All about the ukulele
What is a ukulele?
The ukulele is a four stringed instrument which looks more or less like a miniature classical guitar. Although it is today associated with Hawaii, the ukulele has its roots in Portugal, and indeed it was Portuguese immigrants who brought small ukulele-esque instruments over to Hawaii, such as the machete, the cavaquinho, the timple, and the rajão. Most of the migrant settlers came from Madeira, and so it was with this influx in the late 1800s that the seeds of the ukulele were sown, as the musical Madeirans began to play their instruments in many a street performance, spreading the popularity of the sound of their ukulele precursors.
The difference between the ukulele and guitars/banjos
A classical guitar will give you a good sense of how a ukulele operates, though the ukulele, as well as being much smaller, has four strings rather than the guitar’s six strings. Ukuleles also are far quieter, and like the guitar they don’t have a deep tone. Banjos have 4 strings but they can also have 5 strings, and are distinct from ukuleles in their tone which is brighter than the mellow ukulele tone.
How to tune the ukulele with and without a tuner
There are a couple of ways to tune a ukulele. If you are a beginner, then you might want to invest in a tuner. With a tuner, all you have to do is clip it onto the headstock of your ukulele and turn it on (the tuner, that is! The ukulele thankfully doesn’t need turning on.) Then, making sure that the tuner is in C mode, you can simply begin by plucking the G string, which will be the one nearest your face. Your tuner will tell you if you’re in tune or if you need to very slightly tighten or loosen the string. You can then proceed to the rest of the strings in a like manner.
If you don’t yet have a tuner, but do have some kind of reference source such as a tuned or digital piano, then you can compare the sound of the strings (G, C, A and E) with that of the piano. Alternatively, you only really need to tune your G string, and then you can use that to tune the A string by placing your finger on its second fret, the E string by placing your finger on the third fret, and then tune the C string by placing your finger on the fourth fret and aligning the pitch to the E string.
The short video below from Uke Like The Pros shows you how to tune a ukulele using a clip on snark tuner.
How to play a ukulele
Something important preceding the playing of your ukulele is the matter of choosing the right one for you. The smallest kind is the soprano ukulele. The soprano ukulele offers the classic ukulele sound that most people would associate with the Hawaiian sound, but it may be difficult to play for those who have larger hands. There are then also the alto, tenor and baritone ukuleles, which increase in size with each one up to the baritone.
The larger ukuleles may also give you a slightly richer tone, but it will be crucial just to pick up a few different kinds and see which one feels comfortable to hold. From that point onwards, once you have your ideal instrument, the best place to start is by learning to slowly strum all the fundamental major and minor chords. The next step will be to become more accustomed to muting the strings at the end of certain chords with your strumming hand, as well as tapping it on the wood as you play to add some grooves. But this should not be a concern till you have got a good sense of the basic chords and are able to transition between them.
Here are some videos below by Uke Like The Pros showing you the essential minor and major chords on the ukulele.
Ukuleles at London Guitar Studio
Browse through our range of ukuleles at the London Guitar Studio, where you will find a selection of soprano, concert and tenor ukuleles.