Are you looking forward to playing a string instrument but don’t want to settle for a guitar?
Then chances are that you’ve already heard about both Ukulele and banjo.
Or you could simply be searching out the differences between these two for research or assignment?
Whichever your reason is, we got you.
Here is a quick analysis to help decide/understand between the two;
Table of Contents
What is Banjo?
The banjo is a string instrument, which is played quite similarly with the guitar.
It’s often associated with various music genres, some of which being bluegrass music, classic jazz and old school music.
The banjo is also said to have a more complex picking than the guitar, the reason as to why it’s used for advanced tuning, by advanced performers.
Its history dates back to the 13th century, where it’s said to have been used first in Africa.
Let’s get a deeper understanding of the banjo history;
It’s believed that the banjo was first innovated in Sub-Saharan Africa around the 13th century. But the accounts aren’t that sure so it could be a bit earlier.
According to researchers, it’s the slaves that were taken from Africa to various parts of the word, who contributed to the formation of the banjos.
At that time, the innovators decided to create this musical instruments not as a part of the entertainment, but as a remembrance of where they came from.
And for this, they tried to remain as authentic as possible by making them from scratch using the readily available materials within their environment (gourds, wood, animal skins, horsehair, animal gut, etc.)
Because the 1st lot of slaves from this part of Africa 1st landed in the Caribbean before spreading to other parts of the world, the first narrations of the availability of banjo-like musical instruments in the modern world can be traced back to the island’s plantations.
And as slavery spread to other parts of the world, so did the African music genre and banjo instrument.
Also, the use of banjos, which were at that time known as “Banjar” continued to grow, mainly because of the ban on the use of drums imposed by the plantations’ slave masters. This’s after they discovered slaves were using them to send code messages to each other.
However, the traditional banjos contained no fret and had 3-4 strings, which produced deep mellow sounds.
Banjo was introduced to the world in around 1781 by Thomas Jefferson, through his writing. Afterward, whites started to learn how to play.
But it wasn’t until 1830-1840 when it became rapidly famous used as musicians Joel Sweeney and Dan Emmet began to play.
By the 1940s, it was being played with modern bluegrass music and it has spread to other genres such as jazz since them.
What is Ukulele?
The Ukulele is a unique instrument that belongs to the lute family.
It’s basically made-up of 4 nylon strings, giving it a simple but cheerful sound that’s loved across the world.
And sorry to break the bubble, but if you’re one of those people who think the Ukulele first originated from Hawaii, then you have been mistaken all your life! And this’s why;
In our search for the brief history of Ukulele, we were taken back to Madeira, where the first accounts of the innovation of Ukulele point towards.
This small mountainous island in the southeast parts of Portugal used to be home to various tourists in the early 1800s.
The tourists loved listening to music and they specifically preferred special machete tunes. These were tunes created by a small guitar-like instrument.
And it’s this machete that was later upgraded to become the modern Ukulele we all know today.
It first founds its way to Hawaii in 1879 by Joao Fernandez a Portuguese immigrant of those times.
Even then, the Ukulele was popularly referred to as braginho by the Portuguese, while the natives branded it Ukulele.
Its sounds were automatically loved by the people of Hawaii and it soon spread throughout the entire region, hence being adopted as the Hawaii music instrumental image.
IT’s believed that the Ukulele was created by 3 Portuguese woodworkers (Jose do Espirito Santo, Manuel Nunes, and Augusto Dias), who simply wanted to make a living out of it. They were known string instruments innovators of those times.
Today’s Ukulele is actually a combination of the machete and the rajao, both of Portuguese origin.
As the Ukulele music spread in Hawaii, it quickly made its way to royal entertainments and soon gained the interest of Jonah Kumalae, a popular Ukulele Manufacturer in Hawaii, in the 1915s.
Here it was made up of koa, a hardwood, which gave it distinctive round sound.
He introduced this incredible instruments to the Pan Pacific International Exhibition, which triggered its fame throughout the world.
Some of the most famous Ukulele musicians include; Jake Simabukuro, George Formby, Eric Clapton, among several others.
Today, the Ukulele continues to enjoy popularity all thanks to its humble Portuguese origin.
Banjo vs. Ukulele (Comparison)
The shape of the Instruments
When you closely examine the modern Ukulele, you will notice that it has a lot of similarities with the guitar.
The major difference, however, is that the Ukulele is like a smaller version of the guitar. And this is true in every sense (weight and size included).
If you have played guitar before and you happen to take the Ukulele into your hands then you will immediately realize what we are talking about.
On the other hand, a closer examination of the banjo will give you a different picture from that of a quick look, which makes it appear like a guitar.
In fact, you will realize that the banjo has a more circular shape, especially at its back-end. This is the area where the membrane stretches over its strings.
And that’s the major difference between the banjo and the Ukulele as far as their shapes are concerned.
From the above information regarding the historical backgrounds of both the banjo and the ukulele, it’s evident that these instruments share a common origin; Portuguese. But, that’s really all about it.
There are several differences in their history, worth mentioning.
Take for instance the ukulele, it was first discovered in the 1800s, while the banjo was believed to have been around from way back in the 13th century, but was introduced to the world around 1781.
Also, the ukulele was a creation of three individuals of Portuguese origin, who wanted to make a living out of it, by selling and playing to tourists, who seemingly loved its sounds.
The Banjo, on the other hand, was a creation of individuals of African-American origin, who had come out of slavery ancestry, and wanted to create something that the world reminds them of their origin.
And because of this, the first banjo, wasn’t as good looking as the first ukulele, since the slaves only used what was within their miserable environment.
Also, through narrations, the first songs to be released using the banjo was meant to mock Africans, calling them all sorts of names, while the ukulele released “good” songs that were acceptable widely.
Today, both the ukulele and the banjo co-exist in the music industry and are greatly embraced and used to produce separate and uniquely flavored musical sounds, which are acceptable to both the young and old throughout the world.
Currently, the ukulele has four various sizes acceptable and available in various parts of the world.
And they include; the small soprano, the baritone, the tenor and of course the traditional ukuleles.
So, if you’re considering purchasing one, these are the 4 sizes that you’re most likely to find in most contemporary music stores, globally.
But when it comes to the banjo, its main sizes include the mandolin, the hybrid banjo, the customized banjo, banjos with various configurations among other sizes.
So, as you can see, banjo presents multiple size options to its users as compared to the ukulele.
Another notable difference when it comes to the sizes of these two amazingly unique musical instruments is that while the ukulele proudly exhibits steady and specific characteristics, the banjo offers room for variety and creativity.
So, you can today order a banjo according to your preference and have it delivered the way you want.
And this makes owning a banjo more advantageous as compared to the ukulele.
This could be the reason as to why the banjo is more acceptable among the youth players since the majority of them prefer diversity.
They love exploring and get bored pretty first, so a banjo gives them room to grow with it.
The Number of Strings
When it comes to the number of strings, the ukulele usually has 4-strings. And the 4 strings make their way over the hollow shaped body, all the way to the small bridge before the hole.
On the other hand, you can easily find a banjo with not only 4-strings but also 5 and even 6-strings.
But, the most commonly used banjo is the 5-string, because it’s easily available and sold in various designs.
These two string instruments contain various tunings.
For instance, the ukulele mainly uses the G-C-E-A as its basic setup. This allows players to apply various permutations and combinations to achieve various sounds.
It’s actually pretty simple to progress with the ukulele as opposed to the banjo.
Talking of banjo, this musical instrument has the most variant tuning options. And most of them tend to offer an open-chorded tuning option. That’s for example, D-B-G-D-G.
Players who play this standard banjo tune will end up achieving chord d, that’s if they don’t get any of their fingers on the board.
This is the main reason as to why we advise beginners to try out banjo before experimenting with the ukulele.
String Alignment Differences
The string pegs of both the ukulele and the banjo tend to be slightly different, that’s for a keen eye.
The ukulele, for example, has its 4 strings pulled up and fixed on the top part of its neck using four different pegs.
But, a 5-string banjo has its 5th peg around the edge of the 5th fret.
So, the next time you find yourself confused about the two at the music store, this is one of the simplest ways to separate the banjo from the ukulele.
Which is easier to play banjo or ukulele?
When it comes to the ease of play, according to numerous opinions, banjo takes the crown.
This is especially true for individuals who have played guitar before as the banjo and guitar share specific aspects, so it isn’t much difficult to get around it.
But if you’re a fresh starter then the ukulele is pretty easy to learn than the banjo. This is because it’s pretty easy to finger chord and sample ukulele’s notes as compared to the banjo.
Also, the nylon strings are soft for the fingers thus making it fun to play as you learn, even for long hours.
For the banjo, be ready to put in as much effort as the kind of play you want to achieve with it.
For instance, it’s easier to pick clawhammer as compared to the 3-finger Earl Scruggle style.
So, based on this, we can comfortably say that the ukulele is easier to play than the banjo. But, that doesn’t make banjo playing any harder.
FAQs About Banjo vs Ukulele
Should I start with ukulele or banjo if I am a total beginner?
This is pretty easy; ukulele is the easiest to learn for beginners due to its simple chords. It’s cute, small and won’t scare you.
You can learn several chords in a matter of hours.
However, you can still find yourself choosing differently if you try both out. So your advice is to grab them both and choose for yourself what you like best.
After all, it’s all about YOU!
Are ukulele and banjo chords the same?
There are some banjo-ukuleles in the market and those are the ones with the same chords as a standard ukulele.
So, always examine them as not all types of banjos share the same chording with the standard ukulele.
String musical instruments offer a lot of satisfaction to their players. And so does the Ukulele and the banjo.
But if you want to try playing them both, you first have to understand their differences.
The banjo presents various playing options, which is great for adventurous players, while the ukulele is the easiest t learn.
This and much more are some of the notable differences between the Ukulele and Banjo. And we hope you’ve been well-informed with this article.
Now that you’ve, it’s time to go out there and find out for yourself which one of these uniquely amazing instruments work best for you.
It’s time to explore and create a space for yourself in the musical scenes!