For years, the humble Ukulele has had something of an image problem, whether it is to do with Tiny Tim tip-toeing through Tulips, or George Formby Waiting by a Lamppost, (with his Ukulele Banjo) the diminutive four string instrument has had a problem with how it is seen in the public eye.
It does, perhaps have a better image than the Banjo, Bagpipe, or Accordion, but it is not as well loved as the Guitar, Violin, or Brass instruments, but a number of recent developments have helped the long, slow rehabilitation of the instrument. First, there was the successful formation of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, who more than twenty years since their formation still sell out concert halls around the world. It is also seen in the line-up of some indie folk bands, and whilst it will probably never be welcomed onto the stage at the X Factor, it is beginning to make its presence felt. The Ukulele is also climbing in the favour of young children, where it is now taught in the same classes that used to use Recorders and Violins.
The growing popularity of the instrument, though should not be that surprising. The instruments are cheap, easy and fun to learn, they are small and portable, and can be learnt easily. There are also models aimed squarely at the more mature rocker, with electric models available in the shapes of Gibson Flying Vs and Les Pauls, and Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters.
The Ukulele is also available in many sizes, with the Soprano being the most popular, due to its size and shape, but Concert models are also made, as are Tenor models, that give a deeper sound.
It is worth pointing out that anyone with a basic grasp of guitar, or any of the fretted stringed instruments already has a head start, and the four strings of the Ukulele can be tuned to anything. If it is tuned to G-D-A-E, then it is perfectly suited to Mandolin, Bouzouki, and Violin Players, whilst other tunings also suitable for guitarists and other players.
There is not a great deal of music written for the Ukulele, due to its relative youth, and its use as a strummed instrument for Hawaiin music, so the modern repertoire is taken from both the classical and pop fields, although there is still a lot of music to be found on the Uke, and perhaps new players will find it. The nylon strings of the Uke mean that the solo sound has a similar resonance to a classical guitar, and with a lot of two finger chords, new songs and ideas are easy to find and develop.
The Ukulele also does not have many of the problems that are associated with other stringed instruments. There is nothing much that can go wrong with a Uke, which is not the case with Guitars, Banjos, Mandolins and the like, and if something should go wrong, replacements are easily afforded.
Obviously, as with all instruments there are models made for every budget, and some of the very cheap models are little more than toys, but £30 will buy a very decent Soprano model, with other types of Uke being a similar price, whilst £100’s can be paid for very high quality instruments from name makers.
The Ukulele is an entry level instrument for anyone who wants to go from playing Guitar Hero, to playing music, it is cheaper and uses less electricity than the game, so if your new year’s resolution is to learn a musical instrument, then the Ukulele is a good place to start, and you may not be laughed at as much as you fear.
For general information about the Ukulele, and information about local groups