Romancing the uke

5 reasons you should learn to play the good ol’ ukulele

Text by Marian C. Baring
Photos by Jan Sahilan

Have music and you will never be alone.

Gab sat at a corner of a ukulele-themed coffee shop, whipped up a ukulele and started plucking a Thousand Miles to the delight of the patrons. His fingers work was fast and on point and glided through those four strings like it was serious business.

“I was about to take the teachers’ board and my girlfriend broke up with me. It was when I first picked up a ukulele,” he shares.

And just like so many broken-hearted men before him, Gab has gone to war against heartbreaks with the ukulele as their weapon of choice.

Ukulele

If anything, music has saved the souls of many a broken man. And it is no surprise that ukuleles are easy favorites.

The ukulele is not a new instrument as it has been around for generations. But in the last five years or so, more and more people have started strumming the four-stringed instrument. Now, the ukulele has a strong presence in pop music, with hundreds of covers of many songs using the ukulele popping up on YouTube and other social media sites.

If you’re not into the ukulele yet, here are reasons you should consider learning to play this lovely instrument:

1. It’s a happy instrument. If you’re down on a funk, broken-hearted or jilted, what better way to get you out of it than play an instrument with a sunny and soulful sound.

Jake Shimabukuro, a famous Hawaiian ukulele player, said: “There’s something about the ukulele that makes you smile. It makes you let your guard down. It brings out the child in all of us.”

Ukes are considered happy instruments and it is impossible not to smile once you hear its sound. Play it, listen to it and let the cool sound melt away those sadness.

2. It makes you look cool. If it’s cool enough for Elvis or Bruno or John Lennon, then it’s cool enough for you.

3. It brings people together and encourages friendships.

The Cebu ukulele community is tight and very inclusive and a piece of instrument like a ukulele turns total strangers into friends. I once sat beside a group of uke players and the next thing I know, they were teaching me how to play an entire song. And all in all, they just ooze with positive island vibes.

4. It is travel-ready. Because it is portable, you can easily take it anywhere. you can jam whether you are at the beach (which, by the way, is perfect), or sitting at a cafe, or inside the jeepney caught in a traffic jam.

5. It is not intimidating to learn. It is small and it only has four strings. I am sure it won’t bite. And most of all, cheaper than a regular guitar. It is best for those still dipping their feet in music. A perfect gateway musical instrument for kids and the kids at heart.

Actress Zooey Deschanel, known for playing the uke said it best: “With guitars, they’re just so big. You’re just like, ‘Ugh!’ It just seems so overwhelming. And the ukulele is, like, the opposite of overwhelming.”

Ukulele influencers

Two local musicians who have gained a huge following and are considered to have played a key role in promoting the ukulele:

Pao Gumba of Ukulele Ensembles – Known to have inspired so many to try out the ukulele. Several Manila players credited him as the reason they are getting hooked on ukes.

Paul Caca of Ukulele Cebu – With reggae his background, Paul Caca is considered a ukulele icon in Cebu. He has organized several ukulele festivals and is one of the founding fathers of Ukulele Cebu.

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Let it roll of your tongue

Some say its yoo-k?-lay-lee

Other say oo-koo-leh-leh

Variations to how it’s read doesn’t matter, what matters is that it is spelled ukulele, not ukelele

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Kinds

Ukuleles come in different sizes:

Soprano. Or the standard-sized

Concert. It is slightly larger than louder than the Soprano

Tenor. It has more volume and has a deeper bass tone

Baritone. Resembles a smaller guitar.

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Ukestory

Wikipedia says the ukulele originated in the 19th century as a Hawaiian adaptation of the Portuguese machete, small, guitar-like instruments introduced to Hawaiians by Portuguese immigrants.

We can’t always trust Wikipedia. But we do know that the ukulele was popularized in the Hawaiian Islands and that the ukuleles are always associated with Hawaii, the beach, tropical breeze, blue-skied and good, good vibes.

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