Crazy About the Ukulele

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Not so long ago, the ukulele was an endangered species. Now in its third heyday, the instrument’s cheerful sound is permeating the pop charts, serenading us during TV commercial breaks and showing up in YouTube videos by the thousands. The uke can even be heard in jam sessions on Barcelona beaches and has infiltrated some of the city’s Meetup groups.

Based on several small members of the guitar family, the ukulele was first developed in Hawaii during the 1880s by Portuguese immigrants. Roughly translated as “jumping flea”, the ukulele’s popularity spread to the United States in the 1920s. Thanks to the production of millions of inexpensive plastic ukuleles, their presence in popular music surged from the 1940s to the 1960s, but interest began to decline after that. The ukulele reclaimed centre stage due to the enthusiasm for Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s version of “Over the Rainbow”. 

And why shouldn’t the ukulele be this year’s trending topic? Its dainty size makes it a great instrument to travel with. It’s easy for kids and adults alike to play. It provides players with instant satisfaction—being defined in some music circles as “idiot-proof”, anyone can learn to play in a short period of time. No matter how off tune you go, it never sounds awful because of the uke’s sweet-natured sound. Playing the uke will enlarge your circle of friends. And it makes you and those listening around you happy.

Despite its higher profile, the ukulele still plays its role as an everyman instrument quite convincingly. “The ukulele has always fascinated me because it doesn’t intimidate other people,” said Hawaiian artist Jake Shimabukuro, whose career skyrocketed when his elaborate, introspective variation of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on a ukulele went viral on YouTube with more than 13 million views.

There’s no right or wrong way to play the ukulele, only your way. So get out there and start strumming!

BUYING GUIDE FOR YOUR FIRST UKULELE

The Sizes

There are four main ukulele sizes—soprano, concert, tenor, baritone—but the smallest, the soprano, is the most traditional. The soprano is the size that most people associate with the ukulele. A few practice strums will immediately produce that classic ukulele sound and bring a smile to your face.

The Woods

There are a ton of different woods used to craft ukuleles. The most common is koa, a type of wood from Hawaii. Thus, most ukuleles that come from their birthplace are made from koa. It has a beautiful grain and generates a very warm sound, but note that koa is used on more expensive ukuleles. If you’re not looking to break the bank, but still want a uke that will stay tuned, you’re probably going to get one made of mahogany. A mahogany ukulele sounds a little bit softer than one made of koa, but it’s still a good wood choice.

The Brands

There’s a bewildering range of ukulele brands available today. The brand you choose really depends on what your local music store has to offer, and your personal preferences and budget.

Some popular brands are:

Ashbury—good quality, entry-level ukes from a UK company

Kala—hugely popular in the islands and elsewhere, but generally with a big price tag

Kamaka—the oldest surviving ukulele maker, family-owned and Hawaii-based

Lanikai—one of the best ukuleles for a beginner

Mahalo—the ukulele every uke player started with

Pono—the brand Ko’olau’s less expensive ukuleles

Where to buy a ukulele in Barcelona

As always with instruments, it’s best to try them out before making a purchase decision. Here are a few music stores in Barcelona where you can do a test run to find the perfect uke for you.

SHINE SCHOOL OF MUSIC: Montseny 3. shinemusicschool.es

When it opened in 2008, the Barcelona branch of the Shine School of Music was the first specialised guitar school in the city, offering classes in all styles of guitar—from classic to flamenco to electric—with qualified and experienced teachers in English, Spanish and Catalan. Today, they continue to provide guitar lessons to all ages and levels, but have also begun training students on a variety of other instruments including piano, ukulele, cavaquinho, accordion, clarinet, saxophone and more. Understanding that most people study music for enjoyment, as a hobby, the school delivers a simultaneously structured, creative and fun approach to learning an instrument. At Shine, people feel comfortable socialising, collaborating with other musicians and showcasing their progress.

Shine is also one of two music schools in Barcelona that offer intensive flamenco/guitar/piano courses to tourists looking for an educational holiday, along with being one of the few music schools worldwide to give private online music classes in a coherent and organised fashion for you tech-savvy musicians out there.

When it comes to the ukulele, Shine is keeping up with that trend, too. Not only can their teachers melt your heart with a few joyous chords and teach you how to delight friends and family with some melodies of your own, but the school in Gràcia sells ukes, as well. They sell mostly sopranos because “it’s the most popular,” said owner Miloš. “The soprano is what everyone plays, what’s all over YouTube these days.” You can also rent a dynamic ukulele from Shine for 30 euros a month.

NEW-PHONO: Ample 35-37-39. www.newphono.com

This family-run business has been selling instruments behind a beautiful iconic storefront in the Gothic Quarter for almost 110 years. They offer all four sizes of ukulele, organised from least expensive to most in an elegant glass display case. Their sopranos start at 39 euros. Employee Tito said his favourite is the Martin soprano ukulele. “First of all, because the soprano is the original size, and the Martin is made of solid mahogany and the sound it produces is lovely,” he explained.

– See more at: http://www.barcelona-metropolitan.com/Ukulele-buying-guide-shine-music-school/#sthash.gy1cJHRB.dpuf

Written by Rachel Huffman. To read the full article, please click here. Ukulele Beats is an up and coming ukulele cover band in San Diego, California with a unique vibe and twist. For bookings, ukulele images, music and videos, please visit our website at www.ukulelebeats.com.

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