The present paper shows a comparison between classical two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) finite elements (FEs), classical and refined 2D generalized differential quadrature (GDQ) methods and an exact three-dimensional solution. A free vibration analysis of one-layered and multilayered isotropic, composite and sandwich cylindrical and spherical shell panels is made. Low and high order frequencies are analyzed for thick and thin simply supported structures. Vibration modes are investigated to make a comparison between results obtained via the FE and GDQ methods (numerical solutions) and those obtained by means of the exact three-dimensional solution. The 3D exact solution is based on the differential equations of equilibrium written in general orthogonal curvilinear coordinates. This exact method is based on a layer-wise approach, the continuity of displacements and transverse shear/normal stresses is imposed at the interfaces between the layers of the structure. The geometry for shells is considered without any simplifications. The 3D and 2D finite element results are obtained by means of a well-known commercial FE code. Classical and refined 2D GDQ models are based on a generalized unified approach which considers both equivalent single layer and layer-wise theories. The differences between 2D and 3D FE solutions, classical and refined 2D GDQ models and 3D exact solutions depend on several parameters. These include the considered mode, the order of frequency, the thickness ratio of the structure, the geometry, the embedded material and the lamination sequence.
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