Learn About The Ukulele – Introduction
SSo, you’ve decided you want to learn the Ukulele and have stumbled across this humble little site in the hopes that you can find out more. In this article, you will learn about the Ukulele, it’s origins and history, its different sizes and hopefully you will have some of those crazy myths dispelled around the Ukulele. By the end of this article you should have enough knowledge to decide whether the Ukulele is for you and if so, what size of ukulele you want to look into.
Learn About The Ukulele – It’s Origin and history
When you think of the Ukulele, I’m sure you have pictures of people in Hawaiian shirts or on sun drenched beaches playing till their hearts’ content. In fact, while the Ukulele is extremely closely linked with Hawaii, it’s origins actually stem from the Madeira Islands in Portugal. The original instrument is actually called the machete (or Machete De Braga) and is a descendant of the Lute. It was given the name Ukulele by the Hawaiians when it was brought over by the Immigrants from Madeira who came to Hawaii to work in the sugar cane fields in the late 1800s, the most famous of whom is Manuel Nunes.
There are many stories about how the Ukulele got its name. It is said that the literal translation of the word Ukulele is Jumping Flea and stems from immigrants jumping off ship when arriving in Hawaii and playing so fast the Hawaiians thought their fingers looked like dancing fleas on the fret board.
Another story is that the instrument was given the name by King David Kalakaua, the last reigning King of Hawaii as his assistant, Edward Pervis, who was small in stature and extremely energetic, could play it and so it was named after him.
King Kalakaua was believed to have been a major influence on the Ukulele becoming adopted into Hawaiian culture. He loved the instrument and was passionate about developing Hawaiian culture in opposition to the culture of the immigrants who believe that other cultures were uncivilized and whose primary objective was to convert other natives to Christian worship and values.
The Hawaiian Ukulele was not introduced to the American mainland until 1915 during the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Fransisco where fair-goers saw Hawaiian Ukulele players playing as soloists or part of a band. Its popularity increased and production began in the mainland USA, with cheaper and more accessible models being made available. The Ukulele enjoyed much success and incorporation into the Jazz music scene into the 1930s when it slowly declined in popularity.
It’s popularity enjoyed a brief boom again during the 1940s and 50s when American servicemen brought them back after World War II from Hawaii but it’s popularity waned again with the advent of rock during the 1960s.
The Ukulele became popular again in the 1990s with many mainstream artists featuring it in their music. Since then, people have dusted off their old Ukuleles and many groups have been formed all around the world and is a popular social pastime. It has also been found to be increasingly taught in schools and is often taken up as a second instrument because of its ease of playing.
Learn About The Ukulele – The different Sizes
The original Ukulele came only in one size. This was known as the Soprano and is, today, one of the smallest sizes in the Ukulele family. It’s a great instrument for children or those with small hands. It measures around 51CM (20 inches long) and has 12 frets to the body of the Ukulele.
The next step up is the concert Ukulele. This measures around 58CM (23 inches). The neck and body are obviously longer and there is more room between the frets, thus making it easier for bigger hands to handle and play.
The third size is the tenner Ukulele and is possibly the most popular size today. It measures around 66CM (26 inches) and is played by many of the popular and well-known Ukulele artists.
The fourth and final model is the baritone Ukulele. This has differing tuning to the previous 3 sizes, being tuned more like a guitar, and comes in at 76CM (30 inches) and is the least popular due to its size and portability.
There are also two newer sizes on the market and these are the Sopranisimo and the Nanno. They have the same tuning as the Soprano, Concert and Tenner Ukuleles with the nano being tuned an octave higher.
Learn About The Ukulele – The Facts and the myths
Since starting my Ukulele journey I have heard several myths relating to the Ukulele and I am here to dispel them all. Usually, the first thing out of someone’s mouth when I say I play the Ukulele is “OH do you know any George Formby,” or in the case of the Americans, it’s Tiny Tim. I know of very few people that play music by either artist and it is possible to play anything from country to classical, Bluegrass to Blues on your Uke and there are many resources out there both free and paid that will teach you how to do this.
The Ukulele is easy. It is not. Like any musical instrument or skill, it takes time to master and only practice will enable you to both develop and excel as a player. What the Ukulele does have however, is a shallower learning curve. If you are debating taking up the Ukulele, you can learn 3 chords and be up and running playing at least one song within a very short time. If you want to progress however, then it takes time and dedication.
Soprano Ukuleles are for starters. No. They are not. They are the original Ukulele and bigger is not necessarily better. Your Ukulele is a very personal thing from sound to feel to comfort. If you are going to buy, try to get to a music shop and hold/play some Ukuleles. If you can’t play there’s probably someone in the music shop that can so get them to play it so you have an idea of the sound.
Learn About The Ukulele – What’s Next?
So, now you know about the Ukulele, your choices and a little about its history. If you have decided that the ukulele is for you and you wish to go out and get your very own instrument, then be sure to do your due diligence so that what you buy is what you like. It’s a very personal choice and there are lots of factors to consider before you jump in. You don’t want to waste your hard-earned cash and discover that you’ve bought an instrument that you don’t like or doesn’t stay in tune or is too big/small.
If you have questions that I haven’t answered on here then please feel free to put them in the comments below and I will do my best to answer them.