Meet the Ukulele

A number of you have asked for details about the ukulele I just got, so here it is: It’s a Mahalo brand tenor ukulele (specifically this model), which as I understand it means it’s slightly larger than the “standard” or “concert” sized ukuleles, which is vaguely frightening to me because the thing is, like, tiny. I bought this particular ukulele because it was the ukulele that my local music store had in stock when I went in. It was also reasonably inexpensive (it and the travel bag it came in came out to $77), so it made it a reasonable impulse buy. If it turned out that I hated the thing, I wouldn’t feel like I sunk a huge amount of money into it.

Fortunately I don’t hate the thing. It’s fun, and it’s pretty simple to learn. I already have a guitar so the concept of chording was not difficult, although the chord forms on a ukulele are different than they are on a guitar (and typically simpler). As noted the other day, within 30 minutes I had learned to play a song, and other relatively simple songs have come along nicely (added to the repertoire since then: “Imagine,” by John Lennon, “Fisherman’s Blues,” by The Waterboys and “Better Be Home Soon,” by Crowded House). I should note with total honesty that “learning these songs” means that I can chord them out; my strumming remains atrocious and will have to be worked on.

Be that as it may, I feel it’s been a pretty good investment so far, and if I keep up with it I’ll be able to achieve what my goal for the thing is, which is to accompany myself whist I sing to the cats and walls. Hey, now. I never said I wanted to be a rock star.

32 Comments on “Meet the Ukulele”

  1. The tenor uke is pretty much the standard one. A baritone uke is about twice that size. Chords are the same.
    You didn’t tell us you played the guitar – that brings your accomplishment down a bit though notable. :)

  2. As I recall, major chords are the same as guitar minus the top two strings.

  3. I’ve been playing Uke for about 2-3 years now, and taking lessons for about 6 months.
    Being a “good” Uke player is all about learning the strum patterns, chunks, other percussive effects, as well as learning the various ways to pick the uke (good players are picking all along the fretboard as well as with the right hand). You can always just strum the chords, but then you are really just playing it like a guitar (witness Eddie Vedder’s most recent album of all Uke songs, which are really just someone playing Uke like a guitar).

    Concert Uke is considered the “standard” but the tenor Uke is very popular amongst the accomplished players because it gives a more resonant sound. Soprano Ukes are rarely played solo anymore, but are found in all Uke Bands or Orchestras.

    There are some OUTSTANDING online aids for Uke players, so email me if you are interested in them.

    Happy Strumming!

  4. Congratulations, John! New things are always fun to learn, and the uke is a great choice. Sorry to “Dr. Jim” above though, but I disagree when he says that tenors ar the “standard” ukes. The standard uke is and always will be the soprano and to a much lessor extent the somewhat larger concert. Tenors are very commonly used by performers (as exemplified by Jake Shimabakuro for example) because they have a deeper tone more easily suited for recording and amplification, and they are basically easier to transition to from larger instruments like guitars. If the uke thing really sets in for you, check out some of the custom builders – small builders tend to be flexible in their approach to body size and building details. My Glyph, for instance, is an intermediate size the builder calls “mezzo-soprano”, halfway between a soprano and a concert sized, but with a somewhat longer fretboard. And of course the materials and design details are entirely custom and one-of-a-kind. My Martin by contrast is a standard soprano size, as has been established and built for nearly 100 years.

  5. I’m pretty sure you’re contractually obligated to post a picture of yourself in a lei and grass skirt with this thing now. ;)

  6. Quoth our host: “Hey, now. I never said I wanted to be a rock star.”

    I dunno. Is there space in the market for a ukelelified Greg Lake?
    “Ooooooh, what a Fuzzy Man… he was!”

  7. I’m thinking you’ll need to find someone to sing harmony with you on “Better be home soon”.

  8. Okay, this is getting weird…you’re the second SFWA member I’m aware of who’s recently taken up the ukelele. Is this a cult initiation thing or what?

  9. I have a sneaking suspicion someone is looking to fill in for Molly Lewis from time to time….




  10. When I was deployed there was a group called “Ukes to Troops” who sent ukeleles to service members in Iraq, Afghanistan & Kuwait. Talk about a pick-me-up! I still have mine and although I play several other instruments, this particular one will alway hold a special place both as an instrument and as a message.

  11. I am seeing ukuleles everywhere lately. Eddie Vedder just released an album of ukulele music. Then a friend sends me a link to youtube video of girl named Brittni Paiva (search for it) playing the uke like a virtuso (no strumming here), then today I’m a music store looking to upgrade some of my drums and a bass player from my neighborhood comes in to buy his daughter a ukulele. It’s the hot new thing kids!

  12. I’m glad you enjoy the instrument so much. It sounds like a doozy. Do you plan to learn any Hawaiian tunes?

  13. If you wanna really make your fingers work, you should try the banjo sometime. eeeesh.

  14. The chord forms are basically the top four strings of a guitar, except that they’re all transposed, right? And the last string is an octave up from where you’d expect going by guitar tuning, but that shouldn’t affect the forms.

  15. …by “top” I mean in pitch, not in position when holding the instrument. Up and down with guitar-like instruments are always tricky to talk about…

  16. why do I suddenly have the fear of a Tiny Tim like performance on some late-night show?

  17. Like all guitarists, I have ukulele envy. I should just get one. I’m still pining for the impressive eight-string baritone uke (four courses of two strings each, analagous to a twelve-string guitar) that a student brought to a Viable Paradise a few years ago. Sweet.

  18. Nice! Mahogany sounds so pretty.

    I’m sure your cats will appreciate the effort you will be putting forth to entertain them. ;)

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