Can you play guitar songs on ukulele? Absolutely! Almost every song on a guitar can be played on the ukulele. Of course, fingerstyle songs would be much harder to play, given the difference in their number of strings. Nonetheless, you just have to learn how to fret the chords, and you’re good to go!
Despite both being string instruments, there are quite a few differences between a guitar and a ukulele. For instance, a guitar is significantly larger than a ukulele, even its junior versions. Additionally, guitars have six strings, while a ukulele has four.
If you’re a ukulele player, or you wish to expand the range of instruments you can play by learning the ukulele, you might be wondering if you can play the same songs on each instrument.
The answer is yes. However, there are a lot of things you first need to learn before you could that. Luckily, we’re here to make it easier for you.
Guitar and Ukulele Matching
To efficiently transition from playing songs on a guitar to a ukulele, you need to gain a better understanding of how these two instruments overlap. Here are the most notable similarities and differences between a guitar and a ukulele.
The standard tuning of a guitar’s strings is E-A-D-G-B-E, with the top string being of the same note as the bottom string, just a different octave. This tuning format is important with the six-stringed guitar so that you can play it easier and produce better sounds.
On the other hand, a ukulele only has four strings, and its standard tuning is G-C-E-A. It’s essential that you keep the standard tuning of each instrument in mind because when you start learning how to play different chords, you need to know which notes make them up.
The fretboards, otherwise known as fingerboards, are visually the same in both instruments. Ergo, if you’ve been playing songs on your guitar for quite some time, it wouldn’t be entirely difficult for you to play them on the ukulele. That’s because they share the same concept or principle. The only difference is that a ukulele’s fretboard is significantly smaller and more compact than a guitar’s.
Here’s the tricky part about playing guitar songs on a ukulele. The chord shapes are rather different. That’s because of the arrangement of the strings and the difference in their notes. For instance, a C chord on a guitar means you have to fret the A, D, and B strings on the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st frets, respectively.
However, a C chord on a ukulele only requires you to fret the A string on the 3rd fret. If you fret the same chord shape as with the guitar, you will get an entirely different chord or sound. Learning about the chord shapes in both of these instruments is important when trying to play guitar songs on a ukulele.
There’s also one major difference between the sounds of a guitar and a ukulele. If you weren’t aware, the ukulele got its name from “ju-ke-lei-li,” which roughly translates to “jumping flea.” This is characteristic of the instrument’s sound, which is rather vibrant and bright.
On the other hand, while the guitar can also be bright-sounding, it’s significantly fuller and lower than the ukulele. Because of this, you might find that some songs don’t seem to fit the happy and exuberant sound quality of the smaller instrument.
But then again, it’s almost always a matter of personal preference, song interpretation, and technique. If you have a way of making the ukulele’s sound fit the song, then who’s stopping you from playing guitar songs on the instrument, right?
Another characteristic that these instruments share is the strumming pattern. Despite the differences in the arrangement of the strings, you can strum a ukulele the same way you strum a guitar. If you prefer fingerstyle-playing, then you can try experimenting with it on a ukulele. Just be sure that you’re fretting the right notes and chords so it’d sound almost the same as a guitar.
Easiest Song to Play on the Guitar and the Ukulele
Now that you have a general idea of the similarities and differences between the guitar and the ukulele, it’s time to put your understanding of them to the test! We’ve gathered some of the easiest songs you could play on both of these instruments, and we’ll teach you how to fret each chord!
“Let It Be” by The Beatles
The Beatles’ “Let It Be” is an easy song to play since it uses almost repetitive chords all throughout. For the verse, you just need to learn the chords C, G, Am, and F. The same chords are used in the chorus, but the arrangement is Am, G, F, C, then C, G, and F.
To play the C chord on the ukulele, fret the A string on the 3rd fret. The G chord would then require you to fret C, E, and A strings on the 2nd, 3rd, and 2nd frets, respectively. The Am is just the G chord fretted on the 2nd fret. Lastly, the F chord is the G and E strings fretted on the 2nd and 1st frets.
On a guitar, the C chord requires you to fret the A, D, and B strings on the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st frets, respectively. The G chord is the low E, A, B, and high E fretted on the 3rd, 2nd, 3rd, and 3rd frets as well. The Am frets the strings D, G, and B on the 2nd, 2nd, and 1st frets. The F is almost like a C chord, except that you fret D, G, and B strings as well on the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st frets.
Keep practicing this song until you’ve gotten quite a good grasp of how to transition from one fret to another. Once you’ve done that, try looking for other songs and memorizing the proper fretting of the chords on the ukulele and the guitar to expand the list of songs you can play on both instruments.
The guitar and the ukulele are wonderful instruments to learn to improve your skillset as a musician. The best part is that you can play almost any song on both of these instruments as long as you know how to fret their chords.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.