Archive for December, 2009

The wonderful ukulele

December 14, 2009

There are countless variations when it comes to explaining how this 4 stringed instrument started its life. One of the most common conceptions is that the Portuguese brought their instruments to Hawaii; which ended up impressing the locals. In return, the locals produced their own instrument inspired by the Portuguese ones.

The name itself roughly translates as “jumping flea”. It is speculated that the name refers to how the strings are plucked; like a hopping flea. Personally, I have no desirable input when it comes to over-analyzing such a name. However I don’t think it is wrong to acknowledge that the ukulele can be like a “Jumping Flea” at times. Many people have the idea that the ukulele is a toy due to its size. The purpose of this article will be to showcase how it is more than a pitiful “toy”.

When talking about size it is rather ironic that people associate a small instrument with a “toy” ,but unaware of how the ukulele has 4 different sizes by today that vary.
Originally there was only the soprano, but overtime we have been introduced to the concert, tenor and baritone type. The differences between them aren’t really that noteworthy; other than the amount of frets and longer necks are increasing the differences between them.

Some unique differences:

– Concert can be seen as an “enhanced” soprano with a slightly louder and deep tone.
– Tenor tends to have more volume and a deeper bass tone on the G string.
– The baritone has a guitar standard tuning.

Due to the baritones unique tuning it has been said that it compliments jazz very well when adapting from the guitar. Otherwise most of the time the standard G-C-E-A tuning is used . There is nothing wrong about tuning the baritone the same way.

From the time of the invention of the ukulele in the the late 19th century, it was not until 1915 that it started it’s popular entry into the US. It first spread from San Franscisco and continued to cross the whole country. The popularity even reached the UK. The instrument kept rising in popularity and was adapted by some of the biggest entertainers (Cliff Edwards) at the time during the following decades. With the introduction of published chord tablatures of popular songs combined with the portability and inexpensiveness of the ukulele; made the instrument very accessible to both common people and musicians.

Now I would like to introduce some musicians who had an enormous influence at their time and helped introducing the ukulele to the people.

Cliff Edwards (also known as Ukulele Ike)

Nowadays Cliff Edwards may be recognized worldwide as the voice of Jiminy Cricket and the singer of the Oscar winning “When You Wish Upon A Star” in Pinocchio. However not many are aware that before that time he used to be known as an amazing ukulele player with a unique three-octave voice and a scat-singing style he called effin’. He has appeared in over 100 films and recorded hundreds of songs during the period of 1920s – 1960s. During his prime he manage to gain the nickname Ukulele Ike ,and was widely recognized for playing ukulele arrangements of popular songs. He also helped to popularize the instrument by publishing a collection of three ukulele arrangements.

George Formby

George Formby was an English entertainer who was a comedian and music performer. His career lasted from 1921 til his death in 1961. In these 4 decades he had managed to appear in 21 films, recorded hundreds of songs and made hundreds of stage performances.
He is known for a special rhythmic technique which has been called the Formby style with the aid of his banjolele (a ukulele crossover with a banjo type of body) and his unique voice. By 1939, George Formby was the most popular and highest paid entertainer in the British Isles and was estimated to be earning over £100,000 a year.
Even if he never performed in the USA he managed to get very popular in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. He charmed his audiences around the world with his down to earth personality with Lancashire dialect and cheeky humour.

Tiny Tim

Herbert Khaury (Tiny Tim) became a star and associated with the ukulele in 1968 after performing his own rendition of “Tiptoe Thru The Tulips”. He was a musical archivist with irreplaceable knowledge about music ,and recorded over 100s original covers of old songs with his distinct humour and style. He even adapted to contemporary music during his career and continued his unique take on 70s/80s songs. His voice was an exceptional case, varying from a deep baritone voice combined with a high vibrato falsetto. He might not have been the most technical ukulele player, but it was part of his style and performance. He helped to inspire many to pick up the instrument.

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