Choosing between a banjo or ukulele might seem easy… After all, they’re both just cool sounding stringed instruments. But they’re actually very different from each other, and you might find you prefer one over the other when it comes to deciding on which one to learn first. Keep reading as we dive into their differences and help you choose which one suits you more.

The History of Banjos and Ukuleles

Ukulele

This string instrument dates all the way back to 1800s Hawaii, but was actually adapted from an old Portuguese guitar-like instrument called a ‘braguinha’. There are 4 different sizes of ukuleles that each produce music in a different key, but they all produce sound by strumming 4 stretched nylon strings that have been stretched over a hollow, short necked body.

Banjo

On the other hand, banjos were originally brought over to the United States in the early 1800s and is based on a traditional African instrument. Banjos are a bit different than ukuleles in that they are made in quite a few different sizes and string configurations. A banjos sound comes from usually 4 or 5 strings stretched over a drum that can be tuned to hit different chords. Banjos can also be crossed with instruments like guitars, ukuleles and mandolins.

Banjo Ukulele

One of the more popular hybrids, this instrument combines elements from both the banjo and the ukulele. Relatively new to music culture- it’s only been popular since the 1920s, the banjo ukulele features the shorter neck, the 4 nylon strings of the ukulele and the tunable drum body of the banjo. If you just can’t decide which instrument to start with, try both in this one!

The differences between banjos and ukuleles

Did you know that at Capstone Music, we’ve real musicians teaching ukelele (and banjo)! Learn more and get on board the musical train where the love for music and our students comes first! (And we’re Burlington’s top choice for music lessons for well over a decade now as chosen by Burlington Post Readers!).

Tuning

One of the biggest differences between a banjo and a ukulele is how they are tuned. Banjos can be tuned to chord, and will be based on the musical style of the musician and what he prefers.

A ukulele is tuned in only 2 main configurations depending on whether the musician plays baritone, soprano, concert or tenor. It is also possible to want to buy a slightly different shaped ukulele depending on which class you play.

Tone

Another key difference between the two is the kind of musical tone that is produced when it is strummed. A banjo (and banjo ukulele will sound bright and upbeat, and the tone can be adjusted by tuning the drum head

A ukulele on the other hand, will sound deeper and more mellow. This sound will vary depending on the wood used and the shape and size of the body, but can’t be changed.

Ease of play

Probably the most important difference when deciding between the two instruments is how easy they each are to play.

The ukulele is one of the easiest instruments to learn thanks to having only a few simple chords and a basic strumming pattern. Starting with a ukulele is a good choice because of how easy it is to learn.

A banjo is slightly easier to play than a ukulele because the strings are easier to push down and strum, thanks to being made of a thinner, lighter gauge wire.

Choosing an Instrument

When it comes to string instruments there are so many to choose from! Whether you want to learn how to play a classic one like a guitar or some a bit funkier like a banjo or a ukulele, music lessons can help take you from music-illiterate to comfortable.

Both a banjo and a ukulele are fun to play and not terribly hard to learn, so whichever one you choose is a great choice to get started with.