It is difficult to find one answer to this question. Truthfully, there are pros and cons to each style of ukulele. The four sizes (soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone) are each unique and right for someone in their own way. Yet, there are plenty of guidelines and recommendations we can suggest.
A Note On the Baritone:
One pathway we recommend to beginners is not to start with the baritone. The reason for this is that the tuning is different from all the other ukulele sizes. The baritone is tuned like the last four strings on a guitar (D-G-B-E), while all other ukuleles are tuned the same (g-C-E-A). If you start with the baritone ukulele, you will learn chord shapes and scale patterns that can’t be carried over to other styles of ukuleles. You would have to re-learn all the chord shapes and note placements on the fretboard.
To make your learning experience as easy as possible, we recommend beginner players start with either the soprano, concert, or tenor ukulele.
Let’s Break It Down
Now, the soprano, concert, and tenor ukuleles are all very similar. They use the same tuning, the same chord shapes, and ultimately require a similar technique of playing. These instruments do have their differences though, including their size and the tension on strings.
Size and tension are variables that significantly impact a beginner’s preference. We would love to be able to tell you a single answer, but it will be more effective to educate on how you can make this decision for yourself.
The tenor ukulele is a great option for a beginner transitioning from the guitar.
- It is a larger instrument with frets spaced farther apart than the other smaller ukuleles. This instrument is the second largest in the ukulele family behind the baritone ukulele.
- We do not recommend the tenor ukulele to a child or player with small hands. They may find it difficult to reach across the larger frets.
- The tenor ukulele’s strings are tighter than those of the soprano or concert. As is is a larger instrument, the strings have to have greater tension to sustain across the large fretboard. If you have strong or large fingers this shouldn’t be an issue with your learning. Otherwise, we recommend you start with a smaller instrument.
- The concert ukulele is a wonderful place to start for ukulele beginners. The instrument is a happy medium between the larger tenor uke and the smallest soprano option.
- The tension on these strings may be a little looser than the tenor. As a result, it will be easier to activate the strings.
- If you are seeking out the traditional starting point for learning ukulele, we recommend going for the soprano. Although it is the smallest, the soprano ukulele is just as versatile an instrument as it’s larger family members.
- If you are shopping for a child beginner, look no farther than the soprano. It is by far the best bet for little fingers.
- The tension on strings is the most loose on the soprano. For a beginner learning how to navigate the pressure and muscle memory of pushing down on strings, the soprano is the gentlest option.
Preference For Sound
Due to the different sizes of these ukuleles, unique sounds and tones are created from all of them. While the tenor may sound warm and smooth like a guitar, the soprano is bright and carries over a crowd with it’s colorful pitches. The concert ukulele may be seen as the ideal balance between the two.
If you are looking for the most traditional ukulele sound, look no farther than the soprano ukulele. Do your fingers feel too large for that instrument? The concert uke is a great middle point between traditional high sounds and the more guitar-like tones of the tenor.
Choosing what ukulele to start with is a personal preference. Although there are elements of each instrument that make it easier to play for certain individuals (i.e. size, tension), your personal opinions on sound and tone come into play too. We hope this article helped you make your decision, or at least learn about a few factors to consider before buying that first ukulele!