The Different Kinds of Ukulele And Buying Guide
This article will cover the differences of various kinds of ukuleles. Hopefully you can use some of the information here to help in your ukulele selection.
There are four types of Ukulele. The one most people are familiar with as having that classic ukulele sound is the soprano size ukulele. The soprano is the smallest of the ukulele family and its plucky sound is due to its petite size.
Facts of Ukuleles
There are 4 types: soprano, concert, tenor, and bass.
The first three are commonly tuned the same way- G C E A
The bass is the largest and is tuned like a guitar missing 2 strings -D G B E
Sizes of Ukulele
The differences between the sizes come down to the length of the fretboard, the width of the frets, and resonance.
As the body gets larger the tone changes, offering fuller sound getting progressively closer to an acoustic guitar sound.
There are a variety of ways to tune a ukulele. The most common is called reiterant, where the G string is higher than the C string. This is the classic tuning, and many people remember it by the tune "my dog had fleas". The concert and tenor models can also be tuned in what is called linear, with the G string a fourth lower than the C string, and the C E and A strings remaining the same as reiterant. However, I find that it is fun to use the high G tuning for a tenor, so you get the feel and unique sound of a ukulele.
As mentioned the Bass ukulele most closely resembles a small guitar and has the tuning of the upper strings (in pitch) of a guitar: D G B E
How to choose the best ukulele for yourself or your budding instrumentalist:
Hand size will play a big factor. Starting out with a soprano is great for little kids with small hands. The short fretboard and narrow frets will be easy for them to manage. The small body is also very comfortable for these little musicians. For the adolescent player, a concert or tenor ukulele might be a better fit. Boys especially might find the slightly larger size more comfortable and accommodating. It will allow for some growth of the hand size, so that they don’t grow out of the instrument and lose interest. The tenor also sounds closer to a guitar, so if they are thinking of moving to that instrument in the future it may be a good choice
For adults with guitar experience the bass size is by far the easiest to pick up and transition to. Most of the chord forms learned on guitar will translate directly over, without the need to transpose or learn other chord shapes. The drawback, however, is that you are not getting the classic sound of a ukulele. With this size you are almost getting a small, more portable guitar.
The length of the fingerboard also affects what higher pitch chords you can play.
Personal preference will ultimately be the deciding factor of what ukulele to buy. Best to keep in mind what the overall goals are of the person, big or small, who will be playing it.
Chord forms on Ukulele vs. Guitar
In general most chords are easy to play on ukulele, most of them can be played in the first position without much movement higher on the neck.
Some of the forms are identical to chords on the guitar, but resulting in a chord a fourth/ fifth away from the guitar version. For example the way to play a D chord on guitar is the same as the G chord on ukulele.
Based on the tuning of the ukulele, certain chords are really easy and sound great with open strings, while others such as an E major require a little more practice to master.
On guitar the E major chord is one of the first usually learned in the first/ open position and its fingering forms the basis of bar chords that cover 6 strings on guitar.
In fact, many rock and blues songs are in keys like E, A and D major. I have always thought it is likely due to the fact that these chords sound great on guitar, resulting in a nice full sound. If you talk to other instrumentalists, it is not so easy to play in these keys. Especially if you need to transpose for a brass instrument such as a saxophone.
The tuning of a ukulele makes it a great fit for songs in the key of C or E minor. One thing to keep in mind is that a song key can be quickly changed by adding a capo to the necessary fret of the ukulele, to play songs in the required key. Capos are an inexpensive and useful accessory to have that can be used on guitars as well.
I hope this article has been of some assistance in your search for a great ukulele for yourself or a loved one.