How Ukulele Makes Guitar Easier (And Why to Learn Uke First)

Today I’m going to explain whether starting with ukulele will make it easier to learn guitar.

I personally play both ukulele and guitar and I’ll highlight 7 important skills that I’ve found to be transferable from one instrument to the other. 

And one of the first things you’re going to want to know is that you can (kind of) convert a guitar to a ukulele, but we’ll cover why that’s important in the next section. 

Let’s jump straight into it!

How Playing Ukulele Makes Learning Guitar Easier

Playing ukulele will make learning guitar considerably easier, and vice versa. Ukulele and guitar are very similar instruments, in both the design of each instrument, and in the skills required to play them. For example, if you can play a basic strumming pattern on ukulele, you’ll also be able to use it on guitar. 

In fact, if you put a capo on the 5th fret of a guitar and remove the top two strings (E and A), then you have converted your guitar to the exact notes that are used on a standard ukulele. 

For reference, those string notes are G, C, E, A (from the string closest to the ceiling, to the one closest to the floor). 

This is important because it highlights just how similar these two instruments really are. 

Now, if you’re someone who plans to learn both ukulele and guitar, then this leaves a big question around which instrument is best to learn first. 

Is It Better to Learn Guitar or Ukulele First?

Generally, it’s better to learn ukulele first if you plan to play both ukulele and guitar. Ukulele is easier to learn and most ukulele skills will translate to guitar. As a result, when you’re learning the basic skills that are essential for both instruments, you will progress more quickly on a ukulele. 

I confess: this is a super simplified answer, and in some cases it will be better to start with guitar, but let me begin by explaining why ukulele is a better starting point for most people. 

Why to Start with Ukulele

The main reason ukulele is a better starting instrument to learn than guitar, is because it is easier to learn. 

If you want to learn both instruments, you’ll probably be able to play your first song on ukulele more quickly and more easily than on guitar. 

Learning your first song is important because that can really help fuel your motivation to keep learning and practicing. If you get stuck and frustrated early, then you may not make it very far. 

Here are a few of the specific features of a ukulele that make it easier than guitar:

  1. Ukuleles have fewer strings
  2. Guitar strings hurt more than ukulele strings
  3. Ukuleles have skinnier necks

The fact that a standard ukulele only has 4 strings, compared to 6 on a standard guitar, makes learning easier simply because there is less to learn. When you are figuring out your first chord position, you have 2 less strings to worry about. 

Ukulele strings are also made primarily out of synthetic plastic materials, whereas guitar strings are made out of metal. For you, this means that your fingers are probably going to get sore faster on a guitar, and it also means you’ll be able to play for longer on a ukulele at the beginning.

The skinnier neck of a ukulele can also make chord positions easier to navigate, especially for people that have smaller hands. If you’ve got awesome long fingers, then this will probably be less of a factor for you. 

Now let’s discuss when it makes sense to start with guitar instead. 

Why to Start with Guitar

If you want to play guitar but are considering the ukulele as a stepping stone, then I’d think twice before taking that approach. This will probably only work if you’re genuinely interested in both instruments. 

If you are WAY more interested in guitar than ukulele, then just jump straight into guitar. 

It’ll be easier to stick with practicing over time if you start on the instrument you care about most. 

And if you really want to learn specific guitar songs, in some cases you’ll find that songs that are easy on guitar are more difficult on ukulele (the reverse can also be true, it just depends on the song). 

At the end of the day it comes down to motivation and what instrument you most want to play long-term. So go with your gut and get started!

As we’ll cover next, you can easily start with one instrument and then switch to the other one later if you change your mind. And that’s because the skills between the two are HIGHLY transferable. 

7 Ukulele Skills that Translate to Guitar

Here are 9 ukulele skills that you’ll be able to apply to learning guitar. This is not an exhaustive list, but it will give you a solid overview of the types of skills that will transfer.

These skills also translate from guitar to ukulele if you decide to take that route. 

Let’s get into it!

1. Chord Shapes / Finger Positions

There are several common chord shapes on ukulele that you can use with exactly the same finger positioning on a guitar. 

The only difference is that these finger positions will create different SOUNDS on the guitar. 

Here’s an easy example. 

This is a G chord on a Ukulele: 

And the exact same finger position on a guitar, is a D chord. 

In other words, if you’re a ukulele player and you picked up a guitar for the first time today, there would already be several chords that you can play. Sure, you’d still have to learn which sounds it translates to on guitar, but you’ll be surprised how easily you’ll pick that up. 

2. Chord Transitions

Another challenging skill for new ukulele players is transitioning between chords. 

Most beginners will have to pause strumming to find the correct finger placements in order to play the next chord in a song. 

That’s a perfectly natural part of the learning process. And the good news is, once you learn that skill on the uke, you’ll be able to do it much more quickly and easily on a guitar. 

3. Strumming Patterns

Here’s an insider secret. The easiest way to tell a total noob from an intermediate ukulele player, is their skill with strumming patterns. And strumming is another easily transferable skill between the two instruments. 

The most common strumming pattern for BOTH ukulele and guitar is as follows:


In other words: down strum, down strum, up strum, up strum, down strum, up strum. 

If you can play this on the ukulele, then that pretty much directly translates to guitar and you’ll be able to do the same strumming patterns right away. 

4. Fretboard Knowledge

A really important skill for playing any fretted instrument (i.e. any instrument that has a fretboard), is to understand the layout of the frets. 

Just like you need to understand the keys on a piano, on a guitar or ukulele you need to understand the frets on the neck of your instrument. 

And here’s more good news. The relationship between each fret on a ukulele is the same as on a guitar. Each fret is a half step on both instruments. 

As a simple example. If you’re on the A string and you put your finger down on the 2nd fret, then on both instruments you’ve created a B note. 2 frets = 1 full step = 1 increase in the note letter.

5. Understanding Keys (Basic Music Theory)

If you’ve learned any instrument in the past (not just uke or guitar) then you may have some familiarity with the idea of “keys”. 

A musical key is really important for any musical instrument, and it basically determines the chord progression for a song. For instance, some of the first songs you learn on the ukulele will probably be in the key of C. 

So if you build up your understanding of some basic music theory (like keys) while playing the ukulele, then all of these concepts should apply directly to guitar as well. 

6. Tuning

Okay, guitar strings and ukulele strings are tuned to different notes. 

For Ukulele it’s G-C-E-A (from the string closest to the ceiling to the string closest to the floor).

For guitar it’s E-A-D-G-B-E (with strings again going from ceiling to floor).

However, the WAY you tune the instruments is the same. So, if you learn how to tune a ukulele using a ukulele tuner, then the approach will be about the same for tuning a guitar with a guitar tuner. 

Or, if you learn to tune a ukulele by matching the note with a piano, then you can do the same thing with a guitar. 

7. Finger-Strength / Calluses

On both a ukulele and a guitar your fingers are probably going to hurt at the beginning. 

But if you learn the ukulele, you will gain finger strength and calluses, and both of those things will also make playing the guitar more comfortable. 

And that means that when you start learning the guitar, you’ll be able to play for longer (and with less pain!) than you would have been able to if you hadn’t ever played the ukulele.

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