The ukulele or uke is one of the most sought-after stringed instruments in the world. You probably won’t see one at a concerto, but you’d definitely spot one or two ukes in a crowded place such as a beach bonfire. The chill and happy vibe of ukulele tunes is perhaps the top reason why so many people want to learn how to play one.
You might already know a few ukulele songs and even some basic chords, but how much do you really know about it? We’ve gathered the 10 most interesting facts about the ukulele in the next few sections.
1.) Ukulele was developed in the islands of Hawaii
In fact, the word ukulele is a Hawaiian word which literally translates to jumping flee. The real story behind its quite interesting name still remains a mystery.
Nevertheless, the instrument rose to popularity all over Hawaii back in the 1900s. A few years after, it was introduced to locals in mainland USA during an international exposition. It took a while for the ukulele to become as popular as the acoustic and electric guitar because of the birth of rock and roll in USA.
In the late 19th century and early 20th century, the instrument has earned more attention thanks to musicians like George Formby, George Harrison, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, James Hill, Jake Shimabukuro and Tiny Tim. Since then, the uke has become one of the most in-demand instruments in the market.
2.) The famed instrument traces its roots back to Portugal
While the name and style of instrument is 100% Hawaiian, its design was in fact based from a Portuguese musical instrument called the machete. The machete is also tiny stringed instrument that sailors mostly used when they were away from home.
The Portuguese immigrants who came to the island to work as sugarcane farmers brought the instrument with them. They played it in front of the locals, who were dascinated by the speed of the musician’s fingers and the unique sound of the instrument.
3.) An instrument well-loved by the royals
Soon after the invention of the first ukulele, the King of Hawaii back in the late 1800s, King Kalakaua widely promoted the instrument as an essential part of the country’s culture and tradition.
The royal family often had ukulele musicians attend their events and other formal occasions. They used the instrument to create beautiful music that convinced foreign missionaries of the locals’ class and sophistication.
4.) Queen Liliuokalani’s Aloha Oe is one of the best known uke songs in Hawaii
If you’ve seen the movie Lilo & Stitch, you probably remember the scene between Lilo and her elder sister. During the tender and sad moment, Nani sang Aloha Oe to Lilo, a classic Hawaiian song written by Queen Liliuokalani.
She was the last queen of Hawaii before the island was conquered by the Americans. The song is about bidding farewell with a warm embrace.
5.) Choose from either wooden or plastic ukes
An authentic Hawaiian ukulele is made from top-quality Acacia Koa wood. It’s a tree species that only grows in the tropical forests of O’ahu and Maui. Because Koa wood are expensive to sourc, not a lot of musicians can afford to buy an authentic Hawaiian uke. Thankfully, there are cheaper versions made from rosewood, mahogany, maple wood, and even plastic.
6.) Ukes come in different sizes
The four sizes of ukulele are named baritone, tenor, concerto and soprano. Sopranos are the smallest version measuring only up to 20 inches. If you’re eyeing on something bigger, you can try finding a baritone ukulele which tends to measure up to 30 inches long.
When you buy a ukulele, it’s best to consider the size for comfort, portability and sound quality. Take note that the length of the uke would greatly influence the quality of the sound you produce. The shorter the length of the fretboard, the higher pitch you will hear.
7.) You can play songs like Bohemian Rhapsody with your uke
Think you can only play chill music with your ukulele? Jake Shimabukuro, a famous ukulele musician and YouTuber played Queen’s anthem song, Bohemian Rhapsody using only 4 strings. In fact his crazy cover was one of the main reasons why the instrument gained more exposure in the early 20th century.
Aside from Bohemian Rhapsody, there are other songs you can play such as:
- Hey There Delilah
- Tears in Heaven
- Hey Soul Sister
- House of Gold
- Somewhere Over the Rainbow
Check out the chords and tabs provided by us and practice playing them once in a while.
8.) The early types of ukuleles used strings made from animal gut
Back in the early times, ukulele strings were made from catgut. Now, do take note that catgut is not really sourced from your feline friends. Instead these are made from sheep or cow intestines, processed to create durable musical strings.
Modern types of ukes, especially the cheaper ones no longer use catgut strings. Instead, ukuleles today come with nylon strings. Unlike the biodegradable strings used before, nylon tends to last a few months to a year depending on how often you use it.
9.) I’m Yours by Jason Mraz is probably the most popular uke song
Nine years ago, Jason Mraz released his hit song “I’m Yours”. Instantly, the song gained solid recognition thanks to its simple and feel-good tune. It ranked #1 on the Billboards hit chart for more than 76 weeks, making it the most well-known ukulele song in history. The song was downloaded on various streaming platform more than six million times all over the globe.
10.) The uke is relatively easier to learn compared to other similar instruments
With its short fretboard and fewer number of strings, you will most likely learn how to play a ukulele after a couple of weeks. There are a handful of books that teaches how to play ukulele and you can order them online or grab them from your favorite bookshops.
If you prefer learning through demonstration, head over to YouTube and check out all the amazing video content on “how to play an ukulele”. You’ll find hundreds of vloggers who have dedicated their page to playing a ukulele.
For as low as $20, you can find a cheap plastic ukulele that you can initially use to practice. If you’re willing to shell out more money, you can purchase high-end models, such as those made from Koa wood. Once you get your hand on the instrument, start learning the basic chords and some easy to play ukulele songs.