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History of the Ukulele
By West Music Company
6/7/2017 1:43:00 PM  

History of the Ukulele

The ukulele is a small stringed instrument that has seen a huge increase in popularity in recent years. Whether you are familiar with the ukulele from songs like “Over the Rainbow,” or more recently with Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours,” there is no doubt that this instrument is a great option for children, beginners and experienced players alike. While learning the ukulele can be relatively simple, its history is anything but!

Origins of the Ukulele

queen liluokalani
The ukulele is a member of the lute family of instruments and was originally developed in the 1880s. It was adapted from the Portuguese small guitar-like instrument, the machete, and introduced to the Hawaiian Islands by Portuguese immigrants, specifically Manuel Nunes, José do Espírito Santo, and Augusto Dias. These three Madeiran cabinet makers are commonly credited as making the standardized version of the ukulele as we know it today. While the people of Hawaii enjoyed the nightly street concerts these islanders brought with them, the most important factor of the instrument becoming established in the music culture there was King Kalakaua. A huge supporter and lover of the arts, King Kalakaua promoted the use of the ukulele and ensured it was part of all performances at royal gatherings.

How Did the Ukulele Get Its Name?

According to the last Hawaiian monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani, the name ukulele means “the gift that came here.” The word was derived from the Hawaiian words uku, which means "gift," and lele, which means "to come."

Ukulele Popularity in the United States

ukulele newspaper ad The ukulele became popular stateside in 1915 at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Local musicians were featured at the Hawaiian Pavilion, which included a guitar and ukulele ensemble. This soon launched a fad for Hawaiian-themed songs among top songwriters and musicians. Some of the most popular ukulele players of this period were Roy Smeck and Cliff "Ukulele Ike" Edwards. Due to its portability and reasonable cost, the ukulele quickly became an icon of the Jazz Age.

History of the Ukulele from the 1940s Through the 1980s

mario maccaferri ukulele inventorAfter World War II, the ukulele would see another large increase in popularity as servicemen brought them home after being stationed in Hawaii. New technology brought an all-plastic model from Mario Maccaferri in the 1950s, making it a must-have for children in every household. In the late 1960s, Tiny Tim became closely associated with the instrument after he played it on his song "Tiptoe Through the Tulips."

The Rise of the Ukulele from 1990s Through the Present

taylor swift playing ukulele While the interest in the ukulele would fade after the 1960s, it only took one huge hit to bring it back to the forefront and encourage millions of new musicians. Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, the all-time best-selling Hawaiian musician, released a reggae medley of “Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World” in 1993, and it instantly took off as a top track of the time. Soon appearing in films, television shows, and commercials, this Billboard topping song made the instrument popular once again.

Thanks to the creation of YouTube, and later television voice and talent shows, the ukulele picked up a completely new fanbase and audience. There are many popular musicians that are known for playing the ukulele at concerts and on their albums, including Taylor Swift, Jason Mraz, Train, and Vance Joy. As more students are interested in taking up the instrument, its popularity continues to rise. Read about famous celebrities you didn’t know played the ukulele.

West Music is an excellent resource for ukuleles of any type or size, as well as ukulele accessories such as strings, cases, racks, and tuners. Explore our site to learn more about the ukulele, sign up for lessons, or browse our wide selection of ukuleles.

Tags: ukulele, history, music history, folk music
Categories: Guitars & Folk
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Famous Celebrities You Didn't Know Play the Ukulele
By West Music Company
4/27/2017 4:38:00 PM  
The ukulele is a musical instrument that is full of rich tradition and history. This small string instrument originated in Hawaii in the 19th century and has gained massive popularity ever since. While it is a common choice for students, beginners, and other music enthusiasts, there are also many famous celebrities that love to play the "uke."

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson Heritage Influenced His Ukulele Playing

Best known as a former WWE wrestler and current actor, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson grew up in a musical family and has played the ukulele his entire life. He explains that playing the ukulele, singing, and dancing are large parts of his Polynesian culture, and he enjoys sharing them with others. He even goes so far as to sing a song while playing the ukulele in one of his recent movies, proving he can sing, play, and act.

Jason Mraz Island Inspired Ukulele Song

While Jason Mraz didn't learn to play the ukulele until later in his life, that didn't stop the sound and vibe of the instrument from inspiring a lot of his music. One of his most famous songs, "I'm Yours" was written after Mraz had spent a lot of time in Hawaii and Jamaica, both of which influenced the light and airy sound of the song. It is this song, in fact, that has encouraged thousands of others to learn the ukulele, and share their versions online.

Meghan Trainor Writes Songs on The Ukulele

Meghan Trainor skyrocketed up the Billboard charts with her 2014 breakout hit, "All About That Bass." While the song may have a funky and popular sound, she first conceived the tune in an acoustic format, on her ukulele. This was also the way she wrote a single from The Peanuts Movie, titled "Better When I'm Dancin'."

Ryan Gosling Performs the Ukulele Late Night

As if being able to sing, dance, and act weren't enough, add being able to play the ukulele to Ryan Gosling's ever impressive resume. Showing off his ukulele playing talents in a 2010 movie, Blue Valentine, he also recently performed it on late-night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live!

Taylor Swift Showcases Her Ukulele Skills at Concerts

Yes, even Grammy goddess Taylor Swift plays the ukulele. Taylor Swift began as a country artist and was quickly recognized for her musical talent, being able to not only sing, but also play the piano, banjo, guitar, and ukulele. She has been known to break out the ukulele during concerts, and she has also inspired many renditions from avid ukulele enthusiasts and fans.

Other Celebrities Who Play the Ukulele

Warren Buffett, Paul McCartney, Bette Midler, Eddie Vedder (who released a full album of just ukulele songs in 2011, aptly titled Ukulele Songs), and Bruce Springsteen have all performed on the ukulele. Likewise, George Clooney, Cybill Shepherd, William H. Macy, Adam Sandler, Zoe Deschanel, Pierce Brosnan, James Franco, as well as pop icons Marilyn Monroe (playing onscreen in the 1959 film Some Like It Hot), Shirley Temple, and Elvis Presley all have been known to pick up the "uke." That's just a few celebrities who play, with the list quickly growing each year!

Why the Ukulele?

As you look at just a few of these famous celebrities that play the ukulele, not to mention all the kids, teens, and adults that enjoy it, you may find yourself wondering, "Why the ukulele?" The ukulele has quickly become a top choice for young children and beginning students alike for many reasons. The uke, as its enthusiasts call it, has an interesting sound and is relatively easy to learn. It is also accommodating for all skill levels, as there are different types of ukuleles as well as many styles of music that can be learned. The ukulele is lightweight, compact and portable while not taking up very much space. These features make it an ideal instrument for school-aged children transporting the instrument from home to school, for people who don't have a lot of extra space, or someone who likes to be able to easily take their instrument with them wherever they go. Although you may not be a celebrity, you can still play like one when you have the correct instrument. West Music has a great assortment of ukuleles, for beginners all the way to performing professionals, in a range of colors to fit your taste, plus method and song books. Check out our large selection today!

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Categories: Guitars & Folk
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Meet Our Repair Team - Bruce Vanderschel: West Music Coralville
By West Music Company
2/10/2016 12:00:00 AM  
Bruce Vanderschel is a Fretted and Stringed Instrument Repair Specialist at the West Music Coralville location. He's a very well-known figure in the eastern Iowa music scene, having over 40 years under his belt in assisting musicians with a wide variety of musical instrument repairs. His specialty is fretted instrument repair, ranging from acoustic and electric guitars and basses, banjos and mandolins--in addition to having extensive experience in violin and cello repair. He holds a large amount of official repair certifications, including ones from C.F. Martin--which was his first, acquired in 1978--Fender, Guild, Gibson/Epiphone, Yamaha and many more.

If you have an instrument in need of repair, contact Bruce at West Music Coralville by calling 800.373.2000 or 319.351.2000!

Tags: Bruce Vanderschel, repair, guitars, string, luthier, violin, cello, banjo, mandolin, bass, fretted,
Categories: Guitars & Folk, West Music Coralville
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Tom Bielefeldt in the String Repair Shop
By West Music Company
2/1/2016 12:10:00 PM  
Mark Nicolay takes you on a tour of the Marion String Repair Shop where you get to know Tom Bielefeldt, a 30-year repair pro.

Tags: Mark Nicolay, Tom Bielefeldt, marion, string repair shop, guitar, repair, strings, luthier
Categories: Guitars & Folk, West Music Cedar Rapids/Marion
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Guitar Humidifiers
By West Music Company
1/22/2016 8:00:00 AM  
Doug Ducey talks about caring for your guitar during the cold, dry months. Shop humidifiers at West Music!

Tags: Doug doucey, guitar acoustic, humidity, humidifier, care, maintenance, winter
Categories: Guitars & Folk
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Tips for Proper Winter Guitar Care and Maintenance
By West Music Company
1/19/2016 8:00:00 AM  
In this video, West Music repairmen and luthiers Bruce Vanderschel and Tom Bielefeldt explain the dangers posed by cold and sudden weather changes. This video is packed with tons of valuable advice that could save you hundreds of dollars in repair costs to your instrument, along with a nifty set of instructions for constructing your own DIY humidifier!

Tags: guitar, winter, care, humidifier, repairmen, luthiers, Bruce Vanderschel, Tom Bielefeldt,
Categories: Guitars & Folk
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School Supplies and Guitar Restring Event - September 19th
By West Music Company
9/15/2015 12:24:00 PM  

West Music, in partnership with D'Addario Strings, will be offering a one day school supply donation and free restring event for electric guitars and acoustic six-string guitars. Participants only need to bring in school supplies donations for underprivileged students or a $5 donation. Staff will be on hand to help with restrings, and will also be available to provide advice on any additional repairs or setups.

Six-string electric guitars will be restrung with choice of D’Addario NYXL0942 or NYXL1046 strings and six-string acoustic guitars will be restrung with choice of D’Addario EXP16 or EXP17 coated strings. Customers are limited to a free restring of one of these instruments.

This exciting event will take place during store hours 10am - 5pm on Saturday, September 19, 2015 at the following West Music locations:

West Music Coralville
1212 5th Street
Coralville, Iowa 52241
School supplies and proceeds will be donated to the Crisis Center of Johnson County.

West Music Cedar Falls

6322 University Avenue
Cedar Falls, Iowa 50613
School supplies and proceeds will be donated to the Waterloo Community School District.

West Music Cedar Rapids/Marion
1398 Twixt Town Road
Marion, Iowa 52302
School supplies and proceeds will be donated to Streamline Kids.

West Music Quad Cities/Moline
4305 44th Avenue
Moline, Illinois 61265
$5.00 donation only. Proceeds will be donated to the Illinois Special Olympics.

For more information on this event please contact Kyle Ware, West Music Combo Merchandise Manager, at 319-351-2000 or at kware@westmusic.com.  

About D'Addario & Company
D’Addario & Company, Inc. designs, manufactures, and markets complete lines of strings for fretted and bowed musical instruments, drumheads, drumsticks, drum practice pads, and guitar and woodwind accessories under the proprietary brand names D’Addario, Planet Waves, Rico, Evans Drumheads, Pro-Mark Drumsticks, and PureSound Percussion. The company also runs theLessonroom.com and Guitar.com. D’Addario products are marketed in approximately 120 countries. Connect with D'Addario on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube and at daddario.com.

Tags: Guiitar restring event, D'Addario, restring, guitar strings, donation, school supplies, back to school, back 2 school, Crisis Center of Johnson County, Waterloo Community School District, Streamline Kids, Illinois Special Olympics
Categories: Guitars & Folk, West Music Cedar Rapids/Marion, West Music Quad Cities, West Music Cedar Falls, West Music Coralville, Press Releases
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How To Break In New Ukulele Strings
By Sam Marchuk - West Music Education Consultant
6/2/2015 1:13:00 PM  
You get your new ukulele, tune it up to pitch and play your first chord and - it is already out of tune! Have no fear. There is nothing wrong with your ukulele or the tuners: you just need to break-in your strings.

Ukuleles come pre-strung with nylon strings which have never been brought up to pitch. They will go out of tune immediately due to the elasticity of the nylon and the looseness of the knot holding it in place. Therefore, it is imperative to pre-stretch each string and lock each knot into place. Here is how:

1. Begin by tuning the ukulele up to approximate pitch (for Soprano, Concert and Tenor: G – C – E – A). Don’t worry about fine tuning for now as you will need to do this several times until the strings are stretched a bit and broken in. You might opt to use a string winder to speed up this process.

2. Place your right hand palm on the bridge and wrap your fingers around a single string, pulling it up gently away from the body. IMPORTANT: Be sure to keep your palm on the bridge so that you are not pulling the bridge away from the body, only the string. This will help lock the bridge knot. Repeat for each of the other 3 strings.

3. Next, place your right forearm on the bridge (which will position your fingers higher on the fretboard area close to the nut), wrap your fingers around a single string, and pull up gently. Again, be sure to keep your forearm on the bridge to avoid pulling the bridge away from the body. You may wish to hold the string in place at the nut with your left hand so that it does not come out of the nut groove. Pulling on the string in this upper range will help lock the knot in place at the tuner. Repeat for each of the other 3 strings.

4. Repeat steps 1-3 until the strings remain in tune to approximate pitch after you have lightly pulled on them.

5. You can now fine tune your ukulele with a digital tuner or tuner of your choice. Note: it is always better to fine tune a string up to pitch. (If you tune down to pitch it is possible for the string tension to get hung up at the friction points, ie. saddle or nut and then slip further down in pitch when released.)

Voila! You are now ready to play. Happy Strumming!!

This article can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Have a ukulele question or comment? Contact Sam Marchuk at (800) 397-9378 Ext. 1343 or smarchuk@westmusic.com

Tags: sam marchuk, ukulele, ukulele strings, new strings, break-in, breaking-in new strings
Categories: Guitars & Folk, Conservatory, Music Education
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April is International Guitar Month!
By West Music Company
4/1/2015 10:56:00 AM  
Don't fret, here are some quick tips on keeping your guitar in top shape.

Tags: guitar care, International Guitar Month
Categories: Guitars & Folk
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Models and Tunings and Sizes, Oh My! How to Choose the Right Ukulele for You
By Sam Marchuk - West Music Education Consultant
2/2/2015 12:01:00 AM  
There are so many different size models and sizes of ukuleles available in the market today. Whether you are looking to play the ukulele for personal enjoyment or looking to pick out a set for your classroom, it can be quite overwhelming in determining what model and size you should use.

In this article, I will go over the features and advantages for each of the different sizes - and take the mystery out of how to choose the right one for you. But first, a video:

As you saw, there are 4 sizes of ukuleles available. The different sizes exist not to match the size of the player - as in the fractional sizes available for violin or guitar - but to match the tone and application the player is looking for. Although the name implies different tuning, the 3 smallest sizes (Soprano, Concert and Tenor) are tuned exactly the same to g’-c’-e’-a’.
Baritone Ukulele and Its Tuning in Relation to Guitar

The Baritone is the largest size in the ukulele family and the only size that uses a different tuning. I will start with this size because of its close relation in tuning to guitar. If we take a 6 string guitar, tuned (from low to high) to E-A-d’g’b’e’, and remove the 2 lowest strings (the E and A), we are left with only highest 4 strings d-g-b-e. That is exactly how the Baritone ukulele is tuned. If we play a G chord on the guitar, we can apply the same fingering on the Baritone ukulele to make the same G chord, without having to use the lowest 2 strings on the ukulele.

Now that we know the relation of the Baritone ukulele tuning to guitar, we can see how the other ukuleles compare.

The smaller Soprano, Concert and Tenor ukuleles are tuned 5 half steps higher than the Baritone ukulele. So, if we place a capo at the 5th fret - that gives us our basic tuning (g’-c’-e’-a’), or a C6 chord. This is referred to as “linear tuning” because all of the strings are in sequence from low to high pitch.

However, the more common tuning system is to take the lowest string, the G, and tune it up one octave higher, resulting in the open strings matching the melody of “My Dog Has Fleas.” The 3rd string, the C, is now the lowest open-tuned string. This is referred to as “re-entrant” tuning because the strings are not tuned in a linear fashion, or in sequence from low to high. It is this tuning that gives the ukulele its unique, characteristic sound!

Some ukulele methods may suggest using the “linear” tuning as it extends the lower range and may be easier to comprehend when learning to read music and playing scales. As most stock ukuleles are pre-strung with the high G “re-entrant” tuning, you may need to purchase and install the low G strings separately if you plan on using these methods.

Because of the similar tuning structure, you can use the same fingerings to play guitar as many of the techniques will carry over. Therefore, if you can play guitar, you can play the ukulele (and vice versa)! Keep in mind you will need to transpose between guitar and ukulele because the 2 are in a different key. For example, a G chord on the guitar will be a C chord when played in the same fret position on the ukulele.

Soprano, Concert and Tenor Size Comparisons

The soprano ukulele is also known as the “standard” size as it is based on the traditional size and design. (The ukulele was derived from the machete and cavaquinho, similar instruments brought to Hawaii by Portugese immigrants in 1879.) Soprano is the most common size due to its less expensive pricing, portability, and application as an accompaniment instrument, requiring most use in the 1st position. It usually has 12 frets and just under a 2 octave range.

In the 1920’s, Big Band was in full swing. In order to compete with the volume and sound of these instruments, the larger-bodied Concert and Tenor ukulele models were introduced. (Banjo ukuleles were also introduced at this time, which are even louder but sound more like a banjo due to their similar construction.) The larger resonator chamber produces more volume and a fuller sound in the middle and lower tonal ranges. In addition to increased volume, the Concert and Tenor models have more frets (usually 15-20) and space on the fretboard, allowing more room for fingers when making advanced chords. As a result, the more common Soprano may appear to sound higher pitched or “plinky” than the larger sizes, whereas the Tenor may sound more like a guitar – even with the same tuning. The Concert size produces a tone somewhere in-between.

The Tenor size is preferred among many stage performers and instrumentalists as it typically has the most space between frets, the highest number of playable notes and the fullest dynamic range.

The Concert size is a good compromise between the two as it blends the physical and tonal characteristics of the Soprano and Tenor models. It has more frets like the Tenor but still retainsthe signature sound of the Soprano – albeit with a touch more volume and tone. Some players will like this size for its good mix of the other two sizes’ traits and if their fingers feel most comfortable on this in-between sized fretboard.

Choosing the Right Size Ukulele

Although you could use any size ukulele, Soprano is a great choice due to its lower cost and smaller size, making it easier to store. Plus, most students will not play beyond the Soprano’s 12th fret.

Selecting the right size ukulele for yourself is mostly a personal preference – there really is not a “wrong” choice. You will want to choose one not really based size, but on the following criteria:

Looks: You will want to pick one that appeals to your senses. Most players go for a model that reflects their personality. You are going to be the one seeing this ukulele; will it inspire you to play? Will you be dabbling in ukulele as a novelty or as a serious instrument? Are you looking for a ukulele that will be on display? Ukuleles make great conversation pieces so make it fun!

Tone: Instruments can vary quite a bit in sound and volume. You may want to play, listen to sound samples, and/or read reviews on models. Aquila Nylgut strings are the standard in the industry on most production models and can really bring out the best tone in your ukulele.

Budget: Some ukuleles can be considerably more expensive if they are crafted of solid woods versus laminate woods. However, each model may sound different and not necessarily better with solid wood.

You can have a great tone with a laminate body that will feature the aesthetics of a solid body without the price. With a laminate body, manufacturers can get a thinner top than a solid wood, which can vibrate more and increase sound, have a veneer finish to feature the beauty of wood grain, and have better durability as they are less sensitive to humidity and temperature.

Solid wood models are more expensive because of the materials used but will improve in sound over time. They also require more care and should be humidified. Larger ukuleles cost incrementally more as they require more material.

For beginners, the most common choice will be the soprano size because of its price. You may consider a larger or more expensive model for more versatility and to be able to “grow into it.” With this knowledge, you can consider these factors just like Goldilocks did in the classic fairy tale “Goldilocks & the Three Bears.” You should choose the one you like based on how it appeals to you and your budget!

This article can be downloaded here.

Tags: Sam Marchuk, Ukulele, Ukulele Size, Ukulele Comparison, Ukulele Tuning, Choose Size, Re-Entrant Tuning, Linear Tuning, Low G vs. High G, Ukulele vs. Guitar Tuning, How to Choose a Ukulele.
Categories: Guitars & Folk, Music Education
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