The Lure of the Ukulele

In 2003 Bill Robertson created an excellent short documentary about the mystique of the ukulele called Rock That Uke. He stated that the shape, the size, and certainly the sound, all in combination, account for the immensely intriguing popularity of the ukulele. Robertson believes that, by the simple act of physically holding the ukulele, a person quickly becomes enchanted by the instrument.

He notes, “It’s about the size of a human infant, and when you hold it to play, you hold it up close and you’re cradling it to your heart… to be corny about it. It is this small thing that you’re protecting, and also giving you a sense of protective purpose in the world.”

But the most unique characteristic of the ukulele is the intonation. It has a delightfully happy tonality that is both innocent and charming, even when played by someone as serious as Taylor Mac, who performed earlier this month at the Undermain Theatre in Dallas. Robertson continues, “We’re reminded of a time when we were so young that nothing is our fault. And that makes us happy.”

Robertson, whom I consider to be the foremost expert when it comes to expositions about the ukulele, also points out that, because there is a high end but no low end on the ukulele’s four strings, that gives it what is known as the “‘pink’ quality.” “You’re strumming it, all the strings are in the upper range, and it doesn’t have that bass sort of support that a guitar has, that robust sound. Just the high sound, which gives it a very childlike quality that conveys a certain innocence.”

The ukulele is loved and desired by so many fans because of three qualities other than its sound – it is easy to obtain, it can be carried anywhere because of its size, and it is very inexpensive in comparison with other instruments. The price of a beginner ukulele is only around thirty or forty dollars. Of course, as with any musical instrument, you can find exquisitely formed styles with wood inlays and expensive woods with prices that might run into the thousands of dollars.

Ukulele experts are confident that you will be able to learn to play any ukulele easily. Levine of the Dallas Ukulele Headquarters claims, “I can teach anyone to play the ukulele in about fifteen minutes.” He begins teaching with a short session (around fifteen minutes) at the beginning of his classes.