Is learning the ukulele really worth it? Firstly, I should say that this is written in the perspective of ‘should I learn the ukulele to then make learning guitar easier?’ If you just want to learn ukulele for itself I’ll answer that quickly - yes. Also, this is very appropriate for parents who are wondering if their child would be better off learning the ukulele first and then going on to guitar.
Full disclosure, I had a conversation with a friend a few years ago when I thought that if you want to learn guitar, you should just start with that, and he raised some great points to the contrary, so part of this is just basically stealing what he said, but here are the arguments either side:
- The main pro is being able to learn and play chords easier, making it easier to focus on other musical concepts sooner, such as rhythm, dynamics, playing the form of a song etc. This is something that can be quite delayed on guitar if the learner is struggling to get their fingers around the chords in the first place.
- Since the ukulele strings are a bit wider apart than on a guitar, it makes it easier for the right hand in regards to picking individual strings. While this will need some adjustment when moving to guitar, having that right hand developed a bit already will make a big difference.
- Barring is probably the next big benefit. Anyone who has learnt guitar will readily tell you that learning bar chords is the least fun part. This is also a necessary skill on the ukulele, however is much easier to master on this instrument. That skill can then be more easily transferred to the guitar.
- You can play another instrument, I explain a bit more about the benefits of this in this post here.
The main con is time, while the skills are quite transferable, the time spent learning ukulele could have been used for mastering guitar and breaking your fingers in to play guitar specifically.
There will be a little bit of relearning as you adjust, especially as the ukulele is set in a different key, so even the familiar shapes will be a different chord. But then, like I said above, you’ll also know another instrument.
Those who benefit the most from learning ukulele are going to be those who struggle with stretching out their fingers on the guitar and also those who struggle to stand their fingers tall (and not block other strings) - specifically, kids under 12 and also adults who haven’t really played an instrument before.
Going back, my opinion when I first talked with my friend was formed due to myself beginning guitar at 12 and having previously played a bit of piano, which is why I didn’t see the other perspective. However, a clear example I’ve seen in recent times is one of my students, a girl aged 12 who had previously played ukulele and only recently took up guitar. Her musical understanding and finger technique she has developed through ukulele is what I believe to be the reason that she has picked up the guitar so well, and especially as she is now at the age where simple skills such as stretching the fingers and applying pressure are much easier to master.