Walking into the music store around 5 years ago, I looked around at the hundreds of instruments, worth thousands of Euro’s feeling slightly intimidated. There were keyboards, drums, and guitars – both acoustic and electric. As shiny as they were, I ignored them all.
“Can I help you sir?”
“Yes, I want to be a rock star!” I replied, to the amused assistant who laughed.
“Can you, show me your ukuleles?” The gentleman laughed again before I met his giggles with a slightly straighter face.
“No, I actually do want a ukulele, where are they?”
I could tell just by the look on his face that he was judging me… but I didn’t care, I had about 30 Euro in my pocket and I wanted a ukulele!
A few years ago the ukulele was nowhere near as mainstream as it is these day’s, in the last few years artists such as Jason Mraz, Jack Johnson and even Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder have embraced this instrument and made it cool, Eddie even released an entire album of songs played on a ukulele. So what is a Ukulele?
I would be doing it a disservice if I just said it’s a small guitar. But it's essentially a small guitar, they look like a child’s toy, but they are so much more! They also come in many shapes and sizes and tunings but don't let that confuse you, it’s not necessary.
Portuguese immigrants introduced the Ukulele to Hawaii sometime in the 19th century, originally it was based on an instrument called the Portuguese Machete. It didn't arrive into the U.S. until 1915 and then the Ukulele went global after WWII where service men returned home with them. So, images of a Hawaiian wearing a bright shirt, a grass skirt and playing a tiny guitar? That’s where the stereotype was born, much like the Scottish stereotype of the bagpipe player wearing his kilt.
YouTube is now littered with people making covers of well-known songs in the ukulele format, but why though? Well, that’s simple. It’s because it’s easy and it’s FUN! When guitar songs are deconstructed down to a Ukulele format, they become easier to digest and to play, partly because it has just 4 strings as opposed to 6 on a guitar.
I promise that in a few short hours of practice, you will be plinking away to some of your favorite songs and not only that, but you will also know that now you’re cool as well. Before you dismiss the ukulele, know that I was once like you, I scoffed at the uke, I was a naysayer, mainly because I was always imagining myself playing lead guitar to stadiums full of people just like on Guitar Hero. All I needed to do was first master “Stairway to Heaven” which of course I NEVER did.
I tried and tried to play and learn the guitar without much success. I could not play lead, or barre chords and I could never sing along to the songs I was playing. I still don’t understand why I couldn’t do the last part, but with a ukulele it was different, don’t ask me why, but with a few hours practice, I was playing and singing along to songs like U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” a song that contains only 4 chords, or Florence and the Machines “You Got the Love” a song with only 3 chords.
As far as a time to fun ratio, the ukulele is right up there with sex! Well, OK I got carried away with myself for a second, but being honest, it is as satisfying as completing a video game, as creative as painting a picture, as interactive as a Skype talk and easy enough for a child to learn. I have been a huge champion of the ukulele for friends and family, even successfully convincing them to buy their own and keep practicing.
Put down the guitar hero, leave the old acoustic guitar you never learned how to play in the attic and go and get yourself a ukulele, you wont be disappointed.