‘volume differences’ are referred to as accents.
  • Make sure that you’re still strumming on the beat and make sure you’re not playing just before or just after each count. Keep your wrist is flexible!
  • It’s a really good idea to try this out using a metronome.

Rhythm 2

1 2 3 4
  • Now, strum down (a downstroke), and then up (upstroke) on a single count. This is already sounding better.
  • You can count the rhythm like this: 1-uh 2-uh 3-uh 4-uh. The downstroke is precisely on the count and the upstroke is precisely on the ‘uh’.
  • Once you get it down, try playing the same accents on the first and third count that you tried out for rhythm 1.

Ritme 3

1 2 3 4
  • Now, you can combine rhythms 1 and 2, like in the example above. Downstroke for the first two counts, then down-up, down-up for the last two count.

Once you’re confident, you can even start making your own rhythms.

More rhythms

Want to learn more rhythms? Go to our Ukulele Rhythm Blog!

Where Can I Find Songs I Can Learn?

You’re likely to find exactly what you’re looking for by simply searching the name of your favourite songs and adding ‘chords’ to the search bar. It doesn’t matter if the chords are meant to be played on a guitarlele, ukulele, guitar, piano, or other instrument! A chord is a chord! Of course, you can always use song books which are usually put together with a little more care, so the chords tend to match more accurately with the original song.

Want to Learn More Chords?

We’ve already learnt the open guitarlele chords and a few rhythms, which is already quite a lot. And while this is a solid base to start with, at some point, you’re likely to notice that there are some songs that you can’t figure out how to play. No problem! By making just a few sneaky little adjustments, you can quickly learn to play a large number of seventh-chords, and after that, it’s probably about time you learnt barre chords – now, these chords take a little while to really get to grips with but in the end, it’s really not as hard as it looks. Then, once you’re feeling super confident, you can progress to the lesser known chords like the diminished chords, ninths and sixths! But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

Open Sevenths for the Guitarlele

An open seventh chord looks a lot like a normal major or minor chord, but sounds a bit more ‘special’ thanks to the little addition of a ‘seventh’ note. We’ve included every guitarlele seventh chord below. Try them out and you’ll immediately see what we mean:

How to Tune Up & Play a Guitarlele

Note: E7 is not really an official open guitarlele chord, since it’s actually based on an F chord and doesn’t have a unique shape. But it’s used so much, we couldn’t leave it out.

Blues Progression

A great way to practice seventh chords, is to learn a blues progression. Each chord is played for a count of four:

| A7    | D7    | A7    | A7    |

| D7    | D7    | A7    | A7    |

| E7    | D7    | A7    | E7    |

You can play your progression along with this backing track:

Playing Barre Chords on the Guitarlele

Now that you’re familiar with open guitarlele chords, it’s time to take a look at barre chords. Most of the time, your index finger will need to press down on more than one string so you can make these chords – hence barre (bar). Learning these chords takes a lot of getting used to, takes even more practice and a little strength. We really recommend practising these chords every day so that your left hand can build up the strength. Do this, and you’ll quickly notice you’re getting better and faster.

Advantages of Barre Chords

  • By simply playing songs, you’ll come across an enormous amount of chords. And if you only know open chords, you’re very likely to get limited. By learning to play barre chords, you can extend your repertoire even further.
  • The shape of Barre chords can be moved up or down the fretboard. So, if you’re playing an F barre chord, you can also play an F♯ barre chord, a G barre chord, and G♯ and so on – by doing nothing more than moving your hand from one fret to the next.

The Most Essential Barre Chords

Here, we’ll focus on the two most essential barre chords: the A-shape and the D-shape. By nailing these two chords, you’ll suddenly be able to play countless songs on your guitarlele.

Hints:

  • If you look closely, you might notice that these barre chords look a lot like the open chords you’ve already learned.
  • How do you play the barre chords below? Lay your index finger across all of the strings – as indicated by the long stripe you can see in the diagram, then position all of your other fingers. With the A chord, you need to position your index finger so that it presses down the first, second and sixth string at the same time – in a ‘barre’. With the D chord, the fifth and the first string need to be pressed at the same time.
  • You can make a barre by pressing down on every string, or by ‘arching’ your index finger a little, so that (in the case of the A barre chord) the base of your finger presses against the first and second string, while the tip of your finger presses down on the sixth string. Either way, this takes practice and strength.

How to Tune Up & Play a Guitarlele

And then?

  • Ok, say you’ve learnt to play the A-shape with your index finger at the first fret. In the image included below, you can see that this is the A♯/B♭ chord. Shift all of your fingers and the same shape up by one fret and you have a B chord. Move it up one more and you have a C chord, and so on. This way, with just one chord shape, you can play a whole range of different chords. The Roman numerals including the image below indicate the fret.
  • In the same way, you can use the A7 chord shape to play the A♯7/B♭7, B7, C7 chords, and so on.
  • Some chords have a double name – as you can see with A♯/B♭, for example. The reason for this is not important right now, just learn them!
  • Now you might say to yourself, ‘Hey, I already know the open C chord! Which one should I play?” When you’re a beginner, we recommend sticking to the open version of a chord wherever you can. But sometimes, you might notice that you have to make quite a leap to or from the open chord, so it really depends on what’s closest and what flows best when playing the song. An open chord also has a different tonal colour or timbre to that of a C barre chord. Try both versions to see what sounds best in the song you’re playing.

How to Tune Up & Play a Guitarlele

Tips For Playing Bar Chords

  • Place your thumb on the back of the neck, making sure it’s flat – so not the very tip. Position your thumb so that its opposite your middle finger. Yes, we know the neck of the guitarlele is in the way, but place your thumb and middle finger as if the tips were able to touch one another.
  • Is this still uncomfortable? Then try pressing down just the second and first strings with your index finger and playing those. Sounding good? Then try the simplified version of the A-shape included on the bottom row of chord diagrams above. With your index finger in the first fret, you can play the A♯/B♭ chord. Shift the chord shape up so that your index finger is at second fret, and you’re playing a B chord, and so on. This simple shape sounds a little less full, but it’s still a great start.
  • Another way to make barre chords a little easier to play, is to learn to play them further up the neck first. So, shift the chord shape up to the fifth or seventh fret where the tension of the strings is lower and you won’t need quite so much strength to play them.
  • The final and special barre chord included in the image above is useful if you need to play the D-shape further up the neck. This alternative to the D-shape is so useful because, higher up the neck, the frets get narrower, so you have less space to place your fingers.
  • As you did when learning to play open chords, once your fingers are in position, play each string one by one to check that they’re all sounding good and aren’t buzzing or dampened. Play the chord for fifteen minutes or so, take a break, and do it again – rinse and repeat on a daily basis and you’ll only get better at it.

Even More Chords

Once you’ve mastered the open chords and barre chords, you’ll be able to play a massive range of different songs. But, you’ll still come across some awkward ones that you’ve never seen before like a maj7, 6th, dim, sus2, sus4 etc. But the fact is, you can look up these chords and learn to play them with little difficulty. Below, we’ve included a round up of all of the most common chords used in pop songs.

  • If you come chords that aren’t included in the list below, then just look them up. Just remember to include the chord name and ‘guitarlele’ so that you get the right one. If you can’t find it at all, then read a little further for more help.
  • If you want to understand chords a little more deeply, then see our blog on chord theory.

Guitalele Chords

Playing Guitar Chords on the Guitarlele

There aren’t that many people that play the guitarlele. As such, it’s sometimes hard to find a lesser-known guitarlele chord on the internet. Luckily, guitarlele chord shapes look exactly the same as guitar chord shapes. The only difference is that the guitalele is tuned to a higher pitch, so every chord has one name on the guitar and another name on the guitarlele. So, it’s just a case of finding out which ones match up.

Here are all the guitar chord names in a row:

How to Tune Up & Play a Guitarlele

By counting five steps up from the chord you need, say from the A chord for a guitar, you’ll come to the correct guitarlele chord, so in this case, the D-chord for the guitarlele. In the same way, an F chord on the guitar is an A♯/B♭ chord on the guitarlele, and the G♯/A♭ guitar chord is a C♯/D♭ guitarlele chord.

See Also

» Guitarleles
» All Ukuleles
» Guitarlele Cases & Bags
» Guitarlele Strings
» Ukulele Stands
» Ukulele Pickups
» Classical Guitar Straps

» Ukulele Strings that Are Right for You
» Chords: Theory & Chord Symbols
» How to Hold Each Size of Ukulele
» The Top-10 Play-Along Songs
» Major & Minor: Hearing & Understanding the Difference
» Learning to Play the Guitar: Sheet Music, Chords, or Tab?
» Learning Guitar Chords for Beginners

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