Hawaiian word either meaning "goes out of tune." or "jumping flea," depending on who you hear play. Traditional four-stringed instrument of Portugal, where it's called a braguinha. Brought to Hawaii August 23, 1879, by Joao Fernandez and Manuel Nunes aboard the ship Ravenscrag. Famous ukers: Cliff Edwards, Arthur Godfrey, George Formby, and Tiny Tim, whose big hit was "Tiptoe Through the Tulips". Although I have to say Duran Duran songs are easier to play.

Definition

The ukulele, or "uke" is a small stringed musical instrument with four strings, it also tends to be cheap, it is possible to get one for about £10! The most common form of this instrument is the Soprano ukulele which is tuned to GCEA or sometimes ADF#B. String IV (G in the GCEA tuning and A in the ADF#B tuning) is higher than string III, which gives the ukulele its distinctive tuning and techniques derived from this tuning. There are also Concert ukuleles, which are the same as Sopranos, but slightly bigger and therefore more powerful. Then there is the Tenor ukulele which is bigger than a Concert ukulele and can either be tuned like a Soprano, although Low G Tuning is often used (arrgh!), or like a Baritone ukulele, the biggest of all (although still quite small compared to a guitar), which is tuned to DGBE. Generally ukuleles are nylon strung, although resonator ukes and electric ukuleles have to be steel strung.

How to play

The most common way to play ukulele is strumming chords on it, however it is also possible using various finger techniques to play melodies: The most basic way is using the thumb, but it is also posible to use two fingers to pluck the strings, bearing in mind that it sounds best using the fingertips rather than the fingernails. I find however that the best way is using the thumb and the middle finger, which allows high speed playing. Another important thing to remember is that acoustic ukuleles don't have strap buttons, therefore to any guitar/bass/mandolin player the prospect of playing standing up seems impossible (because you can't put a strap on the ukulele); however, when playing, ukulele players support the neck with their left hand and apply pressure to the bridge with the palm of the right hand, and as the ukulele is so light it doesn't fall! This has two advantages:
a) not having to spend money on a strap.
b) being able to play behind your head without strangling yourself.

Essential listening

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

Tuning to Thirds

As is mentioned above, the most common soprano ukulele tuning is GCEA. In this tuning, C is the lowest note, then E, then G, then A. This means that a lot of folks, myself included, learn to tune the string to one another in a rather strange way:

  • the E is tuned to the 4th fret of the C string
  • the G is tuned to the 3rd fret of the E string
  • the A is tuned to the 2nd fret of the G string

The other night, my friend Tori pointed out this is completely unnecessary, because the GCEA tuning is actually tuned in 3rds (almost the same as a guitar). For this reason, you can tune thus:

  • the C is tuned to the 5th fret of the G string
  • the E is tuned to the 5th fret of the C string
  • the A is tuned to the 5th fret of the E string

which makes things a bit easier. It is a bit stranger, since the C you play on the G string will be an octave higher, but it is just as effective once you get used to it.

Making sense of the fingerboard is a whole lot easier, too.


A Correction:

DonJaime says: mathematics meltdown: C is five frets from G but not a third. E is a third above a C but not 5 frets. And A is a fourth above E, not a third.

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