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Ed Justen By Ed Justen • March 18, 2017

Uke'n It Up!

lisa_uke.jpgWhen my girlfriend first asked me for a ukelele this past holiday season, I smirked. “I’ll get her a guitar,” I thought silently.

Then, I reconsidered.

The ukelele is a small portable instrument that doesn’t take up much space, and it has only four strings instead of six. Search You Tube for “ukelele lessons” and you’ll reveal a plethora of instructional videos, along with fine examples of ukelele virtuosity by the likes of Jake Shimabukuro, and the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain. (Seriously, look them up on You Tube, you won’t be disappointed.) Mention of the word may conjure images of hula dancers surrounding Don Ho, or Tiny Tim singing Tip Toe Through the Tulips, but like every other fringe instrument or art form, there is a dedicated community that loves and promotes the uke with excitement and passion.

“Okay,” I thought, “I’ll give it a look.”

Ukeleles are considerably cheaper than guitars (bonus!), and there is a great little music studio here in town that can get me one for a good price, including a lesson package. So I bought her a ukelele and 12 weeks worth of 30 minute lessons for about the same price I would have paid for a decent acoustic guitar. 

Honestly, it’s the best gift I’ve ever given her.

My girlfriend has never pursued any musical venture in her life, and her music tastes tend to echo the mainstream, but she has taken to the ukelele quite favorably. It’s compactness encourages practice on the couch, in a chair, or at the table, and the Internet is filled with web sites and videos for tuning, strumming techniques, and examples of quickly learned songs. The fact that the world isn’t filled with ukelele virtuosos on every corner works in her favor also; the instrument simply isn’t as intimidating as the guitar.

In the short time since Christmas, she’s really taken to it. Scared as she was, her first lesson was a screaming success, she now knows about five chords, and her strumming becomes smoother as the days go by. I’ve entered my home to the strains of Izzy’s Somewhere over the Rainbow, Train’s Hey Soul Sister, and a ukelele rendition of Bonnie Raitt’s version of Angel from Montgomery.  

Lesson learned? If you, your child, or a loved one wants to take up an instrument, consider the Ukelele instead of a guitar or piano. It’s bit off the mainstream, but you will see fast results, and you’ll most likely be the only person in your circle that can play the damn thing.

So go buy a ukelele and start uke'n it up. It’s good for the soul.