A short guide to the ukulele

How much do you actually know about the ukulele except that it looks adorable and immediately gives you those Hawaian vibes? The ukulele was indeed born in Hawaii but has its roots found in Western Europe. Read on ahead to find out more about the four-stringed instrument.

The History

We can say that the ukulele has a Portuguese descend, since its parents – the cavaquinho and the machete, also known as braguinha – were born in the city of Braga, located in the north of the country. It was around 1879 when Portuguese immigrants from Madeira decided to leave their home in search of a better life. Some 25,000 people found such a life working in the Hawaiian archipelago.

With themselves, they also brought the machete, which immediately became popular with the local population. The European immigrants were excellent guitar players – so great that they even gained the appreciation of the royal family.

In less than two decades, the ukulele was born as a natural Hawaiian adaptation of those four and five-string Portuguese instruments that were brought to Hawaii. And so not long after the immigrants started working in local sugar plantations, they were opening woodworking shops where musical instruments and furniture were sold side by side.

The Etymology

The word “ukulele” itself has a curious meaning – “jumping flea.” It was given this name because of its small size, and vibrant, cheerful, and exuberant sound.

The technical specifics

There are four main sizes of ukuleles: the baritone ukulele (18-21 frets), the tenor ukulele (17-19 frets), the ukulele concert (15-18 frets) and the soprano ukulele (12-15 frets).

The price of an ukulele has a wide range – anywhere between $20 and more than $1,000, depending on the type and quality of the construction. High-quality ukuleles are made of acacia koa or mahogany. The cheaper models are built using plywood, plastic, or laminate woods. The ukulele strings can be made of nylon, fluorocarbon, titanium, wound nylon, wound metal, and steel.

The standard and most common ukulele tuning is G4, C4, E4, A4.

The best and most popular ukulele brands and manufacturers are Kala, Lanikai, Mahalo, Hola!, Luna, Oscar Schmidt, ADM, Sawtooth, Diamond Head, Lohanu, Ohana, Pono, Kamaka, and Kanilea, so if you’re interested in buying one, we’d recommend looking into these.

Don’t be fooled by its small size – the ukulele is a versatile instrument, and it is often used and heard in a broad range of musical genres, including jazz, country music, pop, world music, and rock. Just look up ‘metal ukulele’ an you’dd be amazed! It is also the instrument that best represents surfing and surfers.

The misconceptions

Thus far you must have already got it but just to make it very clear – the ukulele is not a small guitar. It is understandable why people think this way, but it’s always good to spread information and educate those who believe in misconceptions.

A ukulele does indeed share a lot of similarities with an acoustic guitar – more specifically the classical variety. We are talking shape, size proportions, principle of operations and generally how the instrument behaves. However, an ukulele is not only smaller, but it uses a completely different type of tuning, which means different chords and different playing techniques.

Whether or not someone who is proficient with a guitar could play ukulele right off the bat is questionable. They might have the general skill in their hands, but would have to start from scratch when it comes to the notes on the fretboard. However, a lot of the chord shapes can be adapted from guitar – just under different names because of the tuning. So knowing guitar chords well, means you’ll be able to play on and sing along to songs with a ukulele pretty quickly.

For more guides, tips and tricks we invite you to join Neli’s Guitar Family and subscribe to her YouTube channel! If you are ready to dive into the world of ukulele (or guitar) you can sign up for a lesson HERE – the first one is 50% off!

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