Always be yourself, unless you can be a ukulele player, then then always be a ukulele player
Everyone loves the sound of a guitar, it’s true, but those who discount the ukulele based on its diminutive size just don’t understand how amazing a sound that is so can be. The ukulele has a lovely, soft little voice that can fill listeners with joy. And there is hardly a person on the face of the earth who can keep their hands off of a ukelele when it’s around, even if that person has no clue how to play.
Thankfully, there is no requirement to know how to play the ukulele on World Play Your Ukulele Day. The only request is that anyone and everyone will pick up that Ukulele and play!
Ebbing and flowing in popularity since its introduction to the US in the early 1900s, the ukulele is a great instrument to learn on! It’s affordably priced, small enough for younger hands, it only has four strings and it’s just delightful to listen to.
Most ukuleles range from rather cheap toy or practice instruments (around $30 or possibly less) to mid-price versions that cost a couple hundred dollars. Higher end versions may run up to $500 or even a thousand dollars.
Sure, they’re all small instruments, but some ukuleles are smaller than others. Ukuleles can range in length from Soprano (21”) to Concert (23”) to Tenor (26”) to Bass (30”). The necks and the bodies on the larger versions will be slightly wider than the soprano.
With just four strings, a ukulele isn’t super difficult to tune. The typical soprano version of the uke usually has the strings tuned starting with the thin string on the bottom, to the notes GCEA.
The most expensive ukulele in the world was sold at an auction in October 2021 by Han Htoo Lwin (aka Burmese singer and band member, Kyar Pauk). It was priced at $27,500 (beating out the previously most expensive ukulele by $1500) and the proceeds were donated to a charity to help restore democracy in Myanmar.
History of World Play Your Ukulele Day
The ukulele is arguably one of the most iconic sounds that has come out of Hawaii, which is where this small instrument got its start. Everything about this tiny guitar is adorable, right down to what its name means: “Jumping Flea”. Sure, fleas aren’t all that cute, unless they are imagined as an adorable cartoon flea along the lines of the firefly in “The Princess and the Frog”, then suddenly it’s the cutest thing that could ever be.
So, that’s the ukulele, a cartoon flea with a bright voice and a cheery disposition.
The ukulele was introduced to Hawaii sometime in the late 1870’s, though the name of its predecessor was certainly less adorable than ‘jumping flea’. The origin instrument was of Portuguese origin, and was known as the machete. Sounds violent, doesn’t it? Thankfully, neither the sound of the ukulele nor its name is violent–in fact, strumming it is sure to brighten anyone’s day.
The first ukulele craze happened in 1915, when it was introduced in San Francisco at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The instrument became super popular, and a few years later the YMCA took it upon themselves to ship these instruments and their music to soldiers to bring a bit of joy during World War I.
While it originated in Hawaii, the instrument actually played a central role in helping to revitalize Canada’s music programs, as it was an inexpensive way to introduce students to music, and was incredibly practical to teach and foster musical literacy. The Doane program was named for its creator, J. Chalmers Doane, and during its time it taught nearly 50,000 children to love and play the ukulele. While the Doane program has ended, it has a legacy that is headed by James Hill in coordination with the original Doane.
Now, people all over the world love this little versatile instrument that has become more and more popular over the past several years.
World Play Your Ukulele Day Timeline
The Branguinha is introduced to Hawaii
The legend goes that an ancestor of the ukulele, the branguinha, is introduced to Hawaii when a traveler disembarks from a ship and begins playing his instrument as he rejoices that his arduous journey is over. The ship also contains three Portuguese immigrants who are credited as the first ukulele makers.
Hawaiian tourism grows ukulele popularity
The ukulele is quickly adopted into Hawaiian culture and then spreads rapidly. As more tourists begin to visit the Hawaiian islands, many of them hear the sounds of the ukulele and begin to fall in love with it.
First Hawaiian Ukulele Festival
The idea for this annual event begins in Waikiki in 19701 when a parks groundskeeper and his friends envision a ukulele concert. They work with the Hawaii International Ukulele Club to hold the festival the following summer at a park bandstand.
Israel Kamakowiwo’ole Releases Most Popular Single
Perhaps one of the most well-known Hawaiian ukulele players, “Bruddah IZ” brings the ukulele back into popularity with his famous song “Over the Rainbow”. It is also part of his first solo album, Facing Future, released later in 1993. This album became the best selling of all time by a Hawaiian artist.
King Kalakaua reigns in Hawaii
An ardent fan of the ukulele, this Hawaiian king, who reigned from 1874-1891, made a huge impact on the promotion of the culture of the Hawaiian Islands in his time. Because of this, he is inducted into the Ukulele Hall of Fame more than 100 years after his death.
How to Celebrate World Play Your Ukulele Day
Wondering how to celebrate World Play Your Ukulele Day? Well, it’s right there in the name, of course! Try out these ideas to enjoy the day:
Get a Ukulele and Play
Go out, get a ukulele to call your very own (or, perhaps, start by borrowing one from a friend), and start playing! With its bright tone and cheerful disposition the music is sure to bring joy to everyone around, even if they are just laughing along with you as you try to pick out a tune.
The great thing is even the worst musician sounds amazing on a Ukulele. Well, that is, as long as no one is listening too closely.
Join a Ukulele Band
Get together with a whole bunch of others who like to play the instrument, and get jammin’! A quick online search for the local area should reveal groups, societies and bands that all revolve around this tiny but mighty instrument. Don’t have a band that can be found local? Then start one!
Take Ukulele Lessons
The great thing about this instrument is that it isn’t extremely difficult to learn. And with only four strings to deal with, it’s not super hard to get the chords mastered in a fairly short amount of time.
Finding a teacher locally is a great way to learn, or try out some online lessons.
Those who don’t want to invest in an actual teacher can find a whole host of resources available on the internet so that they can teach themselves to play the ukulele at home on their own.
Listen to Some Ukulele Music
Whether taking a break from playing, or simply trying to get in the mood and inspired, listening to someone else play the ukulele is a great way to pass some time on this day! Try out these ideas for incredible ukulele artists to listen to, whether buying a cd by them or streaming them online:
- Eddie Kamae
Prior to Kamae’s appearance on the scene, the ukulele was almost exclusively used as a backup instrument. But this founding member of The Sons of Hawaii put it on the map as a solo and lead instrument–and he was issued into the Ukulele Hall of Fame in 2001.
- Jack Johnson
Raised on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii, Johnson’s music is super relaxing and has been part of bringing the ukulele into the mainstream in the past couple of decades.
- Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
Most famous for his delightful version of “Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World”, Kamakawiwo’ole is more commonly known as “IZ” and his traditional Hawaiian upbringing shines through in his music.
- Jake Shimbakuro
Popular not only in Hawaii but also in Japan, Jake has a mastery over the instrument that is extraordinary, which he uses in different genres of music including elements of blues, jazz, and rock.