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I am self taught Ukulele Player and playing Ukulele for almost one and half years now and can play almost all the open chords. Learnt everything with internet resources. And this is my first string instrument experience.

My learning journey (and almost sure, everyone's would be) consisted of drastically slow sync up with chord switches while keeping the strum going on. It was a process, that I had to struggle for a long time and took me months to do it in an acceptable way. Same happened for some two to three finger picking patterns that I learnt.

I am planning to learn guitar next. My biggest worry, is if I have to restart all the journey of strumming and chord switching once again.

So, my question is, if I learn to strum and pick once on Ukulele, will the same learning be applied to other string instruments like Guitar, Mandolin, Banjo etc. or there will again be a learning curve with these instruments?

Having said that, I have seen guitar players who easily pick up any string instrument

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Arguably, the learning curve is at its steepest when adjusting for the different size and dimensions of the new non-bowed string instrument, to the point where that might actually be the biggest factor for determining whether to continue with the new instrument. I had the good fortune to try out a guitar, an electric bass, and a ukulele at a local music museum, and the increased size of the guitar and bass (compared to the ukulele) was a turn-off for me after a few minutes fumbling with holding them and playing basic notes (I am only roughly 5 feet tall, and I am an adult).

The number of strings and different (standard) tuning(s) of the new non-bowed string instrument also make the learning curve steeper when learning that instrument given experience with an older non-bowed string instrument. Old shapes no longer work, and if this was your primary way of memorizing scales and chords, you now need to learn new shapes.

Other than those, experience with an older non-bowed string instrument should transfer fairly smoothly to the new one, especially if both have frets (at every semitone).

(This is speaking as someone who's also self-taught on the ukulele but who has tried a guitar and electric bass for a teeny bit.)

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  • What I understood is, for a right handed player, all or most of the work done on right hand and subconscious mind can still be done on a new instrument, only new learning would be on the left hand? Jan 10 at 13:26
  • Besides that, if this is your very first instrument, you're learning lessons that will help with any kind of instrument, even piano or winds, maybe without realizing it. You're learning about rhythm and tempo, higher and lower pitch, and even at the most basic levels, building pathways in your brain that learn to move your fingers in time with musical prompts. Jan 10 at 13:28
  • @PalashKantiKundu - No, the right hand still needs to adjust for the new size, dimensions, number of strings, and tuning. Heck, even if all you do is change the tuning of your old instrument, the right hand still needs to adjust.
    – Dekkadeci
    Jan 10 at 13:31
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Strumming involves playing all strings (often) in one up or down movement.

Ukes have 4 strings, guitars 6, more widely spaced, so the action is similar, but not the same. It won't take long to adapt when strumming.

Finger picking is also different, in that the uke strings are closer, and there's only 4. So adapting will take more effort.

Chord shapes - again, different, but have a good think. Due to its tuning, the chord shapes are tranferrable from uke to guitar, with only the bottom 2 strings needing attention. It may be that you can use exactly the same shape fingering for some chords - it's just that the chord names will confuse - for example, an open G shape on uke will deliver an open D chord on guitar.

Another, obvious difference is the physical size - the guitar not only being longer and wider, but deeper, and needing to be strapped on when playing stood up.

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In addition to the difference in physical size and the different (standard) tunings there are further drastic differences between the instruments you mentioned: The usage of plectra and the musical role of the instrument. These differences occur to some extent between all four mentioned instruments and are largest between the guitar and the mandolin:

Both instruments can be played with bare fingers or with a plectrum. Many guitarists are reasonably fluid in picking and strumming, both, with and without plectrum. Yet mandolinists usually never play without a plectrum. The spacing of the strings is too narrow for comfortable finger picking; especially the spacing of the double courses calls for a plectrum. Note also that plectra cut specifically for the mandolin tend to be smaller than plectra for guitar; not only due to the string spacing, but also due to the different thickness and mass of the strings. If you start to use plectra, you will find plenty of new movements for your right hand (more unbiased: picking hand / non-fretting hand) to learn. In return you will be able to produce a lot more different sound, even if you stick to one instrument.

Both isntruments are suitable for playing melodies and for playing chords, as well. Melodic and chordal literature exists for both instruments. However, when they play together, the mandolin will mostly play melodies and the guitar will mostly play chords. The mandolin's higher pitch and the guitar's larger number of strings lead to this preassignment of roles, to which they lend themselves. In consequence the repertoire of these instruments differs.

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  • Wow, this is a very good point. This was almost missed out. Thank you very much for making the answers richer. Jan 11 at 7:26

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