You may remember learning the ukulele at school, holding the instrument, and thinking it’s nothing more than a plastic mini-guitar. Often it’s one of the first instruments that will lead to a guitar but in actual fact, they are so much more than a child’s toy, or a warm-up to the ‘real’ thing.
Ukuleles have been the foundation of many songs, with singers and songwriters using them to create their original ideas until they can be recorded in a studio. With only four strings, the instrument can create the chords to many popular modern songs and are one of the easier instruments to play – that being said it all depends on which ukulele you’re playing.
Did you know that there is more than one ukulele? And each is for a specific purpose and makes a different sound. So, if you want to learn more about the history of the stringed instrument, and how many different types of them there are, then you have come to the right place!
Types of Ukulele
This is your ‘typical’ ukulele. Although it’s the standard size of a ukulele, it is actually the smallest in the ukulele family. The great thing about this one is how small and thin it is – easy for travelling with! The frets of this instrument are closer together than any other ukulele, but this is because of how small it is. This is only a problem if you have extremely large fingers. The soprano ukulele strings have less tension and so are more likely to slip out of tune than any other in the family.
The concert ukulele is just a few inches larger than the soprano. These extra inches make the instrument produce a sound that is rounder and richer than the soprano ukulele. Many musicians prefer the concert to the soprano because there is more space between the strings and so it is a bit easier to play. It is also less likely to go out of tune because it has more tension than the soprano ukulele does.
This ukulele is a fair amount bigger than both the soprano and concert ukulele. The sound the tenor ukulele creates is richer and rounder than any of the instruments above due to it being larger. Alongside this, they sound deeper than the first two we mentioned. This is a popular choice for performers because of the tone it creates.
This ukulele is the biggest of the family and it is one of the only ukuleles that have a different typical tuning to the rest of them. Instead of the first four, it is tuned to the bottom four strings of a guitar, creating more depth in the sound it makes. Because of how deep this instrument is, the typical ‘happy’ sound of a ukulele is lost.
Although many people enjoy this instrument for the novelty of the shape, it actually creates a stronger sound than the traditional ukulele. Shaped (as you’d expect) like a pineapple, the instrument is tuned to the first four notes of a guitar and plays similarly to a soprano ukulele.
As you can with guitars, you can also get an electric ukulele. In fact, you can get two different kinds – those being fully electric and electro-acoustic. The latter means you can use it as either an acoustic or electric ukulele. The possibilities are endless!
Most Popular Ukulele
The most popular type of ukulele is the soprano ukulele. This is the one you’d typically use first when learning to play and is often made into children’s toys and musical instruments.
They can be made of plastic or of wood and have four strings that are tuned to GCEA – which are the first four of a guitar. The problem musicians have with this kind of ukulele is that the strings are very close together, and it can become very fiddly for anyone with larger hands.
To combat this there is the concert ukulele. This is essentially the same instrument but a little bigger, meaning the strings are further apart and so less fiddly to play. The concert ukulele is one of the most popular among performers as well as the tenor ukulele. The tenor ukulele is larger again and creates a deeper and richer sound that many musicians prefer to play live.
Origins Of The Ukulele
The ukulele is historically known as a Hawaiian instrument, the origins of it lie within the Portuguese braghuina instrument.
This instrument looked like a small version of a guitar but rather than 6 strings it only had 4. The tuning of said strings was similar to that of the first four of a guitar as well.
So how did this instrument become the well-known Hawaiian ukulele? In 1850 the Hawaiian sugar plantations needed more workers and so many Portuguese immigrants went to Hawaii to work and with them, they brought their braghuinas.
During this time, local Hawaiian villagers became infatuated with the instrument and nicknamed it the ‘jumping flea’ – this was because of the way they described the musicians’ fingers jumping from string to string as they played.
The Hawaiian royal family loved the instrument and it survived through them until the 1900s when tourists frequented the island and took a liking to the instrument themselves.
Ukuleles grew more popular over the years, being incorporated into mainstream music and used by popular musicians. So that’s where they came from and as they say – the rest is history.
So, there are many different types of ukulele but which is right for you? If you are just starting out and beginning to learn the best is going to be the soprano ukulele.
It is the most traditional ukulele and the one that most teachers will use to teach. Once you have the basics down you can expand your talents with every different kind of ukulele and experiment with the ways they each sound. Each ukulele is unique and creates a slightly different tone when played and can be suited for many different purposes and situations.
They are a staple in the musical community and are a great instrument for beginners. Hopefully, this article has helped you understand ukuleles a bit more and you will be able to find the perfect one for your musical journey – or perhaps just to expand your ukulele collection!