Can you play guitar chords on the ukulele – and vice versa? The guitar and ukulele are similar instruments in many ways. This often leads people to wonder what their differences are and how transferable are chords and melodies between them.
Although the guitar and ukulele are tuned differently, they are tuned to the same intervals. You can convert guitar chords to ukulele chords with some quick transposing.
To convert guitar chords to ukulele, leave out the bottom two strings and transpose the chord up a fourth. So, a D chord on the guitar becomes a G chord on the ukulele, etc. This is even easier for baritone ukuleles – just play the exact same chord shape.
This post goes over an easy method to translate guitar chords to ukulele, so you can play just about any song you want.
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The Difference Between Guitar and Ukulele Chords
Even though the guitar and ukulele look very similar, they use different tunings. Also, most types of ukuleles have four strings, whereas guitars have six strings. As a result, unless you’re playing, say, a guitalele, chords on the ukulele consist of at most four notes instead of six on the guitar.
The number of strings on the ukulele vs guitar also determines the number and complexity of available chord voicings. There’s also a much wider variety of tunings commonly used on the guitar than on the ukulele.
For example, there’s an enormous range of alternate, ‘open’ tunings common on the guitar, like open D, open G, and DADGAD. Chords played with such tunings are often very different from chords played in standard tuning and are sometimes not even possible to play in standard.
However, most guitar and ukulele chords are based on major or minor triads. So, regardless of which instrument you are playing a given chord on, it will have the same basic foundation.
Guitar Tuning vs. Ukulele Tuning
The fact that guitars and ukuleles have different tunings also impacts how chord shapes are constructed and sound on the two instruments. Standard tuning on the uke is one example of re-entrant tuning, which guitars do not use (in re-entrant tunings, the strings are not tuned in pitch order. On the uke, the high g string is tuned an octave higher than it would be in pitch order).
If we disregard the re-entry, though, ukulele standard tuning uses the same intervals as the thinnest four strings on a guitar. The four thinnest strings on the guitar are D-G-B-E, while the ukulele’s standard string order is G-C-E-A, exactly a fourth up. This makes converting guitar chords to ukulele a straightforward process of transposing them up a fourth.
Baritone Ukulele Tuning
The baritone ukulele’s string order is D-G-B-E, the same notes as the top four strings on a guitar. Baritone ukulele tuning is not a re-entrant tuning, unlike standard ukulele tuning.
You can play guitar chords directly on the baritone uke, apart from the notes on the bottom two strings of the guitar. This similarity makes it simple for guitar players to pick up a baritone uke and jam away right off the bat.
Baritone ukes are also larger than soprano, concert, and tenor ukes, which gives them a different sound.
How to Convert Guitar Chords to Ukulele Chords in Standard Tuning
Using the Same Chord Shapes
It’s possible to use many of the same chord shapes used in guitar music as uke chords. All you need to do is use a guitar chord chart and leave out the bottom two strings of the guitar (the E and A strings, which are the two furthest to the left on a chord chart).
Any chord shape you can play on the remaining four strings can be played on the ukulele. Because standard ukulele tuning features the same notes (with a re-entry) as standard guitar tuning, the chords will be the same on the ukulele but transposed up a fourth.
You can use any chord from the guitar on the ukulele – simply transpose it up a fourth.
Of course, the ukulele only has four strings. Most guitar chord shapes use all six strings, so more complex chord voicings can’t be directly converted to the ukulele.
Some Examples of Converting Guitar to Ukulele Chords
To illustrate how to convert guitar chords to ukulele, let’s go over some example chords. These chords feature the same shape on both guitar and ukulele but are transposed up a fourth when played on the uke.
D Major Guitar Chord = G Major Ukulele Chord
The D chord is one of the most widely used basic chords on the guitar. D is a popular key for songwriters, and the D chord is easy to play on the guitar. It’s also a good choice for illustrating how converting guitar chords to ukulele works since you only play a D chord on the guitar using the top four strings.
But if you take that D major guitar chord shape and play it on the ukulele, you get a G chord instead. G is a fourth higher than D, so transposing a D chord up a fourth gives you a G chord.
E Minor Guitar Chord = A Minor Ukulele Chord
E minor is another widely used chord for the guitar, thanks to how easy it is to play and how resonant it sounds with the guitar’s open low E and high e strings.
Playing that same chord shape on a ukulele gets you an A minor ukulele chord.
Remember, we’re leaving out the low E and A strings. If you only play an E minor chord on the top four strings of a guitar, you’ll only be fretting the D string at the second fret. This translates to fretting the high g string at the second fret on the ukulele, which produces an A minor chord.
G Major Guitar Chord = C Major Ukulele Chord
The G major chord is already very straightforward on the guitar. Take away the bottom two strings, and it becomes even more so since it’s predominantly open strings. The great thing about this voicing is that it’s so easy to learn, which is helpful for beginners looking to expand their repertoire of ukulele chords.
If you take that same G major shape and translate it to the uke, you get a C chord. C is a fourth higher than G, so transposing a G chord up a fourth equals a C chord.
Converting Guitar Chords to the Ukulele in Baritone Tuning
If you’re playing a baritone ukulele, you’ll be glad to know that it uses the same chords as a guitar. The baritone ukulele is tuned to D-G-B-E, the same tuning as the top four strings on a guitar.
You can take any chord shape on the top four guitar strings, play that same shape on the baritone ukulele, and it’s the same chord. For example, to play a G chord, use your ring finger to fret the high e string at the third fret. The G chord is the same shape on guitar, but with the addition of the two lower strings.
If you have both a baritone uke and a ukulele that uses standard tuning, you can choose which instrument you want to use when playing guitar chords. Having both instruments available means you can play songs transposed up a fourth or in their original key just by switching ukes.
How to Convert Ukulele Chords to Guitar (plus an easy trick)
If you’re a ukulele player looking for an easy way to play all the ukulele chords you know on a larger, more resonant instrument, there are ways to jump over to the guitar without learning all new chords.
First off, you can convert ukulele chords to the guitar by transposing down a fourth (the reverse of what we’ve covered above). So, a G becomes a D, and so on.
But there’s an even more straightforward way to do this by using a capo.
Putting a capo on the fifth fret of a guitar transposes the strings up a fourth. With a capo on the fifth fret, the top four strings of your guitar match standard ukulele tuning of G-C-E-A. Leaving out the bottom two guitar strings allows you to play ukulele chords on the guitar.
If you do try this easy trick as a ukulele player, be mindful not to strum the bottom two strings by mistake.
Can You Make Your Guitar Sound Like a Ukulele?
Guitar players often wonder if it’s possible to get a ukulele sound out of your guitar. The guitar has different qualities of timbre and tone than the ukulele. So, while you can play the same notes on the guitar as you can on the ukulele, expect to get quite a different sound from the instrument.