In recent years, the adorable instrument known as the ukulele has enjoyed a massive surge in popularity due to its accessibility and affordability. It also doesn’t hurt that celebrities endorse ukuleles and YouTube offers a plethora of instructional videos. When it comes to the world of string instruments, the ukulele is a great place to start. In fact, it is one of the easiest and fastest instruments to learn, which makes it ideal for those interested in learning how to play the guitar in the future.
Introducing the Ukulele
Although the ukulele was invented in Europe, the diminutive instrument gained a foothold in Hawaii near the end of the 19th century, when a Portuguese immigrant introduced his traditional guitar-like branguinha to the island through an impromptu performance upon his arrival. A member of the lute family, the ukulele is a string instrument known to look like a small guitar featuring a guitar-shaped body, short neck, fretboard, a bridge, the sound hole, turning keys, and only four strings attached.
The instrument’s small size gives you the opportunity to take it with you everywhere you go. The ukulele offers a chance to everyone of all ages – young or old – to ace it without any prior musical education whatsoever. Learn how to master the first steps of playing the ukulele and, with enough practice, someday you may be the greatest player around. Once you get it going, Four String Fun will be yours.
A Brief History of the Ukulele
For the first decades of the 20th century, Hawaiian kitsch became popular in the United States and so did the ukulele. Department stores offered free ukuleles with the purchase of lessons, and small plastic ukuleles were manufactured and sold at cheap prices, increasing the instrument’s popularity even as the Great Depression hit. With the rise of television in the 1950s, the ukulele enjoyed another surge in acceptance thanks to TV host Arthur Godfrey, who donned a Hawaiian shirt and taught millions of viewers how to play the diminutive instrument in their own homes.
True mainstream recognition of the ukulele came in the form of Blue Hawaii, a feature film that turned out to be the biggest box office hit of Elvis Presley’s career and spawned a number one soundtrack that remained for five months on the Billboard chart. Unfortunately, television also killed America’s love for the ukulele by exposing audiences to cutting-edge acts like the Beatles, who did not play a ukulele. The final nail in the coffin of this delightful instrument came in 1967, when the campy and creepy Tiny Tim appeared on late night television with his ukulele and invited viewers to tiptoe through the tulips. That was it for the ukulele until its recent resurgence in popular culture.
Tuning Your Ukulele
Before you start, make sure your ukulele is in tune as this is an important first step. You will know it is not in tune because it will sound horrible and might even turn you off the whole idea in the first place, so make sure it is tuned correctly. Remember, all ukuleles are expected go out of tune at some point here or there, so if yours starts to sound off track, make sure to check your tuning.
Holding Your Ukulele
If you’re right handed, hold the neck of the ukulele with your left hand, allowing you to strum the strings using your right hand. Alternatively, for the southpaws, you want to hold the neck of the ukulele with your right hand so that you can strum the strings using your dominant left hand. Get comfortable cradling your ukulele and it will serve you well.
Playing Your Ukulele
Now that you’re comfortable holding the instrument, begin by taking your right forefinger and brushing it across the strings. There you go, you just played your very first chord on the ukulele! When you play with instruments, it is essential to follow the beat as you’re strumming along. Most popular music has a 4/4 beat rhythm, which means that there are four beats in every bar.
For the first-time ukulele player, there are several important chords with which you need to become familiar. A majority of songs can be played once you have these chords down pat. Once you’ve got the basics learned, you can move on to more advanced lessons and figure out how to play your favorite songs on the ukulele. It won’t be long before you are entertaining your family and friends with your serious four-string skills.