Should My Child Learn Ukulele or Guitar

Ukulele vs Guitar: The Difference & How to Decide

Should My Child Learn Ukulele or Guitar

Trying to decide between the ukulele vs guitar? In this article, music teacher Anthony S. discusses the differences between the two instruments, as well as how to choose which one is right for you. 

Ukulele vs Guitar: Key Differences

Transitioning From Ukulele to Guitar

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

Even though 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 actually find it challenging to transition from the ukulele to guitar.

This is because the ukulele and guitar are tuned differently and the process of learning the ukulele does not translate directly to the guitar.

The Size of the Ukulele vs Guitar

There is also an obvious size difference between the ukulele vs the guitar. I often discourage students from jumping into the ukulele just because of its size. If you’d prefer learning on a smaller instrument to start, there are dozens of options available for smaller guitars.

So whichever instrument you decide on, it’s important to make sure you’re choosing the right ukulele or guitar for you. Choosing the right instrument and the right size for a beginning musician is the first piece of advice that I give all students.

I have been challenged many times whilst trying to teach students who are using an instrument that was purchased as a gift, for example. Oftentimes children receive a ukulele as a gift from a relative that is simply impractical and counterproductive to proper education.

Pro tip: It’s always a good idea to consult with an experienced teacher before investing in an instrument.

Which instrument do you prefer: ukulele or guitar?

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Playing Comfort

Many students are concerned about whether they’ll be more comfortable playing the ukulele vs the guitar. Besides the evident small size of the standard soprano ukulele, the soft nylon strings are also great draw for many students with delicate fingers.

But if you want to learn the guitar, you could always start with a classical guitar that has nylon strings, and be just fine. Even if you don’t want to play classical music, you should never purchase an electric guitar as your first instrument.

You’d be surprised at how many students quit their lessons because the correct instrument wasn’t selected!

Final Advice

Ultimately, when deciding between the ukulele vs guitar, either instrument is an excellent choice if the student is focused on learning it. Practice every day and you WILL succeed. Also, be sure to find a great music teacher to work with.

Finding an experienced ukulele instructor or guitar teacher will help you build a solid foundation for your musical journey. Best of luck, and let us know which instrument you chose in the comments below!


Anthony S

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


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Photo by Sarah Han

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5 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.

    • Belinda
      Belinda says:

      Thanks Tim. I am wanting for my son to eventually move to a guitar, but am thinking of the Baritone ukulele to start with as the tuning is the same and he can learn some ‘cheat’ chords and then add the bass strings later on. He is turning 6 in a couple of months and we are thinking of getting him something for that birthday. Can you advise either the Baritone Uke or 1/2 size guitar. I figured only having to negotiate 4 strings as a beginner would be helpful. Your thoughts?

  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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