Frequently Asked Questions

1. What's the relationship between the ukulele and the guitar?

Here are some similarities:

  • The ukulele and guitar are both fretted stringed instruments of similar construction, requiring similar left- and right-hand techniques
  • The tuning of the ukulele (g,c,e,a) generally matches the tuning of the first four strings of the guitar (d,g,b,e) transposed up a perfect fourth.

And differences:

  • Having only four strings greatly reduces the need for skipping or deadening strings when strumming the ukulele as compared to the guitar.
  • Ukuleles are always strung primarily with acrylic strings, only optionally using a wound metal string for the very lowest-pitched string.
  • The ukulele is traditionally strummed by hand, without a pick. If a pick is ever used it is a soft felt pick, not a guitar pick
  • Ukuleles are never strung "lefty"
  • The left thumb is never used on the fretboard
  • Starter ukuleles cost about half the price of starter guitars
  • Ukuleles are often constructed using different woods and different wood combinations than commonly found in guitar construction.

2. What are the best ukuleles for students to play?

This site doesn't endorse any particular brands of ukulele (and neither should teachers endorse a brand with students), but the best type of ukulele is one that is sized appropriately, is in tune with itself, projects well, and is well-constructed.

3. What are the differences between different sized ukuleles?

Soprano ukuleles are the original size and best for elementary students because they are the smallest. Concert ukuleles are slightly larger and may have a fuller tone, and tenor ukuleles are larger and fuller yet. These sizes are all tuned the same. There is also a baritone ukulele, which is as large as a half-size guitar and is also tuned like the first four strings of the guitar (d,g,b,e). As a result, baritone ukuleles require different sheet music than other ukuleles. Some people actually do not consider baritone ukuleles to be true ukuleles!

4. Isn't the ukulele too fragile to use in school?

Before giving an instrument to students at any age, students need to learn the proper care and handling of the instrument. But regularly-abled students who have been in school for even just a year (i.e. Kindergarten) tend to recognize that the ukulele is not a toy, by design. It is not made of plastic and the sound isn't produced in a way that lends itself to abuse (i.e. striking or blowing very hard). Nevertheless, ukuleles can generally sustain being dropped on the floor from a height of a foot or two with no major damage, and tuners can sustain over-tightening by several steps for short periods of time with no major problems.

5. What is the minimum age for students learning the ukulele?

Students as young as Kindergarten can physically play a ukulele properly, but not all students develop cognitive and fine-motor skills at the same rate. When working with a class of students, waiting until 4th grade generally ensures the developmental readiness of the whole group. Each grade younger will have an increasing number of students who will simply have to go slower.