What costs about forty dollars, has four strings, only two octaves, is easy to learn, lightweight, easy to carry, and makes your singing voice sound better than it really is?
Sales of both the ukelele and the harmonica have been soaring and the phenomenon is being attributed to the recession. During the Great Depression, those were the only two instruments that showed yearly increases in sales.
As an almost-music major in my youth, I messed around with several instruments, but among them, the ukelele was, hands down, the easiest of the lot. I haven’t played one for 60 years or so but I’m sure that I could be adequately plinking away on one within a half hour. Anybody could.
If you learn a progression of about five chords in the range of your own voice, you can play by ear the chord accompaniment to about a million songs. And – even if you think you have a terrible singing voice – you’ll discover it sounds better than normal! Kind of like singing in the shower. And two or more singers can sing in harmony easy as pie.
You don’t even need to “take lessons”. I checked on YouTube and there’s oodles of 10 minute (or less) tutorials to get you started. Even pre-schoolers can do it. To prove it, check out this little guy. (The words are a bit wobbly, but he’s got the chords figured out.)
One reason those little baby fingers can do that is because the ukelele strings are softer than many other stringed instruments. I don’t remember that my fingers ever got sore while learning or playing the ukelele.
Finally, sit back and enjoy this jaw-dropping rendition of “Let’s Dance” ” by a 34 year old Hawaiian virtuoso named Jake Shimabukuro. His mother taught him to play the ukelele when he was four years old. After hearing him play, film critic Roger Ebert tweeted that his New Year’s resolution is to “learn to play the ukelele”.
Jake’s first YouTube video was his rendition of the Beatles’ “When My Guitar Gently Weeps”. After it went viral with over 7 million viewings, he’s become world-famous. It’s unbelieveable that he can do what he does with four strings on such a humble instrument.
“You can take it to the beach,” he says, “and you can let your friends play it. Nothing’s going to happen to a ukulele. Those things are so strong. They’re not expensive. Now, yeah, you can get custom-built ukuleles that cost a lot more money. But even my ukuleles that I tour and record with, I still take to the beach. I think that’s the nature of the instrument. It’s so friendly, and it’s not high maintenance. That’s what I love about it.”
Long may it play!