Martin 3K Professional Ukulele
|Classification||String instrument (plucked, nylon stringed instrument usually played with the bare thumb and/or fingertips, or a felt pick)|
The ukulele (// yoo-kə-LAY-lee, from Hawaiian: ʻukulele [ˈʔukuˈlɛlɛ] (oo-koo-leh-leh); variant: ukelele), sometimes abbreviated to uke, is a member of the lute family of instruments; it generally employs four nylon or gut strings or four courses of strings.
The ukulele originated in the 19th century as a Hawaiian adaptation of the Portuguese machete, a small guitar-like instrument, which was introduced to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants, many from Madeira and the Azores. It gained great popularity elsewhere in the United States during the early 20th century, and from there spread internationally.
The tone and volume of the instrument vary with size and construction. Ukuleles commonly come in four sizes: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone.
The ukulele is commonly associated with music from Hawaii where the name roughly translates as "jumping flea", perhaps because of the movement of the player's fingers. Legend attributes it to the nickname of the Englishman Edward William Purvis, one of King Kalākaua's officers, because of his small size, fidgety manner, and playing expertise. According to Queen Liliʻuokalani, the last Hawaiian monarch, the name means "the gift that came here", from the Hawaiian words uku (gift or reward) and lele (to come).
Developed in the 1880s, the ukulele is based on several small guitar-like instruments of Portuguese origin, the machete, the cavaquinho, the timple and the rajão, introduced to the Hawaiian Islands by Portuguese immigrants from Madeira and Cabo Verde. Three immigrants in particular, Madeiran cabinet makers Manuel Nunes, José do Espírito Santo, and Augusto Dias, are generally credited as the first ukulele makers. Two weeks after they disembarked from the SS Ravenscrag in late August 1879, the Hawaiian Gazette reported that "Madeira Islanders recently arrived here, have been delighting the people with nightly street concerts."
One of the most important factors in establishing the ukulele in Hawaiian music and culture was the ardent support and promotion of the instrument by King Kalākaua. A patron of the arts, he incorporated it into performances at royal gatherings.
In the 1960s, educator J. Chalmers Doane dramatically changed school music programs across Canada, using the ukulele as an inexpensive and practical teaching instrument to foster musical literacy in the classroom. 50,000 schoolchildren and adults learned ukulele through the Doane program at its peak. Today, a revised program created by James Hill and J. Chalmers Doane continues to be a staple of the music education in Canada.
The ukulele came to Japan in 1929 after Hawaiian-born Yukihiko Haida returned to the country upon his father's death and introduced the instrument. Haida and his brother Katsuhiko formed the Moana Glee Club, enjoying rapid success in an environment of growing enthusiasm for Western popular music, particularly Hawaiian and jazz. During World War II, authorities banned most Western music, but fans and players kept it alive in secret, and it resumed popularity after the war. In 1959, Haida founded the Nihon Ukulele Association. Today, Japan is considered a second home for Hawaiian musicians and ukulele virtuosos.
The singer and comedian George Formby was perhaps the UK's most famous ukulele player, though he often played a banjolele, a hybrid instrument consisting of an extended ukulele neck with a banjo resonator body. Demand surged in the new century because of its relative simplicity and portability. Another famous British artist was Tony Award winner Tessie O'Shea, who appeared in numerous movies and stage shows, and was twice on The Ed Sullivan Show, including the night The Beatles debuted in 1964. Today the ukulele's popularity in Britain continues to grow with the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain touring globally, establishment of dedicated ukulele groups across the UK, and Paul McCartney's 2002 tribute tour to George Harrison, a huge fan of the instrument. The UK has its own long-standing online forum dedicated to the instrument and its players, Ukulele Cosmos, which hosts an annual ukulele jamboree in the county of Suffolk.
United States mainland
Pre–World War II
The ukulele was popularized for a stateside audience during the Panama Pacific International Exposition, held from spring to fall of 1915 in San Francisco. The Hawaiian Pavilion featured a guitar and ukulele ensemble, George E. K. Awai and his Royal Hawaiian Quartet, along with ukulele maker and player Jonah Kumalae. The popularity of the ensemble with visitors launched a fad for Hawaiian-themed songs among Tin Pan Alley songwriters. The ensemble also introduced both the lap steel guitar and the ukulele into U.S. mainland popular music, where it was taken up by vaudeville performers such as Roy Smeck and Cliff "Ukulele Ike" Edwards. On April 15, 1923 at the Rivoli Theater in New York City, Smeck appeared, playing the ukulele, in Stringed Harmony, a short film made in the DeForest Phonofilm sound-on-film process. On August 6, 1926, Smeck appeared playing the ukulele in a short film His Pastimes, made in the Vitaphone sound-on-disc process, shown with the feature film Don Juan starring John Barrymore.
The ukulele soon became an icon of the Jazz Age. Like guitar, basic ukulele skills can be learned fairly easily, and this highly portable, relatively inexpensive instrument proved popular with amateur players throughout the 1920s, as is evidenced by the introduction of uke chord tablature into the published sheet music for popular songs of the time, (a role that would eventually be supplanted by the guitar in the early years of rock and roll). A number of mainland-based stringed-instrument manufacturers, among them Regal, Harmony, and especially Martin added ukulele, banjolele, and tiple lines to their production to take advantage of the demand.
The ukulele also made inroads into early country music or old-time music parallel to the then popular mandolin. It was played by Jimmie Rodgers and Ernest V. Stoneman, as well as by early string bands, including Cowan Powers and his Family Band, Da Costa Woltz's Southern Broadcasters, Walter Smith and Friends, The Blankenship Family, The Hillbillies, and The Hilltop Singers.
Post–World War II
From the late 1940s to the late 1960s, plastics manufacturer Mario Maccaferri turned out about 9 million inexpensive ukuleles. The ukulele continued to be popular, appearing on many jazz songs throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Much of the instrument's popularity (particularly the baritone size) was cultivated via The Arthur Godfrey Show on television. Singer-musician Tiny Tim became closely associated with the instrument after playing it on his 1968 hit "Tiptoe Through the Tulips."
After the 1960s, the ukulele declined in popularity until the late 1990s, when interest in the instrument reappeared. During the 1990s, new manufacturers began producing ukuleles and a new generation of musicians took up the instrument. Jim Beloff set out to promote the instrument in the early 1990s and created over two dozen ukulele music books featuring modern music as well as classic ukulele pieces.
All-time best selling Hawaiian musician Israel Kamakawiwo'ole helped re-popularise the instrument, in particular with his 1993 Reggae-rhythmed medley of "Over the Rainbow" and "What a Wonderful World," used in films, television programs, and commercials. The song reached no. 12 on Billboard's Hot Digital Tracks chart the week of January 31, 2004 (for the survey week ending January 18, 2004).
The creation of YouTube was a large influence on the popularity of the ukulele. One of the first videos to go viral was Jake Shimabukuro's ukulele rendition of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" on YouTube. The video quickly went viral, and has received over 14.5 million views and launched Jake's career. The ready availability of thousands of instructional videos has greatly expanded the popularity of this instrument, and it is now commonly heard in pop music and even TV commercials.
Ukuleles are generally made of wood, though variants have been composed partially or entirely of plastic or other materials. Cheaper ukuleles are generally made from plywood or laminate woods, in some cases with a soundboard of a tonewood such as spruce. More expensive ukuleles are made of solid hardwoods such as mahogany. The traditionally preferred wood for ukuleles is acacia koa.
Typically, ukuleles have a figure-eight body shape similar to that of a small acoustic guitar. They are also often seen in non-standard shapes, such as cutaway shape and an oval, usually called a "pineapple" ukulele, invented by the Kamaka Ukulele company, or a boat-paddle shape, and occasionally a square shape, often made out of an old wooden cigar box.
These instruments usually have four strings; some strings may be paired in courses, giving the instrument a total of six or eight strings (primarily for greater strumming volume.) The strings themselves were originally made of catgut. Modern ukuleles use nylon polymer strings, with many variations in the material, such as titanium and fluorocarbon. Some of the lower strings, particularly on the larger sizes, are wound with aluminum.
Instruments with 6 or 8 strings in four courses are often called taropatches, or taropatch ukuleles. They were once common in a concert size, but now the tenor size is more common for six-string taropatch ukuleles. The six string, four course version, has two single and two double courses, and is sometimes called a Lili'u, though this name also applies to the eight-string version.
Common types of ukuleles include concert, soprano (standard ukulele), tenor, baritone. Less common are the sopranino (also called piccolo, bambino, or "pocket uke") bass, and contrabass ukuleles. The soprano, often called "standard" in Hawaii, is the second-smallest and was the original size. The concert size was developed in the 1920s as an enhanced soprano, slightly larger and louder with a deeper tone. Shortly thereafter, the tenor was created, having more volume and deeper bass tone. The baritone (resembling a smaller tenor guitar) was created in the 1940s, and the contrabass and bass are very recent innovations (2009 and 2012, respectively).
Size and popular tunings of standard ukulele types:
|Type||Alternate names||Typical length||Scale length||Frets||Range ||Common tuning||Alternate tunings|
|piccolo, sopranino, sopranissimo||16 in (41 cm)||11 in (28 cm)||10–12||G4–E6||D5–G4–B4–E5||C5–F4–A4–D5|
|Soprano||standard, ukulele||21 in (53 cm)||13 in (33 cm)||12–15||C4–A5 (C6)||G4–C4–E4–A4||A4–D4–F♯4–B4
|Concert||super soprano, alto||23 in (58 cm)||15 in (38 cm)||15–18||C4–C6 (D♯6)||G4–C4–E4–A4||G3–C4–E4–A4|
|Tenor||taro patch, Liliʻu||26 in (66 cm)||17 in (43 cm)||17–19||G3–D6 (E6)||"High G":
|Baritone||bari, bari uke
|29 in (74 cm)||19 in (48 cm)||18–21||D3–A♯5 (C♯6)||D3–G3–B3–E4||C3–G3–B3–E4|
|Bass||30 in (76 cm)||20 in (51 cm)||16–18||E2–B4 (C♯5)||E2–A2–D3–G3|
|Contrabass||U-Bass, Rumbler||32 in (81 cm)||21 in (53 cm)||16||E1–B3||E1–A1–D2–G2|
Range of notes of standard ukulele types:
Notes that range varies with the tuning and size of the instruments. The examples shown in the chart reflect the range of each instrument from the lowest standard tuning, to the highest fret in the highest standard tuning.
The (currently) most popular tuning for the standard or soprano ukulele is C6-tuning: G4–C4–E4–A4. The G string is tuned an octave higher than might be expected. This is known as a "reentrant tuning"; it avoids the problems of a low-tuned bass string and enables uniquely close-harmony chording. A few players prefer "low G" tuning, with the G in sequence an octave lower: G3–C4–E4–A4, the same relationship as the top 4 strings (DGBE) of a guitar in standard tuning.
Another common tuning for the soprano ukulele is the higher string-tension D6-tuning (or "D-tuning"), A4–D4–F♯4–B4, one step higher than the G4–C4–E4–A4 tuning. Once considered standard, this tuning was commonly used during the Hawaiian music boom of the early 20th century, and is often seen in sheet music from this period, as well as in many method books through the 1980s. D6-tuning is said by some to bring out a sweeter tone in some ukuleles, generally smaller ones. D-tuning with a low 4th, A3–D4–F♯4–B4, is sometimes called "Canadian tuning" after its use in the Canadian school system, mostly on concert or tenor ukuleles, and extensive use by James Hill and J. Chalmers Doane.
Whether C6 or D6 tuning should be the "standard" tuning is a matter of long and ongoing debate. There are historic and popular ukulele methods that have used each.
The "higher pitched" instruments (sopranino, soprano, concert) most often employ re-entrant tuning, while the "lower pitched" instruments (baritone, bass, and often tenor) usually employ linear tuning, where the strings are tuned from low to high pitch across the instrument. For example, baritone is usually tuned to D3–G3–B3–E4, (like the highest four strings of a standard 6-string guitar.) There are, however, exceptions, with some players preferring to place the tenor (and even, rarely, the baritone) into re-entrant tuning as well.
Ukulele varieties include hybrid instruments such as the guitalele (also called guitarlele), banjo ukulele (also called banjolele), harp ukulele, and lap steel ukulele. There is an electrically amplified version, the electric ukulele. The resonator ukulele produces sound by one or more spun aluminum cones (resonators) instead of the wooden soundboard, giving it a distinct and louder tone. The Tahitian ukulele, another variant, is usually carved from a single piece of wood, and does not have a hollow soundbox.
Close cousins of the ukulele include the Portuguese forerunners, the cavaquinho (also commonly known as machete or braguinha) and the slightly larger rajão. Other relatives include, the Venezuelan cuatro, the Colombian tiple, the timple of the Canary Islands, the Spanish vihuela, the Mexican requinto jarocho, and the Andean charango traditionally made of an armadillo shell. In Indonesia, a similar Portuguese-inspired instrument is the kroncong.
- "ukulele". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- Erich M. von Hornbostel & Curt Sachs, "Classification of Musical Instruments: Translated from the Original German by Anthony Baines and Klaus P. Wachsmann." The Galpin Society Journal 14, 1961: 3–29.
- "ukulele". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 22 January 2016.
- Tranquada and King (2012). The Ukulele, A History. Hawaii University Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-3634-4.
- Beloff 2003, p. 13
- Tranquada, Jim (2012). The Ukulele: a History. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 37–39. ISBN 978-0-8248-3544-6.
- Nidel, Richard (2004). World Music: The Basics. Routledge. p. 312. ISBN 978-0-415-96800-3.
- Roberts, Helen (1926). Ancient Hawaiian Music. Bernice P. Bishop Museum. pp. 9–10.
- King, John (2003). "Prolegomena to a History of the ‘Ukulele". Ukulele Guild of Hawai'i.
- "David Kalakaua (1836–1891), Inaugural Hall of Fame Inductee, 1997". Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum. 2008.
- Karr, Gary, and McMillan, Barclay (1992). "J. Chalmers Doane". Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. University of Toronto Press. Retrieved 2008-06-09.
- Beloff 2003, p. 111
- Beloff, Jim (2003). The Ukulele: A Visual History. Backbeat books. p. 110. ISBN 978-0-87930-758-5.
- Fladmark, Judy (2010-02-19). "Ukulele sends UK crazy". BBC News.
- Tranquada, Jim (2012). The Ukulele: a History. University of Hawaii Press. p. 152. ISBN 978-0-8248-3544-6.
- Lipsky, William (2005). San Francisco's Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Arcadia Publishing. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-7385-3009-3.
- Doyle, Peter (2005). Echo and Reverb: Fabricating Space in Popular Music Recording, 1900–1960. Wesleyan. p. 120. ISBN 978-0-8195-6794-9.
- "Jonah Kumalae (1875–1940), 2002 Hall of Fame Inductee". Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum. 2007. Retrieved 2008-06-02.
- Koskoff, Ellen (2005). Music Cultures in the United States: An Introduction. Routledge. p. 129. ISBN 978-0-415-96588-0.
- Volk, Andy (2003). Lap Steel Guitar. Centerstream Publications. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-57424-134-1.
- Whitcomb, Ian (2000). Ukulele Heaven: Songs from the Golden Age of the Ukulele. Mel Bay Publications. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-7866-4951-8.
- Whitcomb, Ian (2001). Uke Ballads: A Treasury of Twenty-five Love Songs Old and New. Mel Bay Publications. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-7866-1360-1.
- Sanjek, Russell (1988). American Popular Music and Its Business: The First Four Hundred Years. Oxford University Press. p. 95. ISBN 0-19-504311-1.
- Just a Few Penny Dreadfuls, Ukulele and Old–Time Country Music, by Rev and Deb Porter, article in The Old Time Herald, Volume 9, Number Five, Fall 2004, Pages 19–22.
- Wright, Michael. "Maccaferri History: The Guitars of Mario Maccaferri". Vintage Guitar. Retrieved 2008-06-02.
- "The Ukulele". Peterborough Music. 3 March 2002. Retrieved 2011-09-15.The Ukulele
- "Arthur Godfrey (1903–1983), 2001 Hall of Fame Inductee". Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum. 2007. Retrieved 2008-06-02.
- John Shepherd (27 February 2003). Continuum encyclopedia of popular music of the world: VolumeII: Performance and production. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 450–. ISBN 978-0-8264-6322-7. Retrieved 16 April 2011.
- Mighty Uke, Interview with Jim Beloff, 2010
- Jake Shimabukuro playing "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" on YouTube
- The "Scale" is the length of the playable part of the strings, from the nut at the top to the bridge at the bottom.
- Exact range will depend on the tuning used and the number of frets available
- On the soprano, concert, and tenor instruments, the most common tuning results in a "bottom" string that is not the lowest in pitch, as it is tuned a 5th higher than the next string (and a Major 2nd below the "top" string). This is known as re-entrant tuning
- Tenor ukuleles exist in a variety of styles, with 4, 6, and 8 strings. What the tenor is called depends on which style it has been designed in.
- Eight-string "taropatch" baritone ukuleles have been made; however, they are very rare. See, for example, the Kamaka HF-48
- See the Luna Uke Bass
- U-Bass and Rumbler are trade names of the Kala ukulele company
- Tranquada, J.; The Ukulele: A History; University of Hawaii Press; Honolulu: 2012. 0824-83634-0 According to Tranquanda, ""This is an old and seemingly never-ending argument. While the pioneering methods of Kaai (1906) and Rollinson (1909) both use C tuning, a sampling of the methods that follow give a sense of the unresolved nature of the debate: Kealakai (1914), D tuning; Bailey (1914), C tuning; Kia (1914), D tuning; Kamiki (1916), D tuning; Guckert (1917), C tuning; Stumpf (1917), D tuning."
- Kimura, Heeday. How to Play Slack Key Ukulule.
- University of the South Pacific. Institute of Pacific Studies (2003). Cook Islands culture. Institute of Pacific Studies in Association with the Cook Islands Extension Centre, University of the South Pacific, the Cook Islands Cultural and Historic Places Trust, and the Ministry of Cultural Development. ISBN 978-982-02-0348-8. Retrieved 15 September 2012.
- Jeremy Wallach (22 October 2008). Modern Noise, Fluid Genres: Popular Music in Indonesia, 1997–2001. Univ of Wisconsin Press. pp. 268–. ISBN 978-0-299-22904-7. Retrieved 15 September 2012.
- Beloff (2003) . The Ukulele: A Visual History (Revised & Expanded ed.). San Francisco: Backbeat Books. ISBN 0-87930-758-7.
- Tranquada, Jim; King, John (2012). The Ukulele: A History. Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-3634-4.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ukulele.|
- Tiki King's Ukulele Brand name database – information on over 600 ukulele makers past and present
- The Ukulele & You – an exhibition curated by the Museum of Making Music, Carlsbad, CA that details the ukulele's history and waves of mainstream popularity.
- Bass Ukulele utilizing Ashbory strings – article on Bass Ukulele