The guitar and the ukulele look very similar and many people just assume that the latter is a mini version of the former. This isn’t exactly true. While there are similarities, there are enough differentiating factors to make both instruments unique in their own way. This can lead to the question “can you play the same songs on guitar and ukulele?”
Let’s find the answer out
What Is Same?
Since both are stringed instruments that are played either by plucking the strings or strumming them, a lot of things can be transferred between the two. To start with, the fundamentals will be the same. The chords and notes will stay the same between the two instruments. If the song is pretty simple, even the strumming and picking technique will be the same. So, if all you want to do is strum along in a fairly basic manner, just knowing the chord shapes is enough and you can interchangeably play either instrument without any issues.
What Will Be Different?
The most obvious difference will be the chord shapes and the position of the notes. While the chords and notes themselves can be carried over, you cannot do the same with the method to play them. The frets on both instruments are configured slightly differently because of the way they are tuned and because of their physical form.
The next big difference will be the way they sound. Due to the difference in sizes, an acoustic guitar will sound much larger and fuller when compared to the sound of a typical ukulele. An electric guitar will sound even more different.
The way both instruments feel will also be different. Guitar strings are generally much stiffer and under a lot more tension. This can be a problem for a ukulele player trying to play a song on the guitar. Each note and chord will require substantially more force. Developing the strength needed to do this takes time and for a ukulele player, this will mean that even if they manage to play a few notes or chords, playing for any extended amount of time can be tiring which can lead to a reduction in accuracy and the quality of sound produced.
A guitarist will find it much easier to play the ukulele but they will also face a few challenges. The frets are much narrower on a ukulele. This can make it challenging to place the fingers accurately. They can also end up picking or strumming the strings with more force than is needed for a ukulele leading to a harsher sound and in extreme cases a snapped string or two.
Can All Guitar Songs Be Played On The Ukulele?
The straightforward answer is you can but not exactly as it is played on the guitar. This is because the guitar has a much higher octave range. However, most guitar songs can be adapted to a ukulele. This will require some effort and you will need to spend some time making the necessary changes.
Start by identifying the scale and the chords used in the song. Learn the corresponding finger shapes for the same chords on a ukulele. If all you are aiming to do is play casually, just play these chords and that is more than enough in most cases. If, however, you want to accurately adapt the song to the ukulele, some more work will be needed. Identify the notes and translate them as best as you can to the ukulele. Put it all together and it should lead to a great result that might sound different but will still sound good.
Of course, there are some guitar songs that are almost impossible to play on a ukulele without altering the song substantially. These would include heavy metal songs and songs with long and layered lead lines that fall outside the limited range of the ukulele.
Can All Ukulele Songs Be Played On The Guitar?
This is a much easier endeavor from a technical standpoint. The only caveat is that you should already be someone who has prior experience playing the guitar reasonably well. If you are a complete beginner or a novice, it will be like driving an 18-wheeler after just learning to drive a small hatchback. It can be done but it is far too challenging.
Let’s say that you can play the guitar reasonably well, it shouldn’t be a big problem. Most ukulele songs are fairly simple and mostly comprise a few chords and notes. Adapting this to a guitar is a fairly simple process. You can even embellish it with a few advanced guitar techniques to further enhance the way the song sounds.
However, once again there is a caveat. There are some advanced playing techniques that are unique to a ukulele. If the song depends predominantly on these techniques, then adapting them to a guitar will change the entire feel of the song.
Which Instrument Should You Learn The Song First In?
This depends completely on the song. If it is a fairly simple song with a few chords and maybe a handful of notes thrown in, you can learn it first on either instrument. Start with the instrument you are more comfortable with and afterwards you will be able to adapt it to the other Instrument in a matter or minutes.
For the more complicated songs, the approach is also a bit more complicated. Usually, songs that are meant for one particular instrument should ideally be learned on that instrument first. Such songs rely on a particular instrument for their unique sound and learning it on that instrument is the ideal approach.
Related Article Is the Ukulele a Good First Instrument?
Music is all about enjoying what you are feeling and letting it be an outlet for your creative energy. So, the choice of instrument will totally depend on the creative liberties you are willing to take. If you are flexible then any song can be played on the guitar or the ukulele irrespective of which instrument it was originally composed on. On the other hand, if your main aim is to faithfully recreate the original sound and feel, then doing so on an instrument it wasn’t originally composed for can be challenging or even impossible depending on the song. For everything else, this can be a very enjoyable way of becoming proficient in a second musical instrument.