Did you know that the name ukulele came from the phrase ju-ke-lei-li? It’s from the Hawaiian language, which directly translates to “jumping flea.” This is strongly influenced by the instrument’s cheerful and vibrant sound.
The ukulele is one of the easiest instruments you could play since it only has four strings. That’s perhaps why a lot of people consider this as the gateway to their musical journey. However, that’s not to say that the ukulele is only for beginners.
Even professional musicians sometimes prefer this instrument because of how unique its sound is. You just wouldn’t get its distinct sound from other musical instruments.
If you wish to enjoy the benefits you could get from playing the ukulele, allow us to provide you with your first lesson.
For anyone to fully grasp the marvels of the ukulele, they must first understand its different parts. This will help us better understand how this instrument works and how we can maximize its potentials.
A ukulele has numerous components, but all of them fall under four major parts.
Here’s a video that shows the anatomy of the uke:
The hollow part of the ukulele that connects to the fretboard is called the body. This part is further divided into three major components.
First, we have the soundboard. This is the uppermost layer of wood that you’ll find on the face of the instrument. This component significantly affects the richness and quality of the ukulele’s sound.
The hole in the center of the soundboard allows the vibrations to resonate inside the ukulele. As such, soundboards made with higher quality materials, like mahogany, will produce a richer sound.
The other two parts of the body are called the side and the back. The main purpose of these two parts is to clamp with the soundboard and enclose the hollow space inside the ukulele.
This prevents the strings’ vibrations from escaping the instrument, which then amplifies the sound.
You will also find the bridge of the ukulele on the body. However, it plays a very crucial role that we deemed it necessary to discuss it independently.
The bridge holds the four strings of the ukulele and elevates it a few centimeters above the fretboard. It receives tremendous tension from the strings, which is why it should be glued or attached firmly to the body.
There are two major types of ukulele bridges. The first one has holes on both ends of the bridge that allow you to pass the strings through and tie them in a knot, kind of like a classical guitar.
The second one uses a series of pins to press and hold the strings firmly to the bridge, preventing them from slipping.
The extended part of the ukulele that you will see connected to the body is called the neck. This part has two major components; the frets and the fingerboard.
Different types of ukuleles also have different neck lengths. Traditional ukuleles often have around 15 to 18 frets. However, other ukuleles can have 20 or more frets.
You can find the head on the other side of the ukulele opposite the body. Depending on the type and model of the ukulele, the head can vary in shape in size. However, all of them have the same major components.
On the head, you will see a series of gears and pegs. These are called tuners, which is the primary component the holds the strings together with the bridge.
Rotating the pegs will increase the tension on the corresponding strings, allowing you to adjust and modify the ukulele’s tuning.
Types of Ukuleles
If you ever want to get your own ukulele, you need to determine what type suits your preferences. Generally, there are four major types of ukuleles.
We’ll discuss their differences below.
The smallest ukulele you may find, and also the most common, is the soprano. The number of its frets can range from 12 to 15, and the length of the total average length of the instrument is around 21 inches, just a little less than two feet.
This type of ukulele is very popular because people of all ages can use it, considering its small size. Additionally, the soprano ukulele is also the most affordable ones in the market today.
While the concert ukulele has the same standard tuning as the soprano, the former is slightly bigger at 23 inches. Additionally, the number of frets ranges from 14 to 17 and produces a rounder sound because of its round frame.
It is priced slightly higher than the soprano, but the frets are a little further apart. This makes them a better option for people with big fingers.
With a total length of 26 inches, the tenor is the third-largest type of ukulele with 15 to 19 frets. Some tenor ukuleles will have 20 or more frets. They still use the same standard G-C-E-A ukulele tuning.
However, a tenor ukulele produces fuller and heavier sounds compared to concerts and sopranos, given its size and shape. This makes them an ideal option for professional musicians or performers.
The biggest and longest type of ukulele you will find is the baritone, sometimes just a few inches short of an average guitar. Baritones often have 19 to 21 frets and can reach a total length of 30 inches or more.
Additionally, baritones use a D-G-B-E tuning instead of the standard G-C-E-A. This tuning scale is the same as the last four strings of a guitar.
This is why people who transition from guitars to ukuleles often prefer baritones.
How to Tune a Ukulele
Did you know that generally, ukuleles can only maintain their optimal tune for 15 minutes? Higher quality ukuleles may keep the proper tuning for a day, but still, this means you need to retune them regularly.
There are various techniques to tune your guitar, and below are some of the easiest methods you could try.
The simplest and most convenient way to tune your ukulele is by using a tuner. Some electric ukuleles already have a built-in tuner. Nonetheless, you can purchase a separate one and clip it to the instrument’s headstock.
Upon turning it on, simply pluck each string individually and rotate the corresponding pegs until the tuner indicates it’s on the proper tone. Make sure that you follow the G-C-E-A tuning for standard ukuleles and D-G-B-E for baritones.
Did you lose your tuner and don’t have the time or energy to look for it? Don’t worry. You can use your smartphone, too!
There are hundreds of tuning apps you can download through your phone’s app store. They aren’t always as accurate as a dedicated tuner, but they sure come in handy when your tuner is missing in action.
Piano or Guitar
For all the music enthusiasts out there who have piano keyboards or guitars in their room, you can tune your ukulele using these instruments.
Baritones are easier to tune since they have the same tuning scale as the bottom four strings of a guitar. On the other hand, standard ukuleles may use piano keyboards.
All you have to do is to locate the G-C-E-A notes on the keyboard. However, keep in mind that your ukulele is on a higher octave, so the G-note should be above the middle C of your keyboard.
It’s almost impossible to imagine a world without music. Thankfully, you can contribute to the world’s pool of amazing music by playing your own instrument.
One of the best and easiest ways to do this is to learn how to play the ukulele. Be sure to visit our page regularly for your next ukulele lessons!
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.