The History of the Ukulele
The ukulele is a stringed instrument part of the guitar family. It normally has four nylon strings and a wooden body (although plastic is also commonly used these days).
It’s not surprising that most people associate the ukulele and its origin with Hawaii, with the popular “Over the Rainbow” song and the instrument’s strong cultural ties and images with Hawaii. However, the ukulele was actually introduced to the Hawaiians by Portuguese immigrants in 1879 who brought a string instrument called a machete onto the island with them.
A few adaptations were made, and the ukulele (or affectionately, the “uke”) was born. Ukulele means “jumping flea” in Hawaiian - watch any skilled ukulele player jam out and you’ll understand why (hint: keep an eye on the nifty fingers).
The instrument quickly became popular in Hawaiian culture, especially among royalty. The Hawaiian king David Kalakauna was in love with the ukulele and is credited for promoting it as a Hawaiian instrument, using the instrument at formal royal events, and also being the one who introduced ukulele as a hula accompaniment.
It wasn’t long before the ukulele was introduced to America, and it took over the mainstream culture during the 1920s. Thousands of ukuleles were produced in America during this boom and the instrument became a musical icon of the Jazz age.
Today, we’re seeing a resurgence of popularity and interest in the ukulele once more, with genres expanding from rock to pop to classical to folk. What’s not to love about the quirky, nimble sound of the uke?
Ukulele Fun Facts
Astronaut Neil Armstrong was an avid and passionate ukulele player (you could say he had an ear for “out of this world” music).
The ukulele comes in four sizes, ranging from smallest to largest: Soprano (the standard and recommended size for beginner players), Concert, Tenor, & Baritone.
Here’s a surprising one… the most popular ukulele song in the US is not actually “Over the Rainbow”, but rather “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. He topped the uke charts in 2008 and stayed on the Hot 100 Songs for over 70 weeks!
During the 1920s, the famous guitar maker CF Martin sold more ukuleles than guitars.
One of the first YouTube videos to reach “viral” status was of ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro performing a cover of the song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. The video was posted to YouTube without Shimabukuro’s knowledge but led to his rapid popularity and ukulele stardom.
Why Choose Ukulele?
Ukuleles make a great beginners instrument for so many reasons:
They’re compact, easy-to-hold, and travel-friendly. They’re a good starting point for the eventual learning of other stringed instruments such as the guitar, violin, bass, etc.
Instruments can get pricey. But relative to the alternative options, ukuleles are inexpensive and a little more on the affordable side. Although prices can range, you can pick up a decent ukulele for about $40-$50.
Playing the ukulele has shown to improve brain-hand-eye coordination, since the exchange of information between the eyes, brain, and fingers sharpens mental and motor skills.
Most importantly… the ukulele is FUN! It’s easy to learn and almost any song can be played on the ukulele, making it an exciting and motivating instrument for children.
Are you as smitten by the uke as we are? Periodically we offer online ukulele classes taught by Mr. D! We have a new "Crash Course Ukulele" session starting October 19, 2023! This is an online class for kids 8 - 12 years old. Learn more!