Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro is on tour, and I’m looking forward to hearing him perform in Gainesville on Feb. 9.
I’ve been playing his CDs, picking up and playing my ukuleles (one at a time, of course), and looking forward to his upcoming concert.
Jake Shimabukuro became one of the sensations of YouTube in 2006 when his ukulele performance of Beatle George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was posted on YouTube and went viral.
That viral video – now with more than 15 million views — kicked off a ukulele revival. And it inspired me to get a decent ukulele (I started with a flea) and to learn the fingerpicking style of playing.
Before Shimabukuro, ukulele players had a difficult time finding ukulele music and tabs for contemporary or classical music. If you look now, in 2018, the Internet has tons of ukulele music.
Most people coming to the ukulele now don’t realize how much Shimabukuro has changed the ukulele world. With Shimabukuro’s influence, players realized the ukulele could play a wealth of styles: hard rock, blues, classical, country …
No one thinks about Tiny Tim, who was viewed as the face of the ukulele from the the 1960s and 1970s. He played “Tiptoe through the Tulips” on his the ukulele and sang falsetto on Laugh-In and the Ed Sullivan Show and likely turned a lot of people away from considering the ukulele as a serious instrument.
Shimabukuro developed an early interest in playing the ukulele from his mother, who was a ukulele player and singer. She started his ukulele music lessons with him when when was 4.
I enjoy the ukulele for so many reasons.
- It’s portable and can go hiking with you.
- Is portable and if you keep one in your car, you can keep calm in those irritating stalled traffic situations by learning a new song on your ukulele.
- The C tuning I use on a ukulele (gCEA) is so upbeat. A song played with this tuning is often bright, cheerful, uplifting. Of course, the ukulele can also can play melancholic and/or serious songs.
- The C tuning lends itself to accompanying an A minor pentatonic scale Native American style flute — and in case you hadn’t noticed, I make those flutes and love playing them with the ukulele.
- The ukulele is a great social connector. Be sure to check if you have a ukulele group near you and JOIN! I really enjoyed listening to the SOUP group while visiting one summer.
- The uke neck is smaller than a guitar neck. With low action, you seldom are stretching your fingers in too painful a manner to play on the narrower neck.
- With four strings — each string assigned to a finger — the ukulele is a delight to learn fingerpicking style. In fact, sometimes with the right strings and an attentive picking technique, you can make your ukulele sound like a harp.
- Playing the ukulele is very rewarding. If you play a section of a song a little bit every day, you can hear a difference in just a few days.
I was one of the many who were caught up in the new interest in and enthusiasm for the ukulele back in 2006. I created two ukulele blogs – Ukulele Perspective and Gospel Ukulele. Although I no longer update these sites, I have left the content online.
In 2009, I began making cigarbox ukuleles, purchasing my cigarboxes at cigar stores in Tampa and St. Augustine. A display of my cigarbox ukuleles adorned a wall of a local business, and I sold several.
Then I was inspired to create a traveller ukulele – one even smaller than a sopranino – that I could pack for vacations or carry in my backpack when I hiked.
A highlight in my ukulele making was when I spent a week studying with luthier Mike Desilva in his shop in Berkeley, California, and made a beautiful koa soprano ukulele.
My own ukulele collection has blossomed over the years from one to 26 ukuleles. Although my favorite size of ukulele is the soprano size, I’ve kept a range of ukulele sizes: sopranino, soprano, tenor, baritone, and bass.
Over the years of my ukulele enthusiasm, I’ve explored the web and old books stores to find ukulele music. One of my delightful finds was a 1916 music book “The Ukulele as a Solo Instrument, C Notation: A Collection of Ukulele Solos” by N.B. Bailey and Keoki E. Awai. You can purchase this 70-page music book as a download.
If you are just starting to play the ukulele, be sure to take advantage of workshops that might be close to you. Workshops are great to meet people, give you good instruction, give you opportunities to play with a group, and often include the chance to learn from top ukulele performers. I attended the Portland Ukulele Festival (I think in 2009) and learned from Victoria Vox and host of others who were inspiring. It was a week of intense playing that vaulted my own playing to a new level.
So thanks to Jake Shimabukuro for helping add ukulele music to my life as a listener, performer, and musical instrument maker. I look forward to seeing him in person.