Me and the Ukulele

If you were to look over at my Instagram feed, especially recently, you might come away with the impression that I am a great player. Which would be a shame, because I’m not.

Sure, I like to strum and pick while I muddle my way through singing a song, and recently I have set my sights on learning a bit more about clawhammer style. (It just sounds awesome on the ukulele.) And even though my acquaintanceship with the little instrument has spanned a few years now, you certainly won’t find me singing my own praises.

But you will find me singing praises of the instrument itself. It’s true. I’m a big fan of the little jumping flea. Here are four reasons why:

1. Ease

First off, and lets put this front and center, it isn’t that hard to just pick up and start playing. In fact, I’d say that it is pretty easy to start playing the ukulele. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that it is an easy instrument. The more you want to do with the ukulele, the more hours, days, months, years you will need to put into into. It isn’t exactly a simple beast.

But, if you are just looking to pick it up and learn a few basic chords, boom! the ukulele should be the first instrument you check out. Here is a short list of musical instruments I have played (with a wide margin of skill): bass guitar, guitar, mandolin, shamisen, shakuhachi, didjeridoo. None of them has offered the immediate feedback of good sounds like the ukulele. That almost automatic feeling that there is a possibility is almost addictive.

2. Styles

I also love that there is a wide variety of musical genres it can support. I know that this isn’t a unique feature of the ukulele, but there is still a feeling that it exists solely for Hawaiian or novelty music. Here I am probably showing my age, 36, with this statement. In the past decade a wide variety of artists have been making a wide variety of music with the uke. I’ve heard everything from standard pop music to blues, hip-hop to bluegrass. I’ve heard it used a solo folk instrument to basically being the featured shredding instrument in a heavy metal outfit. And it fits in all those places.

For me, the sounds of bluegrass tug a little bit at my soul. And learning that the ukulele was an occasional member in those circles makes me smile, and by learning that clawhammer style i mentioned alive, it does make me feel like I am somehow connecting to my roots. Even if those roots are really in the fields of Alabama and the swamps of Florida on my mother’s side and somewhere around Germany on my father’s. Still, the emotion that the ukulele brings through an imagined link is real.

3. Positivity

If you’ve read over my reviews, you might have noticed that I tend to be a rather harsh critic of things. Believe it or not, folks have even accused me of having a somewhat negative outlook on things. I don’t think that is right, but I can certainly understand why some people would see me as a cheerful pessimist. And, yes, sometimes I do wish I could just stop and simple enjoy things. Maybe you see where this is going.

I don’t know how it works, but playing the ukulele just serves as the ultimate de-stressor. It cheers me up, cools me down and shows me that there is a lot to be happy about. It sounds weird I know. And it isn’t like a magic talisman or anything like that. But it does make me smile and does make me feel better about things. It is just a happy little instrument.

4. Socialization

Now, this is a tricky one because even though I have seen the power, I’ve yet to be able to fully grasp it. The ukulele is a happy instrument. It can be easy to start.  It can be used in a variety of styles. Put that together and that makes this a very social instrument. It wants to be played in groups. Or maybe it is just that ukulele players want to play it in groups.

I haven’t been to as many ukulele based gatherings as I would like, but those that I have been to have been able to take a group of strangers and put them at ease with a few simple strums. I’ve read that certain personality types can be attracted to different instruments. And while that might be a bunch of pseudo-science, I have noticed that the few other ukulele players I know, while they might be a little quirky, have been friendly, fun people. I’m sure there are exceptions, I just hope I don’t meet them.

Currently, I am without a strumming community here in Tokyo. If anyone knows of a good one, especially one that is able to get together on Saturday during the day, please let me know, either by leaving a comment or just messaging through my author profile on Facebook.

Now, that was a lot of writing about why I like the ukulele. Truth be told, there is some daylight left and I have a some time to just go sit under a tree and strum a bit, so i think that is exactly what I am going to go do.


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