Everyone's had that experience in the grocery store - you're crabby, it's a rainy day... And then "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by Israel Kamakawiwo-ole comes on, and you're suddenly in a great mood. The ukulele is a commonly overlooked instrument, but it's gaining popularity, and we think we know why. Here are 10 reasons why you should be learning how to play the ukulele right now, no matter how old you are.
What is it about the sound of the ukulele? It transports you to a sunny day on a tropical beach. If someone in your house is learning the ukulele, you might notice everyone is just in a better mood all the time. Why not learn an instrument that can instantly cheer you up?
Ukuleles have nylon strings which are a lot less painful on newbies' fingers. Most guitars have steel strings, so students have to build up finger calluses in order to get past the pain of learning the instrument. With ukulele, you can learn pain-free.
The ukulele has 4 strings as opposed to the guitar, which has 6 (unless you're talking about the "12-string guitar"). That in addition to the way that the strings are tuned, chord shapes are a lot easier on the ukulele than they are on the guitar.
As you can see from the example above, the C major chord on the ukulele is played with one finger on the left hand... That's it! On the left is the same chord played on a guitar, which has the player contorting their hand into the shape you see, which includes 3 different fingers on 3 different frets. You can imagine why this would be difficult for a young child.
Of course this should not discourage you from learning guitar. If you have a real passion for guitar, go for it... But if you're trying to decide between ukulele and guitar, this might help you make your decision.
Because the nylon strings are easier to push down, you won't hear any of those "doinkers" - that unfortunate rattling sound that comes out of a guitar when your fingers aren't strong enough yet. If you want to sound pretty good on an instrument asap, ukulele is a great choice.
Ukuleles are one of the cheapest instruments in relation to sound quality. Yes, you can buy a $100 trombone but do you really want to? The price range for a good beginner ukulele is about $50-$150, and they actually sound pretty good. And if you're really feeling cheap, you can find one for even less (but don't expect a beautiful sound). This is great news for an instrument that you really want to take to the beach - low cost and durability means that it's less risky to play in sandy situations.
I was kind of a dork in school, and yet I was always surrounded by a crowd of people. Why? Because I was strumming chords, and the people want to sing! Knowing how to play ukulele will make you the most popular person at the camp-fire ;)
This is a gift that will stay with you forever - if you keep up your ukulele skills (and keep your ukulele), you can be the life of the party at family get-togethers, holiday parties, beach days, and just be the inspiration behind many sing-alongs. And if that's not making the world a better place, I don't know what is. At the very least, it will make you a lot of friends.
At the time that I'm writing this, the world is in quarantine. So we can't really go anywhere right now, but now's the time to pick up a skill that you can take with you on your travels once the borders open back up. They are small enough to be your "personal item" on a plane, or even to fit into a backpack. They don't take up any space on road trips, and they're light as a feather. Wouldn't you rather take a ukulele on a plane than an upright bass?
How can you resist an instrument that you can match to your outfit? The challenge will be buying just one. Not to mention the cute color cases that usually come with them. From pink to green to natural wood, you can express your personality while expressing yourself musically.
The open tuning on a ukulele is a major 6 chord, so strumming all open strings is already absolutely lovely... then bar off the 2nd fret - you can write a song with just that. For songwriters that don't want to put years and years into becoming a great guitar or piano player, the ukulele is the best tool to find chords quickly and easily, and accompany themselves without having to worry too much about their skills as an instrumentalist.
As a music teacher, one of the most common questions I get is "what's the best instrument for beginners?" You can read more about the top 3 starter instruments here, but spoiler alert: ukulele is one of them. There's a reason that many elementary school music classes teach ukulele as a unit - it really is a great instrument for young children to learn.
A little more about ukuleles...
There are many things that most people don't know about ukuleles. When you think of a ukulele, what comes to mind? Hawaii I'm sure, and probably "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." But did you know that the ukulele is actually an adaptation of the "Machete" which was an instrument invented in the Madeira Island of Portugal? Once the instrument made its way to Hawaii, it quickly was adapted into the ukulele, a similar instrument that they made out of a native wood called "Koa" and re-tuned to be easier to learn and play.
The Machete came to Hawaii with the Portuguese immigrants that came to work in the sugar cane fields in the late 1800s. In 1879, the Hawaiian Gazette wrote about a group of Portuguese musicians who were heard playing this strange instrument to people in the street. After the article circulated, the instrument gained popularity, and morphed into the Ukulele, soon becoming Hawaii's national instrument.
What does "Ukulele" mean in Hawaiian"
Have you ever wondered what "Ukulele" means? Well, it actually translates to "jumping flea" - I bet you wouldn't have guessed that. But that probably explains why ukulele students are taught to tune the strings of a ukulele with a cute little song that goes "my dog has fleas..."
Types of Ukuleles
There are 4 main types of ukuleles (with some other interesting types out there, such as the pineapple ukulele):
Length: 21 inches
Number of frets: 12-15
Length: 23 inches
Number of frets: 15-20
Length: 26 inches
Number of frets: 15+
Length: 30+ inches
Number of frets: 19+
Tuning: DGBE, GCEA
Ukulele Price Range
$50 and under
You can find really cheap ukuleles out there. If you are looking for a budget ukulele, we would recommend finding one around the $50 range - any lower and you're basically looking at a toy. If you're not sure whether you are going to want to continue with the instrument, or just trying it out, just keep in mind that having an instrument that doesn't play well will probably not be as enjoyable, and might not truly inspire you to continue. If you're trying to decide between a $35 ukulele and a $50 ukulele, you might want to splurge (plus it might prevent you from having to upgrade).
$50 to $150
This price range gives you a better chance of finding an instrument that you love and are inspired to play. These would still be in the "beginner" category, but you will likely get a good sound out of a ukulele in this price range, and find that the instrument is well-built enough for the beginner or hobbyist.
$150 to $500
In this price range you will find an assortment of simple ukuleles made from solid wood and ukuleles with extras such as acoustic-electric ukuleles or cutaway ukuleles.
Acoustic-electric ukuleles give the player the option of using it acoustically or plugging it into an amp (or a computer if they want to record themselves). Cutaway ukuleles make it easier to access higher frets, which is great for the virtuoso (or aspiring virtuoso).
$500 to $10,000
If you're a professional ukulele player, you probably already have your favorite ukulele brand. Within this price range, you are looking at an instrument that is suitable for a professional musician, and is certainly made out of a high-quality wood - probably Koa or Mahagony, which will mean a beautiful sound and a durable instrument. Now you just have to decide where in this range you fall - time to start testing out some instruments!
We hope that this list of reasons to learn to play the ukulele has inspired you. I'm sure there are many many more reasons, but you'll have to pick up the ukulele and discover them yourself.