The Ukulele

The ukulele is a small four-stringed instrument common to the music of the Hawaiian Islands (resembling a miniature guitar) but related by origin to the Portugese braguinha. Ukuleles vary in body size and neck length from the smallest, the soprano ukulele, to the concert ukulele, then to the larger tenor and baritone ukuleles. The instrument is easy to learn to play, very portable and best suited to simple rhythm accompaniments. The strings are nylon and the standard tuning is typically G C E A for all but the baritone. The fourth string, the G, is often very thin and tuned one octave up for a brighter tone, though many ukulele players prefer to use a thicker string on the G to tune to the lower octave, making the instrument more suitable for classical styles of music. In 1879, a shipload of immigrants from Madeira, Portugal arrived in Hawaii to work in the sugar cane fields and brought with them their instruments, among them the braguinha, a small four-stringed guitar. As the legend tells, in celebration of their arrival after a long and hard journey, one of the men jumped off the ship and started singing folk songs from his native Portugal playing the braguinha on the wharf. The native Hawaiians were very impressed at the speed of the musicians' fingers as they danced across the fingerboard and they called the instrument "ukulele", proudly pronounced "oo-ka-ley-lee", which translates to "jumping flea" in English. The Hawaiian people took to the ukulele very fast and within 10 years it had become Hawaii's most popular instrument. Since then, the ukulele has found it's way into the hearts of millions of music lovers around the world. In 1915, the year of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, the ukulele began it's popularity on the U.S. mainland. At the Exposition, Hawaii hosted a pavilion and their Hawaiian song and hula show, accompanied by the ukulele, became the main attraction. The music created a sensation and Hawaiian music quickly swept the country. By the late teens, Hawaiian music had become the most popular music on the U.S. mainland and sales of ukuleles boomed. Tin Pan Alley produced dozens of Hawaiian songs, more than it had ever done before, and Victor Recording Company listed over a hundred Hawaiian recordings, more than any other type of music. The ukulele had yet another boom following the 2nd World War, when U.S. servicemen brought back with them a love of the islands and it's music and with it the ukulele. The ukulele became a large part of one of the most popular TV shows of it's time, "Arthur Godfrey and his Ukulele". Millions of ukuleles were sold so family members could play along with Arthur. And who could forget Tiny Tim on the Johnny Carson Late Night Show playing "Tiptoe thru the Tulips" on a ukulele. Today, there is a resurgence of interest in the ukulele, led by the world famous ukulele player from Hawaii, Jake Shimabukoro, who has taken the instrument to a different level of play with his arpeggio and rhythmic styles. Today, more ukeleles are sold worldwide than any other instrument. Annual ukulele festivals are well attended and growing throughout the US mainland. In Hawaii, every elementary school child is required to learn to play the ukulele. A major reason for its continually increasing popularity is the simple fact that many ordinary people who have never played a musical instrument before can learn to play the ukulele relatively easily. It is light and portable and you can take it just about anywhere. It is especially popular among the college youth. Bring out a ukulele at your next get social gathering and watch the smiles suddenly appear on everyone's faces. (Information and excerpts from Brudda Bu's Ukulele Heaven)