Welcome to my little corner of the ukulele world. Well, maybe not little :-)
Ukulele The ukulele, pronounced oo-koo-lele is a fretted string instrument which is, in its construction, essentially a smaller, four-stringed version of the guitar. In the early 20th century, the instrument's name was often rendered as ukelele, a spelling still used in Great Britain. The Hawaiian spelling 'ukulele is very common.
The music you play can be as simple or complex as you want. The Ukulele is a powerful musical instrument for communication in its own right.
And, did I mention it's a lot of fun to play and explore.
The ukulele comes in 4 sizes Soprano (sometimes called Standard), Concert, Tenor and Baritone. Tuned like the thin 4 strings of a standard guitar. The baritone Uke uses "G" Tuning (D G B E) just like the guitar. The Soprano, Concert and Tenor uses "C" Tuning G C E A and "D" tuning (A D F# B). The Tenor can also be tuned like the Baritone ukulele. These are the same intervals as the guitar's upper 4 strings, string 4 to 3 is a perfect fourth (P4) or 11th depending on whether using traditional high tuning or a more guitar like low tuning, string 3 to 2 is a major third (M3) and string 2 to 1 is a perfect fourth (P4).
A ukulele can be a mellow-mainland or bright-island sound.
Page comparing the four different sizes of ukulele
that are in common use today.
Woman is at a uke festival with a lovely soprano ukulele under her arm. Another woman walks up and gazes admiringly at the first woman's uke, at which point the woman holding the uke looks over and says with a smile; "I got it for my husband." Second woman nods and says, "good trade."
In 1879, a Braguinha arrived in Hawaii on a Portuguese ship loaded with laborers destined for the sugar fields. Hawaiians made the instrument their own and calling it "ukulele" which translates to "jumping flea," It's believed to have originated because of the way a performer's fingers jump around on the strings.
Here is a link to a great article on the history of the ukulele by Dagan B.
This corresponds to the populary and availability of radio in the decade of the 20s to 40s.
A shift from the popularity of radio to most household have access to a TV and the second wave of the ukulele craze.
The third wave of the ukulele corresponding the the influence of YouTube and the Internet.
Check out all the famous people and musicians associated with the ukulele on the ukulele musicians page.
Ukulele virtuoso and master educator James Hill has a great take on how the three ukulele crazes spread — ALL corresponded to the adoption of new mass media delivery: radio, TV and the Internet. He has a great point that Radio, TV and the Internet all created a sense of community around the ukulele.
The baritone ukulele can be used as a small starter guitar. Easy on little tikes hands.
With more and more children wanting to start guitar at an earlier and earlier age, the baritone ukulele, which is tuned just like the guitar's top (higher) four strings, is a great starter guitar.
The tenor ukulele can be tuned like the baritone ukulele (D G B E) substituting the low D string for high D string. This is a tuning that Jazz Ukulele legend, Lyle Ritz often uses.
The most common number of strings are 4. By doubling any of the 4 strings, 5, 6 and 8 string variations are common. The Kanile’a 'Ukulele web site has a page of MP3 sound files titled Sound Files @ Kanile'a 'Ukulele. Check these out to here how quality Ukes are supposed to sound. Nothing like your cheaper Ukes in most music stores.
Ukulele prices range from a few dollars for cheap plastic toy ones up to a few thousand for custom built ukuleles using the best woods in the world. Everyone should have at least one ukulele.
If you don't have any concert size instruments nearby to try in a store you can create the scale length on your tenor with an inexpensive capo. A capo on the second or third frets of a tenor leaves you with a scale length (and fret spacing) similar to a concert and the neck width at that level should be very close to that found on most concerts. And if you want to get an idea of what a soprano scale would feel like put the capo at the 4th fret and you'll be almost exactly at the standard 13 5/8 inch length. However the width at that point on a tenor will in most cases be greater than at the nut of a soprano.
Regardless of the resources you use to learn to play any instrument, it's important to know what there is to learn and how that affects what you want to do. Whether it's playing in a band, singing and playing or being a singer – songwriter, there are specific things to learn and specific skills to develop. Here's an overview of the ten most fundamental things to learn for ukulele.
The first thing that almost all ukulele players learn is chords. A chord is played by holding down multiple notes simultaneously on the fingering hand. The opposite hand makes a chord sound by strumming it or finger picking it. There is nothing more fundamental than playing basic chords.
The first 19 chords are the open position chords A, C, D, E, F, G, Am, Cm, Dm, Em, Fm, Gm, A7, B7, C7, D7, E7, F7, G7. Typically, barre chords or movable form chords are learned next. These chords are based on the open position, first chords you learned and have an advantage because they can be moved to different keys. Their disadvantage is that they're harder to play, at least initially.
The ability to play chords and switch them smoothly is the first requirement for playing alone or with a group. It immediately qualifies you for a band in the role of playing background accompaniment. This job is an accompaniment job and does not have the attention given to the lead player but it is your quickest route to playing in a band or at jam sessions!
Technique is the ability to control your hands individually and in combination. It's primarily a physical skill not a musical skill. The training and development of your hands is a prerequisite and necessary to develop musical skills.
Sports offers a good parallel. Football has physical skills and football skills. Passing, receiving, blocking, running and tackling are football skills. Running through tires, road work, weight lifting, wind sprints and stretching are physical skills. You need both to be successful.
There are many exercises designed to get your hands in shape. Finger independence drills, barres and stretches are just three good ways to develop your hands.
Recommended, Books, Links & Resources
Like their guitar brethren it's unbelievable how weak ukulele players are on knowing the notes on their own instrument!
No other instrument suffers from this same fate. Imagine a piano player not knowing the note names of the keys or a trumpet player not knowing what notes come out if they push specific valve combinations. Yet, an amazingly high percentage of guitar and ukulele players don't know the notes on the neck.
This problem has certainly been created by the guitar world's penchant for tablature and chord picture diagrams, which is also prominent in the ukulele community. Despite this, there is no excuse for the failure on the part of players to learn what is absolutely rudimentary on any other instrument.
The notes on the neck must be not only learned but mastered!
This skill is part of the accompaniment role the ukulele is most used for. All songs, besides having chords, have a strum that is responsible for the “feel” of the song. If you play the wrong strum with a song, something will sound off.
The strum helps keep the tempo steady and propels the music forward.
Strumming captures the most primitive element of music – rhythm. That tendency to tap our feet when we hear music can often be traced to the strumming pattern.
Finger picking is an alternative to strumming. Like strumming, finger picking uses the non-fingering hand and produces sound from chords. Fingerpicking was most common in Folk music but it has certainly made its way into main stream contemporary music through singer – songwriters and country artists. James Taylor is an outstanding finger pick artist who has fused Folk, Country, Rock and Pop music into a seamless original form. His influence has been significant ever since the beginning of the Folk – Rock movement. Jake Shimabukuro and James Hill have seamlessly incorporated fingerpicking with strumming on the ukulele.
Recommended, Books, Links & Resources
Scales are organized streams of notes that can be used to generate melody or improvisation. There are many kinds of scales to learn depending on the musical style you choose. The two most common contemporary scales are the Blues Scale and the Pentatonic Scale. The Blues Scale is used in the darker forms of Blues and in heavier Rock Music. The Pentatonic Scale is used in all things Southern: Southern Rock, brighter Blues, Country music and even Motown.
Beyond these scales, there are many more to learn if the music you play needs them. Santana used the Dorian Scale to great effect while Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits made a living from the Aeolian Scale. Jerry Garcia’s favorite was the Mixolydian Scale.
Recommended, Books, Links & Resources
Rhythm is one of the three primary components of music, It encompasses several aspects. On the one hand, rhythm is the duration of a note or a chord. It also includes tempo, the beats per second as measured by a metronome and the stability of the beat. Rhythm, as in tempo, can vary during a song. Some songs maintain a steady tempo from beginning to end. Other songs vary the tempo. Slowing down is called Ritardando and speeding up is called Acclerando. These are intentional musical effects and not the result of a player not being able to keep steady time or rhythm. The ability to “keep time” is one of the most important skills a ukulele player or any musician can develop.
The development of the ear brings your musical insides – out. Music is the only hearing art. As such, the ear acts as the intermediary between your musical ideas and the execution of these ideas. Solfeggio, the Italian art of sight singing has been used for centuries to develop musicianship. Ear training contributes to the ability to play what you hear. There are virtually unlimited applications of ear training from working songs out by ear to improvising to writing. The European tradition of ear training has been far more stringent than that of the United States.
This area is your song list, your repertoire, what you can play from beginning to end. Without a repertoire, you have nothing to play. An audience is certainly not interested in listening to scales, arpeggios or exercises of any kind. They respond to songs no matter what style of music you play. It could original or cover but one way or another, you need to learn songs.
What does it mean to learn a song? The singer songwriter's version of learning a song would be to memorize the chords, the strum or finger pick, the melody, the form, the chords and the lyrics. The jazz guitarist and ukulele player version is to learn the single note melody, the chord changes, the form, the melody and chord version (combining single note melody and chords) and the improvisational structure. Unless you use the lyrics as inspiration for the mood and feel of a song, lyrics are not part of the instrumental process.
Recommended, Books, Links & Resources
Now that you have a sense of what there is to learn, you can focus on how you're going to learn it. Whether it’s formal lessons with a good teacher, self teaching, books, DVDs or online resources, get started! The rewards will far outweigh the effort.
“Folks, if you haven't stopped by Curt's site, do so right now! ..And get his books, they are fantastic. This guy knows his stuff and is able to pass it along too.” - Alan Johnson Proprietor, The 4th Peg
Here is what Peter Rhee said about my (Curt Sheller) books.
"Just browsing over both books, they look fantastic! I'm a guitarist and uke player for over 25 years and was thinking about writing a ukulele book but you've already written what I think are the best, most comprehensive and thorough books I've ever seen for the instrument. I just might end up buying every book you've written and I'll be giving my highest recommendation for your books to my friends and students. Thank you so much for taking the time to write such great books!" - Peter Rhee
This book is designed as a guide to ukulele (pronounced “oo-koo-lele”) chords. Covering basic ukulele chords that ALL uke players MUST know, movable chord forms, rock uke chords, how to transpose chords, learning the ukulele fingerboard and an introduction to 4-part “jazz” chords and more...
Covers the key of C major and C minor, including a detailed accompanying text explaining the principles behind each progression and the chord substitutions.
Exploring "Jazz" Chords takes the core chords from A Guide to Advanced Chords for Ukulele and shows their use over a variety of common chord progressions based on songs from the standard jazz repertoire.
Content is always being added and updated. So check-in often. Thanks, Curt
Over 500+ lessons, 54 songs and TABS, 240+ archtop luthiers, 200+ ukulele builders, festival information, ukulele links on the web. On the web since the early 90's and growing everyday. This site just never stops growing!!!
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