Ukuleles Rock!

Category: Ukulele
Fri, 26 Jun 2009, 20:37

A couple of years ago, I casually mentioned to Sylvana that I'd like to have a ukulele. At the time, the ukulele was getting some good press, especially from the medley by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole that was all over the internet. When I learned that George Harrison was a big fan of the uke, my interest was definitely piqued.

And so, I was pleasantly surprised to find a ukulele under the Christmas tree. Sure, it was an inexpensive starter instrument, but I was hooked instantly. Learning to play chords was easy. But then again, I did play the guitar decades earlier, even though I never touched a guitar again after high school!

Although it looks very much like a miniature guitar, the ukulele is different. With four strings (instead of six), the chords are easier to learn. If you only learn the relatively easy C, F, and G7 chords, you can already play a lot of songs. But more importantly, the sound is different. And it's size makes it easier to carry around and play anywhere.

These days, though, I'm trying to learn songs from tabs, a notation specifically suited to string instruments. I've found some easy arrangement of a couple of songs, such as Beethoven's Für Elise and Silent Night. Eventually, I'd like to master clawhammer style, which is suited to the uke due to its reentrant tuning.

Recently, I've been shopping around for a better quality instrument. First, I want a better sounding uke in a slightly bigger size. Second, our daughter has expressed an interest in learning the uke. Since she's a lefty, she'll need her own instrument anyways tuned left-handed.

For those not familiar with ukuleles, there are a variety of styles and sizes of instrument. The standard uke is the soprano ukulele, typically 53cm long. The concert uke is about 5cm longer. Tenor and baritone ukes are about 13cm and 23cm longer that the soprano, respectively. Other popular varieties include the fluke, flea, and banjolele.

Since the ukulele is still not really a common instrument, it's hard to find stores with good selections. In most music stores, you tend to be accosted by massive hordes of guitars. At Steve's Music Store in downtown Toronto, there are a number of inexpensive instrument hanging above behind the counter, in various styles and colors. But the Mecca for the true ukulele aficionado seems to be The 12th Fret, on Danforth at Woodbine. Although their web site barely mentions ukuleles, their back room has a decent but modest selection of good quality instruments, in soprano, concert, tenor, baritone, and banjolele styles. (Although Steve's is the more well-known music store in this city, The 12th Fret apparently has a stronger reputation among professional musicians.)

Although I'll probably never get close to being a ukulele impressario, I find the uke a lot of fun. I heartily recommend the uke to anyone who wants to make music, but without the great learning curve required by other instruments.

Ominfariously yours, Hans

path: /Ukulele | permanent link to this entry

ukulele image