By Brendan Lai-Tong
There is something about playing the ukulele that is innately fun and rewarding. If you didn’t already know, the sweet sound of this four stringed instrument has been around since the 1800s and originated in Hawaii. It is said that Portuguese immigrants who came to Hawaii brought an instrument with them known as the caviquinho. Much like the ukulele, it is a small and four stringed instrument. When the Hawaiians saw how rapidly and nimbly the strings of the caviquinho could be played, they gave it the nickname “ukulele“, which roughly translates to “jumping flea“. Eventually, this instrument evolved into what we know as the ukulele.
Lately there has been a huge resugence in the popularity of the ukulele. The instrument is fun, portable and easy to dive into. It’s not hard to see why everyone wants to jump on board, especially considering how easy it looks when in the hands of a skilled professional like Jake Shimabukoro! Check out Jake’s amazing performance of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody below to see him in action:
“So how do I play like that?!” you ask. Well, first you’re going to need a ukulele! Most music stores will have them readily available, and they come in four different sizes: Soprano, Concert, Tenor and Baritone. In a recent feature in Making Music Magazine, Jake talks at length about his experiences and his love for the ukulele. In a nod to those looking to start learning how to play the ukulele, Jake commented:
“You can go to the music store and pick one up for $50,” says Shimabukuro. “It’s affordable, it’s portable, it’s everybody’s instrument. You don’t have to take lessons, and you don’t have to practice three hours a day.”
“I think the best thing to do is go to the music store and see which one feels best to you,” he says, adding that he plays tenor at concerts. “I started out on the soprano, then I went to concert, and now I play tenor. With the tenor you get a couple more frets, and it’s got this rich, warm, sound, where the soprano tends to have a brighter sound.”
You can read the full article in Making Music Magazine’s March/April 2013 issue.
Now that you have an idea about which ukulele will best suit your needs, you’ll need some method books and repertoire to perform. Mel Bay Publishing has produced many great resources to learn ukulele over the years. Here are some of their top recommendations to help you get started.
The first two recommendations: First Lessons – Ukulele and Chord Melody Method are excellent ways to get started. First Lessons – Ukulele includes a CD and DVD to help you start learning quickly. It provides instruction on the most basic necessities, such as holding the uke properly and forming simple chords, up to more advanced techniques, which include transposing, using second and third position chords, and picking and strumming melody solos. Chord Melody Method is a great companion work to this first book. It is a great resource for expanding your knowledge about how to play chords on the ukulele as well as how to create melodies.
Once you have a good understanding of the how to play the ukulele you’ll also need some cool songs to impress your friends. The Bach Uke Book and Metallica for Ukulele are perfect for this. The Bach Uke Book contains ukelele duets which can be played with the included accompaniment CD or with another friend who plays uke. Metallica for Ukulele speaks for itself. You can now rock out with 18 of Metallica’s hits including Fade to Black, Enter Sandman and more! You can find more ukulele method books and repertoire here. Before you know it, you will be a ukulele superstar.
Hopefully this has sparked your interest in the ukulele. It’s fun, portable, easy to pick up, and it costs relatively little to get a good starter kit. The best part about playing the ukulele is that it can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. Once you get past the initial learning curve, things start to get really fun. See you all next time…. I’m going to put in some practice time on my new ukulele!
Brendan Lai-Tong is the Assistant Marketing Manager at Sheet Music Plus and holds degrees in trombone performance from University of Miami and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.