Every time someone gets a ukulele out, people think about "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" sang by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole. Then they ask you if you can play it or they will hum it for you. Sometimes, people laugh at you because they think it is a toy, that it is so much smaller than a guitar and such a cute instrument... until you play a few chords.
Getting Started With a Ukulele
Back in 2007, the first questions I asked myself before buying a ukulele was :
- Will I play with it when I get it ?
- Is it really for me ?
- How do I know if the ukulele that I will choose will be the one ?
- What do I need to know to play the ukulele ?
At the time, ukulele were not sold everywhere. Only specific shops were selling them and they were often either expensive or of very bad quality. Nowadays, the ukulele became an instrument widely played and are sold in most music shops. Rock singers and actors are even playing to major audiences and are popularizing the 4-string wonder.
If you are starting the ukulele without any musical theory knowledge, you will be able to play a song within 10 minutes. Really easy and fun to play is what made it so popular.
How To Choose The First Ukulele
A good beginner's ukulele is a ukulele that will stay in tune for at least a week without having to touch any knobs. The second most important feature is that you like it. It is supposed to be fun to play and give you pleasure when strumming. It should not be an obligation to pick it up in the first place.
The easiest choice would be to know someone who already plays the ukulele and would show you what they like in their ukulele, what they would do if they had to buy one for a beginner. They might even sell you one of their own for a good price.
Otherwise go to your local music shop and ask the owner a few questions. You can try a few of them to sample the sounds, feel how light they feel.
Where To Buy Your Ukulele
Going to a musical instrument shop is the best place to go to try a ukulele and get advice. You have to be careful if the seller does not know anything about the ukulele. Shops sometimes only sell decoration instruments that are not really playable. Some places have a large choice of brands and knowledgeable vendors. Talking to them will help you choose what kind of ukulele will suit you the best.
If you cannot find anyone that can help you directly, there are trustworthy websites from shops that are specialized in ukulele.
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What Accessories to Buy with Your First Ukulele
Have you ever bought something only to realize back home that you miss a pack of batteries for your electronic device or a memory card for your new camera ? For the ukulele, some accessories are almost that important.
An Electronic Tuner or a Pitch-Pipe
For every new instrument, it is important to tune it before playing it. For beginners, an electronic tuner is easy to use. Just pluck a string and the tuner will tell if a knob has to be turned or not. It requires a battery that is usually included in the pack. A pitch-pipe is used by blowing on one pipe at the time. It emits the notes that the user has to get on the ukulele. For standard tuning, the notes are G, C, E and A.
To protect the instrument when not using it, a case is mandatory. It can be a hard case which will protect the ukulele really well but may be less convenient to transport than a semi-hard case. A semi-hard case is lighter and usually have straps to carry it on one's shoulders.
The Power of the Ukulele
It Is Easy and Fun to Play the Ukulele
It is easy to play if you strum a few chords. It becomes a challenge if you want to take it to the next level. Because of its size, the ukulele mostly plays on 2 octaves, sometimes 3 but it comes with practice, just like any other instrument.
I have to admit that I have converted some of my friends to the ukulele. Most of them tried to play the guitar without success but the ukulele took them only 10 minutes before they could not put it down. 4 strings, one for each finger (with the thumb to keep the hand steady), it is easier than a 6-string guitar to know where to put your fingers.
People Have Low Expectations
The size makes the ukulele so cute that people do not expect anything from it. But when the sound comes out, it shows its power. A clear sound that lifts people up. It is almost like a baby : you do not expect it to do anything fancy but when they do something, it is a real treat.
Meet Other Ukulele Players
Ukulele players are usually very easy to approach. They like to share their love for the ukulele so do not hesitate to go and ask them how to play a song, what brand of ukulele they like and have.
And as Jake Shimabukuro would say :
If everyone played the ukulele, the world would be a better place.
An Inspiring Rendition from Jake Shimabukuro
And because there are different styles of ukulele player, here is another one. James Hill comes from Canada and has been experimenting for a while with a different approach to play the ukulele. He has even created songs on a lap steel ukulele.
James Hills Plays Billie Jean
When you start playing the ukulele, you will probably not be able to play like Jake and James. They have been practicing everyday since they were kids so they have a head start. But if you pick up a ukulele, you will not be able to put it down and you will probably enjoy it.