Tag Archives: ukulele

Always be yourself, unless you can be an ukulele player

The ukulele is one of the most famous and accessible string instruments of our time. From the moment it was brought to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants to the present day, this cute guitar has the power to make anybody smile. Today we are celebrating this with International Play Your Ukulele Day.

When Manuel Nunes, José do Espírito Santo, and Augusto Dias moored their ship the SS Ravenscrag on the Hawaiian coast in 1879 to cut down some sugar cane, no one could have imagined that this trio would change Western pop music forever.

The Jumping Flea

The local population welcomed the three guys with open arms. In turn, to thank the locals for their warm welcome, the woodworkers from Madeira gave away one of their homemade instruments. This small guitar inspired by the Portuguese cavaquinho is what is now better known as the ukulele.

Queen Kalakaua was captivated by the instrument. The cheerful sound and easy handling of the cute guitar made the ukulele very attractive to the queen. That was why she regularly played it during meetings in her palace.

Because of this love for the ukulele the instrument became a hit on Hawaii. The name ukulele refers to its cheerful sounds which, according to Kalakaua, resembles a jumping flea: a ukulele.

America under the spell of the ukulele

The “jumping flea” crosses over to America some thirty-six years after its arrival in Hawaii. The Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco marks the breakthrough of the small guitar in the United States. The first ukulele-hype lasts about five years from the exhibition in 1915.

During that period the instrument was often used by the composers of Tin Pan Alley–the place in New York where hundreds of musicians wrote pop music on a daily basis. Around 1920, the small guitar disappeared from the mainstream for a while but re-entered the scene again after the Second World War with Arthur Godfrey’s television programme.

For fifteen minutes, every week, Godfrey uses the television medium to teach his audience how to play the ukulele. As the television itself becomes more and more an accessible device after the war, the popularity of the small guitar is suddenly increasing again as well: the second ukulele-hype is a fact. The plastic version of the guitar, available through TV-pal, saw more than nine million copies of the instrument sold.

The United Kingdom jams along

The jumping flea not only jumps happily around in the United States. Certainly not.  When the British discovered the instrument, a true ukulele fever occurred in 1930. One of the most famous ukulele players of that time was the comedian George Formby.

Formby uses the instrument to accompany his songs during shows. One such song that is still seen as an ukulele classic is When I’m Cleaning Windows. It is the gateway song that encourages the general British public to buy a ukulele.

After the sixties the little guitar disappears back to the underground again and stays there until crazy hipster Tiny Tim scores the hit Tiptoe Through the Tulips. This gave the ukulele an eccentric stamp and it remained a popular instrument for artists outside the mainstream ever since.

Playing the ukulele

Playing the ukulele is not as difficult to master in comparison to a guitar. Moreover, the instrument is not as expensive as a guitar. The small size makes it easy to bring along on a trip with you, or to friends. That said, it is important to know how to tame the jumping flea, or in other words: there are two accepted tunings for the four strings.

The first one is in the key of D. The strings are tuned in A, D, Fis and B starting from the lowest and working your way up to the highest. The second tuning is in the key of C. Again we work our way from the lower strings up. This means that your strings are tuned in G, C, E and A. Keep in mind that the 4th string (the string closest to your chest when in playing position) is actually the second-highest sounding string, as opposed to a guitar’s sixth string that produces the lowest note on a guitar.

An ukulele also includes a variety of accessories that help you make playing even easier. Such as, for example, a tuning device, a sleeve, and a stand. Very similar to what you basically need for a guitar.

Play Your Ukelele Day

During the international Play Your Ukulele Day, we’ll do a shout out to everyone to pick up the little guitar and enjoy jamming along with hits as Somewhere over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, or Rise by Eddie Vedder.

And there are a few more tracks that you can use to steal the show today, that’s why we’ll list them below. But not before we’ve provided you with three cool trivia about the ukulele that you can tell your audience between the songs.

Did you know that Beatles’ guitarist George Harrison had a pile of ukuleles in his trunk for years. Just to hand out and jam with random people? Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder even recorded an entire album with the jumping flea! And one of the most famous pop stars of the moment is a very talented ukulele player.. Yes, we are talking about Taylor Swift.

Three tracks to steal the show on your ukulele

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole with the medley Over The Rainbow’ & ‘What A Wonderful World may seem like a challenge, but if you don’t try it, you won’t know if it works for you. With this medley you really have a twofer! Maybe you are in a more melancholic mood? Then play along with Eddie Vedder’s Rise. This song is of the soundtrack of the motion picture Into the Wild.

If you want to honour the classics, then squeeze your throat and do your best imitation of cult hero Tiny Tim. Tiptoe through the Tulips is for the real ukulele connoisseur. For more inspiration check out our ukelele channel. Enjoy and happy jamming!

5 essential ukulele accessories – the fun and the functional

Ukuleles are more popular than ever before, and why wouldn’t they be? Ukuleles are a great instrument, they’re fun, relatively affordable and a good starting point for people who want to learn an instrument. They’re also pretty small and portable, so it is easy to see why a lot of people opt for them as their first step into playing music.

This is a guest post by Ben from Subreel, a website featuring music how-to guides, equipment reviews, and much more.

If you’ve recently started playing, you’ll need to learn not only the basics of how your ukulele works, chords and finger positions, you’ll also need to learn about accessories. “How many can there be?” I hear you ask. Well, a surprising amount, but we’re here to help you navigate through these accessories, from the fun to the functional.

1. Gig Bag or Case

What good is a portable instrument if you don’t have the right equipment to carry it around? The only way to take care of a ukulele on the go is by using either a gig bag (these will normally be padded) or a hard case. Either way, these will protect your ukulele against everything from rain to bumps and scratches. Gig bags also usually have space for all of your other accessories…

2. Tuner

Strings will inevitably go out of tune, it happens naturally, not just by knocking the tuning pegs, so the tuner is a pretty essential item! You can get tuners which have the ability to tune multiple instruments, or tuners specific to the ukulele. If you are a beginner, a ukulele tuner can make sure you don’t make any mistakes. The standard tuning for a ukulele is GCEA (from top to bottom as you look at the strings).

3. Stand

When your ukulele is at home, whether in a home studio or just in your bedroom, you’ll probably want it to be on display! Not just because it looks nice, but because it will remind you to keep picking it up and practicing. A ukulele stand means it is always there at your fingertips, but safely kept (leaning against a chair is a recipe for disaster!) If you own an expensive ukulele, you should definitely buy a high-end, sturdy stand to ensure the worst doesn’t happen.

4. Capo

A capo is an essential piece of kit for players of all sorts of stringed instruments, and the ukulele is no different! A capo covers all of the strings of your ukulele and effectively changes the length of the strings you are playing, and therefore the pitch, making it easier to play certain songs. A capo can also be used to change the pitch of a song to suit your vocal range, so it is a very useful piece of kit for those who sing along when playing.

5. String Care Accessories

Strings are, of course, vital to your playing! For beginners especially, it can be easy to ignore the strings and assume they will sound the same, but strings that aren’t cared for can become dull and even rusty over time, meaning you will have to replace them sooner. Accessories to help with this include a string cleaner, which is designed to wipe across the strings and remove grease and other residue. Other string care accessories include humidifiers, which ensure that the humidity in your case is kept at the right level to avoid damage to strings or the wood of your instrument.

Conclusion

It can feel overwhelming when you start out any musical journey, but the above accessories are nothing to be daunted by if you are a beginner. They will all help you to become a better ukulele player over time. As you become a more accomplished musician, your accessories will likely evolve, along with your style of playing. This is just the first step.