Ukulele

Few instruments are as straightforward to learn than the ukulele. Learning a repertoire takes minimal time and effort.

What Is A Ukulele?

The ukulele is an incredibly flexible instrument, used and heard across numerous genres of music. As a lightweight four-stringed instrument that fits easily into gig bags, the ukulele makes an ideal instrument for beginners looking to learn songs quickly and efficiently. High-end models are typically constructed from materials like acacia koa or mahogany, while cheaper options are usually constructed of plywood or plastic.

The name ukulele comes from Hawaiian words meaning “jumping flea”, as its sound can resemble that of an insect’s wings flapping rapidly against each other. Portuguese immigrants introduced it to Hawaii via braguinha, a small four-stringed instrument closely related to mainland cavaquinhos, which they brought from Portugal.

A ukulele is distinguished by a circular hole in its soundboard that amplifies string vibrations to produce its signature sound. The neck typically comprises one piece of wood and features a fretboard featuring dots to indicate different pitches up the neck (or “scale”). Most models also contain nuts and tuning pegs for tuning purposes.

Most ukuleles resemble small acoustic guitars.  However, manufacturers have introduced several variations. There are square ukuleles, those designed to look like boat paddles, and even instruments resembling pineapples!

What Do They Do?

Ukuleles are highly versatile instruments that can cover anything from classical (Bach or Beethoven) to pop. As they occupy minimal physical or mental space, ukuleles make ideal additions for people living minimalist lifestyles, while offering beginners a fun way to make music, without being overly complex or time consuming.

The ukulele is often known as a quick guitar or “happy instrument”, due to its ease of learning. But don’t be fooled into thinking proficiency on any stringed instrument can happen quickly.  Without dedication for regular practice sessions, musical advancement may never occur.

As a starting point, chords are an excellent place to start learning the ukulele. To get you going quickly and effortlessly, invest in a chord chart and learn all the basic chords.

Joining a club can be one of the best ways to advance your ukulele skills. Joining will keep you motivated to practice, while an excellent teacher can accelerate your development exponentially. Be sure to set aside enough time for practice without getting distracted.  While learning ukulele may be enjoyable, its mastery takes practice.  No one should expect instantaneous success with playing this instrument!

Sound

Wood used in ukulele construction is key to its sound. Mahogany and koa woods produce rich, warm tones. The plastic beginner models may not offer as much resonance.

Ukuleles, like guitars, are tuned to standard tuning (E, A, D and G). To play different keys you simply change one or more string tuning using a tuner.

Strings are typically constructed out of nylon material but may also be made out of natural gut or steel. Nylon strings have a more gentle sound and are easier on your fingers than gut strings.

An octaver pedal can enhance the sound of any ukulele by shifting it an octave lower, giving chords thicker tones with more low notes.

An example is a C major chord with these pitches from lowest to highest: C4, E4, G4. When played using an octaver pedal, these pitches will still exist but one octave lower, making learning much simpler for beginners.

Origins

The ukulele made a dramatic comeback during the 90s as more manufacturers started producing them, drawing people in due to its fun size and easy learning nature. Sales quickly skyrocketed as people discovered its versatility, portability, and use in multiple music genres.

Many people associate the Ukulele with Hawaii, yet that is only partially true. While Hawaii did a fantastic job of popularizing and popularizing it among their community members, this instrument actually derives from European stringed instruments called Lutes.

Hawaii was having difficulty recruiting workers to staff its sugar and pineapple plantations during the mid-1800’s, as many native Hawaiians were dying of diseases. First they tried Chinese workers.  Later on they imported Portuguese workers from Madeira and Azores, bringing with them instruments believed to be precursors of today’s ukuleles.

Hawaiian King David Kalakauna took great delight in making the ukulele an integral part of Hawaiian music, helping it gain greater prominence among local audiences and become one of its iconic instruments. Today, its popularity is widespread and enjoyed worldwide by people of all backgrounds, providing fun and easy instrument for any occasion or mood!

Baritone Ukulele

The baritone ukulele, more commonly referred to by its short name “bari,” is a great choice for anyone looking to add depth to their playing. Combining the bassier voice of guitar with chord placements similar to soprano or tenor ukuleles, its simplicity creates an accessible instrument suitable for all styles and genres of music.  This can vary from experienced guitarists who find comfort with low tunings, to newcomers starting out on the instrument because of its ease of use. Many baritone players come from experienced guitarists coming over from playing guitar themselves, while some beginners have found comfort as newcomers due to its ease of use!

Baritone ukuleles stand out from their ukulele family due to their longer scale length, which allows for larger chord stretches. While this can present newcomers with some difficulty when learning chords, more experienced musicians who wish to advance their playing can find baritones invaluable! 

Electric Ukulele

Electric ukuleles are stringed musical instruments that require amplifiers in order to be heard. Like electric guitars, ukuleles can be connected with various effects pedals and amps in order to produce various sounds. Ukuleles have gained in popularity recently thanks to online videos, celebrity endorsements, boutique manufacturers offering steel-stringed versions with equalizers built-in.

There are two general categories of electric ukuleles: acoustic-electric and solid body. Acoustic-electric models typically utilize piezo pickup systems, which convert string vibrations to an electrical signal for amplifiers to receive. This helps accurately reproduce an acoustic instrument’s clean tone.

The solid body design allows the instrument to be connected to an amplifier or sound system, producing a louder and more versatile sound. Just like electric guitars, solid body electric ukuleles feature magnetic pickups that capture the vibrations of the strings and convert them into electrical signals. These signals can then be manipulated and amplified to produce various tones and effects.

Banjo Ukulele

The banjo ukulele combines the body (head section) of a banjo with the fretboard, four strings, tuning system and tuning of an ukulele into one instrument with round head shape featuring peg head with flat neck.  They feature a fretboard inlaid with mother of pearl position markers, and available in either openback or resonator models in tenor, soprano and concert sizes. Although its exact invention remains unclear it is widely credited to Alvin D. Keech from 1917 or 1918 in New York, and John A. Bolander from California circa 1916 for their invention respectively.

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