So, you want to play the Ukulele. Who wouldn't? It's a fun and energetic instrument that always finds a smiling audience. A talented ukulele player can uplift the hearts, minds, and the corners of the mouths of everyone around. But, of course, everyone starts somewhere. Your very first ukulele should be a special purpose, an instrument that you delight in and are proud to practice with every day.
But which Ukulele should you choose? You may find when researching online or standing before the instrument rack that there are several types of ukulele, and simply choosing one to jam out is harder than it sounds.
How do you know which is the right Ukulele to get started with, or which on you'll like best? Here at KK Music Store, we're diving into the details on the different types of ukulele and how to pick a ukulele you'll love.
How Many Different Types of Ukulele Are There?
Everyone knows that a ukulele is like a small guitar. It's shaped the same way, you cradle and strum it, and it makes people want to dance. But not everyone realizes that a ukulele only has four strings, or that the difference between bigger and smaller ukuleles isn't octave, it's tone.
There are four standard types of ukulele to choose from, as well as more than a few novelty type ukuleles to try out once you master the basics. You can sort them first by ukulele sizes.
The Traditional Types and Sizes of Ukulele
- Soprano Ukulele
- Concert Ukulele
- Tenor Ukulele
- Baritone Ukulele
The four types of ukulele are soprano ukuleles, concert ukuleles, tenor ukuleles, and baritone ukuleles. These indicate the depth of tone created by the ukulele and may influence how you string and tune each instrument.
Novelty Ukulele Types
- Bass Ukuleles
- Banjo Ukuleles
- Novelty Pineapple Ukuleles
There are also more than a few "novelty" type ukulele designs. You know the ones, shaped like tropical fruits and cartoon characters - along with silly banjo ukuleles and extra large base ukuleles. The tone from a novelty ukulele usually leaves something to be desired, so don't worry about learning to play any of these variations at the beginning.
It's All About Tone
The difference between the size and type of ukuleles is all about tone. Most ukuleles are strung and tuned the same way. The notes and the play style are the same, but the real difference is how much sound is created and the tone of each note played. Smaller ukuleles like the soprano and concert will have that plinky sound custom to the instrument while larger tenor and baritone ukuleles will have more body to each sound as it reverberates through the larger instrument bodies.
The Different Types of Ukuleles
Did you know that Soprano, Concert, and Tenor ukuleles are all strung and tuned the same way? This makes them an interesting family of instruments that share a skillset you can learn and remember - even if you get multiple ukuleles as you learn. They are all tuned C-G-E-A. The only real difference is the actual sound of the tone - the twang of the string and the echo inside the body of the instrument.
When most people think of a ukulele, they are thinking of a soprano ukulele. The smallest in the family, the soprano ukulele looks like a toy in adult hands. It has that signature ukulele plinky sound to it that can be both melodic and playful at the same time. Soprano ukuleles typically have 12 frets and contain just under a 2-octave range.
The design was based not on traditional Hawaiian instruments, but on similar small stringed instruments brought by the Portuguese on their travels. Since then, however, it has become the signature of Hawaiian celebrations. The Soprano Ukulele is the most affordable, which makes it very popular with beginners.
Soprano ukuleles are often tuned using a re-entrant tuning method. With this method, the G string is changed out for a smaller string and tuned up an octave. This is called re-entrant or non-linear tuning because the strings do not progress from high to low in order. This re-entrant tuning is part of what gives ukuleles that unique traditional sound.
A concert ukulele introduces a larger body to the ukulele model, designed to provide more reverberation and sound when the instrument is strummed. Interestingly, Concert ukuleles and banjo ukuleles were both invented around the same time as ukuleles became more popular on the mainland of the USA.
Concert ukuleles, unsurprisingly, were designed to provide a greater sound and be heard amongst other instruments or at a distance instead of the personable short range of the traditional soprano ukulele.
The concert ukulele introduces a far longer net, offering an average of 15-20 frets and more space on the fretboard to accomplish precise fingering.
The Tenor ukulele was designed alongside the concert ukulele as the instrument became more popular for formal performances. Many players prefer the tenor ukulele because it provides the most space between frets. This arrangement makes it easier to play ukulele music while still in the exact same octave and tuning as a traditional soprano ukulele.
The tenor ukulele has a deeper and richer tone, but is actually still played on the same notes as a soprano ukulele. This allows for a stronger and more formal sound in a concert hall in addition to the easier fingering of your chords and notes.
The baritone ukulele is the only ukulele not tuned on the traditional G-C-E-A scale. Instead, your baritone ukulele is tuned like the highest four strings of a small guitar. The baritone ukulele has a unique sound that blends the traditional ukulele cheer for a deeper tone in the larger body of the instrument.
Guitar players who want to get started with the ukulele often find that a baritone ukulele is the easiest transition to playing four stings on a smaller instrument.
Which Type of Ukulele is Best for Beginners?
Which type of ukulele should you try first? If you're a traditionalist, you may want to start with the soprano ukulele and continue from that point. However, if you're worried about getting the hang of tiny ukulele fret fingering, the tenor ukulele is the easiest to master because it has the largest space between frets.
If you are already a guitar player, you may find that the baritone ukulele offers the smoothest transition as you get used to ukulele playing. For first-time beginners, we recommend the concert or tenor ukuleles, providing a little more room to learn and a stronger sound while still giving you a chance to learn the special tuning order and the re-entrant tuning method for that special ukulele sound.
Conclusion About the Types of Ukuleles
Choosing the right ukulele to learn on is a fun opportunity to explore the instruments. Hold each type of ukulele one at a time and practice a few chords. Get a feel for whether you'll need that extra fret space of the tenor ukulele or if you strongly prefer the traditional tone of the soprano ukulele. Contact us today to explore the types of ukuleles and find help picking out the perfect ukulele to get started.