Monday, 8 December 2014

6 Reasons Ukuleles are Awesome

As I'm sure I've mentioned before, I play ukulele. I got one for €25 in the local music shop a year and a half ago before going to CTYI for the first time. I wanted one after my school choir won a national award that got us €3000. Being wonderfully quirky, the school spent the money buying a load of ukuleles and started giving free ukulele lessons at lunch. After a bit I decided I wanted one of my own, so I got it as an early birthday present.

I think €25 is near the lowest price you're going to get one, but my ukulele is still decent and I love it dearly. My younger brother's cost €50 (a lovely Mahalo) and definitely has an appreciable difference in sound quality, but it's honestly so cheap to get started with the ukulele.

Mine on the right, my brother's on the left. 

1) Price

Like I described above, ukuleles are wonderfully cheap, and you can upgrade as you get better. I've never paid for a single lesson, instead learning from my friends and the internet. Unlike the piano, you don't need a specialist to tune it.

2) Size

The ukulele is supremely portable. I carried it around with me quite often in CTYI, and around school I often see people carrying their ukuleles in the plastic cases. You couldn't do that with guitar, it would be far too heavy and cumbersome. Ukuleles are incredibly light and dainty. Also, the fretboard is a lot smaller. While this may present problems for people with big hands, it was really convenient for me. My arms get sore reaching over the body of a guitar to strum, and my fingers fit perfectly onto a ukulele's fretboard. And this aspect would make it a good instrument for kids to learn before starting guitar (if they wish).

3) Ease of Learning

Because it only has four strings, most chords on ukulele are much easier than on guitar or other instruments. With the exception of E, that is.

E ukulele chord diagram
Source: UkuGuides
But if you're lazy like me, you can always avoid E by transposing songs up and down. Some sites (like UltimateGuitar) will even do it for you. And when you have chords as simple as C and Am (both played with only one finger), transposing into a key that suits you is easy.

Most things sound nice on a ukulele, so it's hard to go wrong. That's very encouraging for a beginner, although I'm sure there's a jump in difficulty if you want to start playing technically advanced things.

Source: UkuGuides

Source: UkuGuides 

4) Cheerful Sound

This is mainly why I fell in love with the ukulele. It has an incredibly upbeat, cheerful sound you can't get with guitar or anything else I tried. This makes it very suitable for songs like "Don't Worry Be Happy" and "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz (and in fact, I'm Yours is the song nearly everyone I know first learned on the uke). It's so carefree and relaxing. Light. 

5) Compatibility with Guitar

I started learning guitar when I was around four, and gradually stopped playing until I stopped altogether around twelve. But I had the muscle memory from a lot of chords by that time, and that translated really easily to ukulele. Many of the chord configurations are the same. Have a look at this: 

Ukulele D
A chord
Guitar A

Both of those use three fingers in the second fret, and you can imagine the ukulele one as the guitar one with the top two strings taken off. 

Ukulele G
D chord
Guitar D

Here's where I first noticed the similarities. They're identical. 
Am chord
Guitar Am
Ukulele Dm

First finger first fret, second string from the bottom. Next two fingers second fret, third and fourth strings from the bottom. Again, you just have to knock off the top two guitar strings. (Although I wouldn't recommend doing that in real life.)

So transitioning from guitar to ukulele is no problem. Which is handy, since guitar players are so incredibly common. Leading me onto my next point...

6) Quirk

There's no denying that ukuleles are quirky. While they have been rising astronomically in popularity lately, they're still unusual and thus special. They give off a Hawaiian beach vibe too, and make a good icebreaker.  This will probably get you branded as a hipster, but so what? I think being a hipster in one aspect of life is okay, and then you have all the benefits above as well. 

So there you go, those are the six main reasons I advocate playing ukulele. This was originally going to be a Pros & Cons post, but I'm not impartial enough for that. So if you have any counterpoints, post them in the comments below. 

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