Welcome to “Geeks Love”, the column in which we unpick the “geek loves” we love to, well, love. This week we’ll be looking at the super (and totally adorable) ukulele.
What is a ukulele?
The ukulele (uke) is a small fretted instrument that, we’ll admit it, kinda looks like a small guitar. Modern ukes were developed from the Portuguese machada (or machete), which was brought over to Hawaii in the 1800s by settlers. Introduced to North America through the Panama-Pacific Expo in 1915, the uke became a popular addition to jazz bands in the 1920s, and has fans all over the world, particularly in Japan. The uke is commonly tuned in a different way from other instruments. Using “G, C, E, A”, it starts with a higher G note, and then dips lower to a C before climbing higher again. This is known as re-entrant tuning, so don’t worry: your new uke isn’t tuned “wrong”!
Why is ukulele popular?
Despite an undeserved reputation for being a childish instrument, the ukulele has a great sound and versatility. The three chords that feature in many songs (C, G, F) are simple to learn, so you can achieve a satisfying pay-off within a short space of time. However, there are more chords and different strumming techniques to learn, and being a really good uke player, as with any instrument, takes practice, so you can enjoy a challenge once you’ve mastered the basics. The uke comes in a range of sizes (soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone) and styles, so it’s great fun to select the uke that feels and sounds right for you. No type is the “best” one. Modern pop music has embraced the uke, so songs by Train, Bruno Mars, and ukulele star Jake Shimakuburo are within your reach. Or… you could learn this beaut.
How to pick up the ukulele:
- Pick out your ukulele style. It’s useful to have a look on youtube or go to a specialist music shop to see which feels right for you.
- Read a few reviews and buy your uke and a tuner. Despite the temptation, avoid using big online stores for your first uke if possible, and instead go for a specialist who will set up your uke correctly.
- Learn a few chords and practice some strumming. There are loads of resources out there to help you, from IRL teachers and books, to the vast network of online videos and chord sheets.
- Pick out a few songs to learn and have fun! Try out some local groups or get together with friends.
Geeks Love recommends:
- Makala Dolphin – a cost effective soprano uke that sounds great. $69.99
- Ohana produces a range of ukes with a lovely sound. Prices start at £99
- This list of online ukulele tutorials. Free!