Are you new to the ukulele? Great! This page will give you some information on this wonderful instrument.
The first thing you should know is: it’s fun as all heck.
The second thing you should know is: therefore it’s highly addictive!
My experience with the ukulele stems from being a guitar player first. As a gigging musician, I am always looking for new “flavors” to add to my solo acoustic set, and the ukulele is perfect for that, as it provides a different tone, is associated with fun times, friendly songs and the tropical islands, and therefore places my audience in a positive frame of mind when I play it.
It’s also a great pick-it-up instrument, whether you’re sitting on the couch on a rainy day or hanging on the beach and/or around a bonfire with a bunch of friends.
Are all ukuleles the same?
The uke comes in different sizes: soprano, concert, tenor and baritone. The main differences are neck length and body size. A longer neck length allows for more space in between the frets, and is considered by some as easier to play because of that fact. My personal favorites are the tenor and baritone ukuleles. Note: by default, baritone ukuleles are not tuned the same way as the other kinds of ukuleles.
I don’t have a concert-sized uke, but here’s a picture of my three ukuleles so that you can compare between soprano, tenor and baritone ukes:
What do *you* play?
I own three ukuleles: a regular-sized Rogue uke, which is basically a pile of junk and us utterly un-playable as it can’t stay in tune more than 10 seconds at a time, a Lanikai Tenor 8-string LU-8e that features a built-in mic and preamp, and with which I gig, and a Lanikai CK-B baritone uke made of koa wood. I recommend both of those ukuleles as they are reasonably priced, yet can be played in a professional setting.
Should I buy a ukulele made of Koa?
Koa is a wood indigenous only from Hawaii, where the ukulele was first introduced in the 19th century. It is a protected wood species and therefore cannot be harvested. Only the wood of broken or dead koa trees can be used, and it is therefore quite expensive.
I am a huge fan of koa as I own a ukulele and two guitars that feature that wood, but understand that you will have to pay a premium for it.
There are two reasons to prefer a ukulele made of koa: the look – curly flamed koa is quite beautiful – and tone. The former is in the eye of the beholder, so I won’t spend more time on that. The latter is important to any musician, but the truth is that there are other woods that can produce a beautiful tone as well. So if money is not an option, then the Hawaiian root shared by both Koa and the ukulele make it a fine choice. But if you want to save some money, look for alternatives such as mahogany and nato wood.
Is the ukulele a toy?
Some are so poorly built – I’m looking at you, Rogue ukuleles – that they might as well be toys. But a decently built ukulele is not a toy – it’s a full-fledged musical instrument and should be considered as such. Don’t take my word for it, ask Jake Shimabukuro!
Is the ukulele a good instrument for a child?
Yes! The smaller neck and body, the nylon strings (softer on the fingertips!), combined with the relatively easy chords make it a perfect instrument for children. Also of note is the fact that most of the skills you learn as a ukulele player translate very well if one wants to play the guitar next. Understanding strumming, chords, single-note playing, etc… will make the transition to other string instruments such as the banjo, the mandolin and the guitar among others a simpler and more straight-forward process.
Also, I recommend, as a father, that parents would share a musical activity with their child(ren). It’s a wonderful opportunity to bond and to create a lifelong common passion. I know that I will never forget playing songs on the piano with my father singing along, for example.
How is a ukulele tuned?
As previously mentioned, soprano, concert and tenor ukuleles are tuned G C E A. Some baritone ukes are tuned that way as well, but are usually tuned D G B E. I will soon be uploading a video on how to tune your uke – stay tuned!
What is a reentrant tuning?
A reentrant, or re-entrant, tuning is when the strings on a stringed instrument are not ordered from the lowest to the highest pitch. Soprano, concert and tenor ukuleles are examples of instruments that most often feature re-entrant tuning – in their case, between the 3rd and 4th string.
What is a good first ukulele to buy?
There are many options out there. My best advice is don’t buy a uke for $20. It’s going to be a pile of junk that is close to impossible to play. It won’t keep in tune, the action will be terrible, etc… and it will turn you off the joy of playing.
I feel that a good entry-level soprano ukulele is the Lanikai LU-21.
The Kala KA-S is also a fine choice at a reasonable cost.
Should I buy a Ukulele that features a built-in preamp and mic?
The answer to that question is simple: do you ever intend to play it live in a setting that will require for you to plug it directly into an amp/PA? If no, then save the money! If yes, then you might as well get it factory-installed.
I am quite fond of my Lanikai LU-8e for that reason. I’ve played it live several times and it sounded great through the PA.
A ukulele player I know from an online community site, and whose opinion I respect greatly on these matters, indicated that for him it doesn’t matter whether the uke can be plugged in or not as he tends to play it close enough to the microphone through which he sings that his strumming is picked up by the vocal mic. So food for thought right there. As always, you’ll be best served by experimenting for yourself.
How often should I practice?
No one can answer that question better than you can, but I would venture that your goals will dictate your practice schedule. If you’re looking to play live, then obviously you will want to practice more than if you’re just fooling around with the uke while sitting on a couch. There is no wrong answer here, as long as your are honest with yourself and your goals.
I would say that you should practice at least once a week. Yes, for some people, the fingertips will be sore. Forge through it, that doesn’t last long. Before you know it, you will have sufficient callouses on your fingertips that you will no longer experience that soreness.
I personally do not like to look at it as “practice time.” My personal mandate with music in general, and the ukulele in particular, is that it has to be fun. If it’s not fun, then I don’t need it in my life.
So with that in mind, I practice every day, but I don’t practice scales or anything like that. Not that there is anything wrong with scales, but I’d personally rather strum and figure out a new song, or look for a chord progression that pleases my ear. The aim here is to play so much that I am learning the instrument as I am playing. BUT: it has to be fun!