Have you been thinking about trying a new instrument? Why not try the ukulele (or ‘uke’ for short)? Its beautiful sound makes you feel like you're on a tropical island, and it's easy to learn a few chords and be able to play a full song quickly, which makes it a popular choice! Here’s some other sweet ‘uke’ facts:
Don’t go calling a ukulele just a ‘small guitar’ — it’s not true! For starters, guitars have six strings, while ukuleles have only four. And although a ukulele might look like an itty-bitty guitar, they actually come in four sizes: soprano (the smallest), concert, tenor and baritone (the biggest). But even the largest ukulele isn’t as big as a standard guitar, which makes it a perfect instrument to try if you have small hands.
The ukulele is a descendant of an instrument called a cavaquinho or machete — not to be confused with the giant sword of the same name! Totally different! The four-stringed instrument was brought to the island of Hawaii from Portugal in the 1800s. Hawaii's King David Kalakaua at the time loved the sound of the ukulele so much, he made sure it was played at all the royal gatherings! This helped make it very popular as a truly Hawaiian instrument.
Hawaiian hula dancers with guitar and ukulele in 1882. (Hawaii State Archives)
There are many stories about how the ukulele got its name. Hawaiian Queen Lili'uokalani once said the name meant a "gift" (uku) "from afar" (lele). Because the instrument became popular in Hawaii, musicians from the islands were the first to introduce the sound to people around the world. In fact, Hawaii sent the first ukulele ensemble to the 1915 International Expo in San Francisco, which caused a huge sensation. Many popular artists of the time started playing the instrument, and today, it’s still being used in pop music!
With an instrument that is nicknamed jumping flea, maybe it’s not a surprise that you can use the phrase "my-dog-has-fleas" to help tune your ukulele really quickly. No one actually knows how this tradition began, but it really works. All you do is sing each word in pitch as you strum the strings from top to bottom — G (my) – C (dog) – E (has) – A (fleas). Sing it out loud next time you need to tune your ukulele and give it a try!
Want to see a ukulele in action? Check out this video: