It is well known among Ukulele players the history of this fine musical
instrument. (Yes, one would think so.) Although I have had the opportunity
to hear many versions which, in my experience, has taught me that as everyone
tells you exactly what they know, you soon understand that no one really knows.
Here on this page I wanted to tell you the stories I have heard, explaining how the Ukulele got its name.
Do with this information what you wish.
Story one: When the Portuguese ship arrived into Honolulu Harbor, a
passenger from the ship jumped onto the pier and began singing Portuguese folksongs as he
accompanied himself on his instrument. As he played this strange little
instrument, the Hawaiians noticed how he jumped up and down as he played...(you take
it from here.)
Story two: The Hawaiians noticed how an accomplished player's fingers
jumped up and down the fingerboard when he played...(again, it's yours.)
Story three: When an accomplished player is rapidly strumming their
Ukulele the quick movement of their strumming arm resembles a dog scratching its
fleas...(yeah, go on...)
The Ukulele comes in Four sizes. They are called (from smallest to
largest) Soprano, Concert, Tenor and Baritone. Their sizes range from
the ~21 inch Soprano to the ~33 inch Baritone.
Holding the Ukulele is like holding a small guitar and should be held at
about a forty~five degree angle in front of the body, using a relaxed,
comfortable grip. The Ukulele should be held flat against the player's body,
while the body of the instrument is supported in place with the forearm of the
strumming hand. The forearm is constantly used to hold the back of the
instrument against the player's body. Try
not to hold the Ukulele too tightly, this will tire your arm and make
strumming and fingering more laborious. If you are standing and wearing long
sleeves you may find that the Ukulele becomes harder to
hold onto. Short sleeve shirts are best to allow the forearm to sweat slightly, aiding
in the gripping of the forearm to the Ukulele. When I play (Tenor), I prefer to
sit allowing the Ukulele to rest on my leg. Either way, try to play with a light
touch. It's hard to relay emotion through music when you're all tightened up.
All the Ukuleles are tuned the same except for the Baritone Ukulele. The three smaller Ukuleles are tuned G, C, E and A, ( or 4, 3, 2, 1, respectively, top string down ~ or from your nose down as you hold the instrument.) The Baritone is tuned like the top four strings of a guitar, or D, G, B and E.
When a piano, tuning fork or tuner is not available, tune your Ukulele using the following method. Tighten the First string, "A", until it is taut. After the first string is taut move to the Fourth string, "G" and finger the second fret. Play both strings and tighten the "G" string until it sounds like the "A" string. Once these two strings sound the same move to the Second string "E" and finger the fifth fret. Tighten the "E" string until it sounds like the "A" string. Once they sound the same move to the Third string "C". Finger the fourth fret and tighten the "C" string until it sounds like the "E" string. This tunes the Ukulele so your songs will sound nice when you play them. You'll need to retune when playing with others.
As a music teacher I have told my students that playing the Ukulele is
a very easy thing to do, if you're playing basic chords only.
If we are talking about chords only, the Ukulele is easier than playing the guitar, mainly due to the fact that the uke has four strings and the guitar has six. Six strings are harder to finger than four.
If we are talking about instrumental pieces, then I have to say that the Ukulele is a much harder instrument to play. Whereas on the guitar one has six strings to work with, it allows easier reaches for specific single notes. The more strings you have, the more places on your fretboard specific notes will be offered.
The Ukulele on the other hand has only four strings and the player must achieve the ability to play specific single notes by reaching the notes in the few places it is offered on the fingerboard, which, as you might know, can be quite limiting.
I have always preferred using my fingertips as opposed to using any
picks that are out on the market today. Using my fingertips has always allowed (me)
greater control of my strum, notes and volume. The only good picks I have found to work
well on any of my ukes were very old felt picks that I happened across in any Ukuleles
I had purchased off of Ebay. These were felt picks from the twenties and thirties. I have
found that the felt picks that they make today are extremely sad in comparison. Good luck
in finding any picks today that will actually compliment your sound.
If you don't know how to strum, worry not. Many people use what
I call the survival strum. Use either your pointer finger, (index),
or your thumb and strum the strings softly in an up and down motion. This
motion should be soft, continuous and smooth. If you're happy with
what you hear, go for it. There is no such thing as a good strum or
a bad strum. If it is comfortable and you like it, it's a good
If you're looking for something a little more interesting,
learn the basic strum, otherwise known as
the Stroke. The stroke is a rapid succession of the fingers
on the strumming hand, where the fingers caress all of the strings of the Ukulele.
The strum starts with the pinky finger, moves to the ring finger, continues
to the middle finger and on to the pointer, all in one swift motion.
The hand should be relaxed and form a normal cupped shape when practicing this strum.
The fingers move rapidly (but softly) together, horizontally across
all four strings. At this point, none of the strings should be favored.
The sound of all four strings should combine and form one beautiful sound. The
strum should be practiced softly, in the up and down motion
across the strings, until the player has secured a clean, smooth sound.
Still not happy? Try your hand at learning the basic
Roll Stroke. The roll stroke is one of the most common strokes
Ukulele players use today. The roll stroke copies the basic stroke in that all of the fingers
of the strumming hand caress the strings one at a time, followed by the thumb.
Only in the roll stroke, the fingers are separated and follow across the
strings, one after the other. The roll stroke should be started slowly,
then gradually quickened over time. The hand should be in a relaxed, closed position
at the start. The fingers are opened in a fanning motion,
(from the pinky to the pointer) horizontally across the strings. Practice
this much of the stroke over and over until the fanning motion is clean and smooth
across the strings. If your fingers get caught up in the strings, move closer
to the tips of your fingers. The fanning motion should be done lightly at the beginning
stages of learning this strum. Once this motion can be done beautifully, it is time
to add the thumb.
As the pointer finger passes the last string, 'A', use the fleshy part of the thumb to caress horizontally across all four strings, following the path of the first four fingers. Do not dig your thumb into the strings. This addition of the thumb should follow as lightly as the fingers. Practice this stroke over and over until the fanning motion, including thumb, is clean and smooth across the strings. If your fingers get caught up in the strings, again move closer to the tips of your fingers. This should be done lightly at the beginning stages of learning this strum. Once this motion can be done in one smooth continuous stroke, you have learned the Roll stroke.After reading all that, the survival stroke lookin' pretty good, yeah?
I constantly get asked this. As I play everyone asks, what's
that you're doing there? What strum is that?
Here you go.
If you want an awesome strum that you will feel comfortable with, enjoy using, and be able to change and improve upon, then you'll have to find one you like. How do you do that? You play and play and play. People can show you their awesome strum, and you may use it once in a while, but do you want to sound like them, or do you want to have your own sound? You should take the time to create your own sound. All you have to do is ~ play ~ and a strum you like, a strum you really enjoy will, (in time), happen. I promise. More importantly, it will be your strum.
If you play once in a while, it will take you longer. If you pick up your instrument every day, it will come sooner. There you have it.
Gotta like dat n you face advice, yeah?
This is the bottom line on Ukulele playing.
I have seen many people try to force the sounds they want to hear from this fine instrument. True music is never forced.
If you take the time to learn about the instrument itself, how it works, how you need to caress it to allow it to "sing" the sound you're looking for, how you need to have patience with yourself as you learn about the Ukulele, you will improve quicker than you think.
The Ukulele is a beautiful musical instrument. Although it can bring enjoyment and peace, it is not a toy. It is something that needs to be understood and appreciated. Cared for and respected. If you fail to love playing it, put it away.
Always strive to sound as beautiful as you possibly can when you play it.
Play it poorly and that is the sound you will have earned.
Play what you want to play, sing what you want to sing, strum how you want to strum, pick what you want to pick. Never be afraid to play in front of people and never say you're sorry for mistakes you play along the way. Have fun with it, or put it away.
It's all about making someone happy with your music, whether it's you, (hopefully), or someone else.
Just have fun making beautiful music. In the big picture, that's really what it's all about, right?
For stickin' around and hearing me,
Mahalo Nui Loa