Should My Child Learn Ukulele or Guitar

Music Lessons For Kids: Should My Child Learn Ukulele or Guitar?

Should My Child Learn Ukulele or GuitarDoes your child want to learn to play an instrument? Music teacher Anthony S. shares his tips to help you choose between ukulele and guitar for kids…

I have been asked by parents over the years if learning to play ukulele is a good starting point for children who want to learn the guitar. The ukulele is a very good first instrument for children, however you must think of it as a real instrument and not consider it an introductory instrument that is generally easy to play.

Although there is an obvious size difference between the two instruments, I often discourage parents from jumping into ukulele just because of its size. I prefer choosing classical guitars of 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 or 3/4 size for children’s guitar lessons. There are excellent resources and method books for young children who want to learn the guitar that do not need to attempt to learn ukulele first.

The truth of the matter is that although the ukulele is a fretted string instrument, it is a completely different instrument than the guitar. I have observed in the course of my career a great many students find it challenging to transition from the ukulele once they and their parents feel it is time to switch to guitar. Ukulele and guitar are tuned differently and learning the ukulele first will not necessarily translate directly to the guitar.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether you choose to get your child a guitar or a ukulele. What’s more important is choosing the right ukulele or guitar for your child.

Choosing the right instrument and the right size for a beginning musician is the first piece of advice that I give parents. I have been challenged many times whilst trying to teach students who are using an instrument that was purchased prior, a gift for example. Often times children receive a gift from a parent or relative that is simply impractical and counterproductive to proper education. I always advise parents and potential clients to choose an instrument and consult with a teacher before investing in an instrument. And when possible, work with a teacher who can expose your child to multiple instruments during the first month of instruction before purchasing an instrument.

Please don’t get me wrong, I am not bashing the Ukulele, I love the instrument – for those focused on learning it. Besides the evident small size of the standard soprano ukulele, the soft nylon strings are also great draw for young students with delicate fingers. For children who want to learn guitar, I urge parents to not buy an electric guitar as their first instrument. Select a classical guitar with those nylon strings after consulting with a sales associate or qualified music educator.

When a child enthusiastically points out a shiny electric guitar on television or in the music store, a parent may decide that this enthusiasm is a great place to start! While I agree that enthusiasm for an instrument is a wonderful starting off point, I see so many students quit their lessons because the correct instrument wasn’t selected and parents don’t follow through with practicing.

Parents, please be involved in your child’s musical education! Just going to weekly lessons isn’t quite enough; your child will also need to practice every day. Encourage your child and participate in their practice and they WILL succeed.

Once you have a ukulele or guitar for kids, you’ll need to find a great music teacher. Search for your ukulele instructor or guitar teacher today!

Anthony S

Anthony S. teaches many instruments in Oakland, CA, including guitar, flute, drums, and trumpet. He has an MM in Composition from CUNY Brooklyn College and has been teaching music to students ages 5 to 14 since 2005. Learn more about Anthony here!




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4 replies
  1. Keith Stevens
    Keith Stevens says:

    Excellent blog post, Anthony! I deal with this topic frequently. As you state, making sure the student has the correct instrument to learn is priority #1. Keep up the good work!

  2. Tim Maynard
    Tim Maynard says:

    While there are some good points about this article, there are many more that I find misleading. As professional guitarist and educator of over 30 years, I think I have some input that readers of the above might consider. And while my main instruments are classical and electric guitar, I have learned the ukulele. I perform professionally and teach classes on the instrument.

    First, I would absolutely consider it a great introductory instrument. Its small size and affordability are great for small children getting interested in music and their parents who are budget conscious. I’ll often recommend to parents of children 8 years and up to go with a nylon string guitar simply because it’s easier on the fretting hand. Virtually all ukes are outfitted with these same nylon strings. The small size of the uke lets even younger beginners feel some mastery over the instrument. All too often I’ve watched young kids come in with their dad’s dreadnought guitar and struggle at every turn because the thing is just too darn big. This is frustrating to the student and could be the deal-breaker. Capitalize on their enthusiasm with an instrument that’s easy on the fingers and easy to hold.

    Next, the ukulele is very much like the guitar. I had the luxury of attending a destination wedding in Hawaii with my girlfriend. While there, I thought it only appropriate to get an ukulele from its birthplace. The shop that sold me my first uke told me that the tuning is like that of the guitar starting at the fifth fret. The fourth string is typically an octave higher but it’s common to have a wound fourth string tuned to G3 instead of G4. The reason for the higher tuning is so that it can serve as a melody string. I prefer the lower tuning as it’s much more like my guitar.

    In learning it myself, I found that the chord shapes I knew on the top four strings of the guitar fit perfectly. Learning the fretboard didn’t take long either. B to C, and E to F are still only a fret apart with all the others 2 frets apart. As part of the class I teach at music and arts camp, I have the kids learn a scale and then we play simple songs using the same scale. Even barre chords were possible! Teach a kid a few chords and they’re strumming ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ in a short time. Surely, an uke player would find that helpful in learning the guitar. In regards to the right hand, some students used a pick while others were comfortable with their fingers. Both techniques are common to guitar and can be adapted when the transition comes.

    But if chocolate is what you want, don’t buy vanilla. If you, or your son or daughter, wants an electric guitar, it’s because the music you/they hear is produced with that instrument. And frankly, the electric is easier to play due to it’s low string height, lighter gauge strings and thinner body. Capitalize on enthusiasm with the desired instrument then focus it with consistent practicing. A teacher who is experienced with beginners knows that fundamentals are key but some fun needs to be had in the process.

  3. Daniel
    Daniel says:

    The one piece of advice I heard from guitar virtuoso Dan Crary during a workshop was very simple and very powerful. “Ask your child what instrument it likes best in terms of how it sounds, and then let your child learn to play that instrument.” It really is that simple, and it rang true to me, because I wish my parents had followed that same advice (they didn’t when decisions were made about what instruments I would play during my formative years). After wasting countless hours, even years, practicing instruments I didn’t care for, I picked up my instrument of choice, acoustic guitar, when I was already in my 30s, and it was an entirely different experience. It was fun from day one, and it’s the only instrument I’ve stuck to, ever. I still enjoy it as much as I did on day one, and I have no doubt I will enjoy it forever. That’s what keeps people motivated.


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