Love singing to the blissful tune of Somewhere Over the Rainbow? We can’t blame you, it’s a feel-good song. Just listening to the lyrics and the playful tune makes you feel like you’re sitting by a beach paradise even when you’re stuck in a traffic jam.
There’s just something so special about this tiny wooden instrument that makes it quite appealing to a lot of people. Find out everything you need to know about this beautiful musical instrument as you read on.
Flash Back in Time – The Origin of Ukulele
Believe it or not, this tiny and adorable string instrument has been around since the 19th century. Many refer to it as the Hawaiian version of the Portuguese stringed instrument called machete.
Back in 1800’s, Portuguese immigrants came to Hawaii to work in the sugarcane farms. Along with their colorful culture, these immigrants shared their love for music.
According to stories, soon after the foreign workers reached land, they played the machete to celebrate their safe trip. Needless to say, the locals fell madly in love with the instrument. This newfound fandom inspired Jose do Espiritu, Augusto Dias and Manuel Nunes to develop the first ever ukulele.
The Strange Meaning of the Hawaiian Word Ukulele
Instead of calling the instrument machete, locals called it the ukulele, a Hawaiian word which in English translates to jumping flea. No one is exactly sure why folks back in the day decided to call it that way. There’s quite a lot of stories that explain how the instrument got its name.
Some believe that the Hawaiians called it ukulele when they saw a Portuguese sailor play the instrument with such ease. They were amazed by the speedy movements of the fingers which they compared to fleas jumping up and down the instrument’s fingerboard.
An Instrument Deeply Ingrained Into Hawaii’s Culture
Soon after the instrument gained popularity among the locals, the King of Hawaii, David Kalakaua became quite fond of it too. He saw the ukulele as a great tool that can reignite the country’s culture and incorporate modern-day traditions.
The uke served as a highly valuable tool in proving that the locals in Hawaii are very much civilized and sophisticated. The king insisted on using the uke during formal events and playing Hawaiian folk songs.
A Popular Instrument Not Only in Hawaii
In 1915, a group of Hawaiian musicians and hula dancers participated in an international expo held in San Francisco. Thousands of expo attendees who watched the performances felt instantly hooked with Hawaiian music.
A few years after its first appearance in the USA, the Hawaiian musical instrument has amassed quite a large fanbase. Its popularity only slowed down when Rock and Roll became a major scene in the US music industry in the mid-1950’s.
A Perfect Instrument for Newbies
The best part about the ukulele instrument is the ease of playing it. Unlike other stringed instruments such as the guitar, cello or violin, it’s easier to use because of its smaller size and simpler chords. The plucking and strumming patterns aren’t that complicated too!
If you want to learn how to play the ukulele or acoustic guitar, you can easily find help online. There are hundreds of YouTubers today who dedicate their page in creating tutorial videos for noobs and amateurs. You can also follow famous uku musicians such as Jake Shimabukuro, James Hill and Brittni Pavia on their social media accounts.
It’s Available in Four Sizes
The largest version is called the baritone and it measures 30 inches long. If you’re looking for a smaller and more classic-looking ukulele, you should buy the soprano type. It’s only 20 inches long and has a very traditional shape and styling.
Nowadays, aside from the four uke sizes enumerated above, you can also find a sopranissimo uke. It is relatively smaller than the regular soprano ukulele and tends to have a higher pitch.
You Can Choose From Various Materials
Ukes can be made from a variety of materials. The most commonly used material so far is mahogany. Majority of the moderately priced ukes in the market are made from mahogany wood. Mahogany ukes are very durable and they produce a well-rounded sound when you pluck or strum the strings.
There’s also the Koa wood which is mostly found among ukes made in Hawaii. The beautiful wood grain on Koa is a sight to behold. Moreover, the sound it creates is nothing short of amazing. It’s the number one choice of folks who don’t mind shelling out more money to get premier quality uke.
You Can Play Bohemian Rhapsody with a Ukulele
The ukulele went viral back in 2006 when Jake Shimabukuro played Bohemian Rhapsody. Queen’s hit song is world-famous for its crazy notes and changing tempo. Despite the complex nature of the song, Jake was able to play it with his ukulele with such accuracy and finesse.
After that video, it became pretty much clear that despite what the acoustic guitar purists say, the Ukulele is NOT an inferior instrument when compared to it’s bigger brothers. With a bit of practice and a ton of patience, you might also get to play the Bohemian Rhapsody with your own uke 😉
I’m Yours by Jason Mraz is Probably the Most Popular Uke Song
Besides Jake Shimabukuro, Jason Mraz was also one of the many artists who played the ukulele. In fact, Jason Mraz’s I’m Yours topped the Billboards hit charts for 76 weeks. Its massive success is one of the many reasons why more and more people fell in love with the uke. The demand to learn uke was so high in the mid 2000 that manufacturers like Kala had to increase their production by at least 500%.
Time To Start Learning How to Play the Ukulele!
Listening to the unique sound of the ukulele and the soothing voice of uke artists is probably one of the best ways to spend your leisure time. The feel-good tune and tempo produced by the ukulele will surely brighten up even the gloomiest of days.
So, which among the fun facts enumerated above was the biggest surprise for you? Also, what ukulele song do you want to learn?
Thanks for reading, friend 🙂