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My first ukulele was given to me as a whimsical birthday gift from my brother when I was 18 years old. Who knew it would lead to years of playful joy and inspiration! Nearly 7 years later, I am not yet a master of the adorable instrument, but I am certainly an advocate of it!
It still surprises me how many people don't know what a ukulele is or have never heard of it before. When I am tasked with defining such a marvelous instrument, the phrase "it's like a mini guitar" just doesn't seem sufficient.
The ukulele was introduced to Hawaii in the 19th century by Portuguese immigrants (then called a 'machete') and quickly became a popular part of Hawaiian culture. Nowadays, the popularity of the ukulele has spread, with the cheerful sound being used in songs, adverts and much more. One of the most well known examples of this is Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's medley of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' and 'What a Wonderful World'.
But you don't have to be a musical genius to master the strings of the uke, as I and many more have proved. If you're not convinced already, here are my 3 reasons why you should pick up a uke today!
1. It's easy.
When I was younger I begged my parents for a guitar and when I finally got one, I gave up after about half an hour because my hands couldn't stretch enough to form the chords, nevermind switch between them fast enough to play a song. As with most hobbies, children pick up on a whim, the guitar was forgotten about under my bed for years.
Ukuleles have 4 strings. There are different sizes, but the most common, the soprano, is about half the size of a guitar. This means your hands don't need to stretch as far across the fret board and it's easier to form chords.
As well as this, there is an abundance of popular songs that can be played with just 4 chords — C, Am, F and G. With each of these chords needing only 1, 2 or 3 fingers to form them, it will take you minutes to find a song and starting playing along. Some good beginner songs can be found here.
2. It's affordable.
Ever thought about taking up a new hobby, then looking into it and realising you'll need to spend lots of money on supplies or instruments or weekly classes? Me too. I still dream of learning the piano but can't justify buying one only to lose interest after a few weeks (as I do with most hobbies. Previous examples include sewing, bullet journalling, opening an Etsy shop, selling vintage clothes...).
Not a problem with the ukulele. The one I learnt on was about £20 from a local musical instrument shop, and I taught myself using the endless fountain of knowledge on the internet.
You can get ukuleles that are cheaper than £20, but do try to be aware of quality. The cheaper the ukulele, the worse the quality, the worse the sound. Obviously, this isn't too much of an issue if you're just trying it out, but if you do plan on continuing to learn, invest in a better uke.
Here are some of the many websites I used to teach myself and get chords from —
Ukulele Chord Finder - If you know the chord name but don't know the fingering, or the other way around, this is the site for you!
UkuleleHunt - An excellent resource of song tabs and chords, lessons, instrument reviews and more!
3. It opens doors!
It doesn't take long to become reasonably good at playing ukulele, and once you've picked it up you can transfer your skills to other instruments.
Thanks to the ukulele, I can now actually play guitar (with the help of my adult sized hands) and I'm teaching myself to play the banjo and the keyboard. I hope to one day play the harp, although that could just be another unaffordable dream.
So once you've mastered strumming, rhythm, chords, picking and singing simultaneously you'll be well on your way to becoming a one-man-band!
Learning to play the ukulele has brought me and my family and friends endless joy. They're cute, playful and have an impossibly cheery sound to brighten any rainy British day. They're also a great gift if you're struggling to think of something imaginative for a creative friend/family member.
If you want to share your great ukulele experiences or have any helpful links for beginners, let me know on Instagram (@UkuleleBeth) and maybe I'll use them in my next post!
Thanks for reading :)