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View Full Version : I wish more people viewed the ukulele as a music instrument



Hudman
01-16-2011, 09:29 AM
A little background on myself before explaining:

I started playing guitar in 1985. I was primarily an electric guitar player until 6 years ago when I switched over to acoustic guitar. I still like electric guitar but find that I prefer acoustic. I am fairly new to the ukulele - I briefly owned a Kala Curly Mango tenor 3 years ago. I ended up selling it a few months later to raise funds to cover some emergency expenses. I was sad to sell it because playing it was coming very natural to me due to my guitar background.

I found myself surfing ukulele videos on Youtube over the past several months. I got the uke bug bad and decided to re-enter the ukulele world.

I received my new Lanikai NK-T a few days. I am very impressed with it. The fit and finish is excellent. The koa top is beautiful. the flamed maple bindings and abalone compliment the koa very well. The ebony fretboard, tuner buttons and head plate are nice touches as well. The factory set up is great. The action is low with no fret buzz or dead notes. I was expecting to break out the nut files and sand paper but was pleased to discover that it need no modifications. It sounds really nice and seems to be very responsive (excellent dynamics and tonal color). It can sound warm with a soft touch and bright and jangly with a heavy touch. Chords sound rich and single notes ring clear. I'm very happy with it.

Ok, sorry about that - now back to my title:

It seems that too many people view the ukulele as a novelty item rather than an actual, serious music instrument.I am a little surprised at the reactions I get when I tell people that I bought a ukulele. I had a coworker tell me that he thought ukuleles were toys. I had a couple people giggle about it. Don't get me wrong, many people thought it was cool - they tend to be the people that always wished they had learned to play an instrument or people that do play an instrument(s).

I want to thank the founders of Ukulele Underground for providing this website / forum for people that respect the instrument and wish to play it at a high level. I believe the ukulele is taken more seriously today than it was 20 years ago and it will continue to grow in popularity and gain respect thanks to Youtube and websites like this one.

Keep up the good work - I am proud to be a ukulele player and I appreciate sharing the passion of playing with the talented musicians here. :cool:

swervy jervy
01-16-2011, 10:01 AM
http://blogs.federaltimes.com/federal-times-blog/files/2010/08/415_stuart_smalley.jpg

Hudman
01-16-2011, 10:05 AM
http://blogs.federaltimes.com/federal-times-blog/files/2010/08/415_stuart_smalley.jpg

Was that neccessary?

marymac
01-16-2011, 10:07 AM
Boy, I don't worry about that at all. I figure that the uke will filter into the mass consciousness as a serious instrument as more people play it. And when pop bands like Train feature it, people stop deriding it and get curious instead.

Moments like your coworker's comment just give you a chance to spread your uke enthusiasm. Bring your uke in and play it for him and he'll be impressed. If he's not, he's an ineducable idiot anyway so you have no need to worry about him :)

Ron
01-16-2011, 10:08 AM
I get a bit of that too. But, I'll tell you what, once people hear us they change their tune (no pun intended ;-) fairly quickly.

I find there are three schools other than people who think ukes are cool or simply accept ukes as as valkid an instrument as any other.

There are those musical snobs for whom nothing other than a concert piano or a Martin guitar constitutes a real instrument.

There are those that think ukes are novelty items or toys

Then there are those who are all cynical about the resurgence and popularity and don't want to be seen as part of the crowd. There's a radio presenter here, Simon Morris, on our public radio who has made comments on air about how he's sick of all the ukulele bands thinking they are clever playing ironic covers of rock songs. I suspect he just can't stand the fact that ukes are popular and people are having fun playing music.
Better to be cynical and aloof.
He certainly hasn't taken the time to listen to the variety and quality of uke music available. Funny thing is he is exactly the dort of person who (if ukes weren't so popular) would have done a programme "discovering" Hawaiian music or "discovering" the great players of the 20's 30's and 40's.

As I say - I get the odd funny look...and then people hear us...next thing you know they're asking about the best uke to buy and where to get lessons.

swervy jervy
01-16-2011, 10:12 AM
Was that neccessary?

What is necessary?

marymac
01-16-2011, 10:17 AM
Was that neccessary?

Don't worry about what other people think Hudman - that's what this thread is about!

Paul Cote
01-16-2011, 10:21 AM
you could get a big uke lol... people wouldn't even know what it was... but in my opinion the sopranos sound the coolest.

SweetWaterBlue
01-16-2011, 10:26 AM
The ukulele suffers from its own cuteness and fun factor. Its just too easy to make it fun. That led people like Tiny Tim, Arthur Godfrey, and George Formby to make it part of a comedy act. Today we have YT sensations like GuGug and Kenny and the Melodicas, to name a few doing the same thing. Never mind that they are mostly really good musicians in their own rights. People remember the comedy acts, just as they do the Jakes, John Kings, Dominators, Aldrines etc.

It doesn't bother me. I can't really play the guitar, but its hard to look as fun when you are carrying one as a ukulele. Millions of people don't feel intimidated by this little instrument and its bringing out the music in them.

Just go with the flow.

By the way, its hard to take Al Franken, or Sonny Bono, or that guy who made it to Congress from Love Boat, seriously for the same reason.

andywergedal
01-16-2011, 11:52 AM
I love that the ukulele is under-estimated as an instrument. When someone gives me the are-you-serious look, I just start strumming something soft then I hand my uke to them and say, "here give it a try. It's like a guitar with a capo on the 5th fret." If they give me grief then I fire up malaguena or some funky jazz progression or start tapping away something from Eddie Van Halen. They either walk away or say let me see that thing...

Being under-estimated is a gift. Everyone can play a guitar, or at least strum a few chords. But if you can play anything more than that on a ukulele you are amazing.

Hudman
01-16-2011, 11:57 AM
It's good to know I'm not alone in my experience with the perception of the ukulele.

It's also good to know who I need to ignore around here.

Thanks to all that took the time to share.

Howlin Hobbit
01-16-2011, 12:13 PM
gotta add an amen to the hallelujah chorus here. one of the best things about ukulele is the lowered expectations. if a person manages to develop even moderate skills on the uke they can come across to the average person as amazing.

this is a great comfort to me, and a source of most of the dollars in my tip bucket too! :-)

pulelehua
01-16-2011, 12:24 PM
I take the ukulele so seriously. Like I'm its lawyer or something. And I know its guilty. But the law it broke is a stupid law, so I have to defend it. And by doing that, I'll make the world a better place. A safer place.

At some point in the next year, I have this irrepressible feeling that I'm going to tell someone, "I'm on a mission from God."

Need to buy some sunglasses.

70sSanO
01-16-2011, 01:00 PM
I decided to do a little research.

Tell them to type into google... youtube guitar gently weeps.

George Harrison's 1971 Bangladesh concert version is listed first on google, it has 6.7 million hits.

Jake Shimabukuro's Central Park video is listed second.. it has 7.1 million hits.

No one, not Prince's solo, or any other tribute or cover is close to those two.

After they are done listening to Jake, tell them to come back and then you'll talk about your toy.

John

MiG-19
01-16-2011, 01:33 PM
Talk about credibility problems, try playing both the ukulele and the banjo! Not trying to hijack the thread, but just adding to the discussion about how people associate an instrument with a stereotype. Steve Martin used the banjo as part of his standup act when he first started out, so it was hard to separate the two. He is a very accomplished banjo player with a couple of albums to his credit, and tours with the Steep Canyon Rangers. He still bristles when people question him about his seriousness as a banjo player.
I've got to admit that my banjo playing takes a back seat on a lot of days now that I've taken up this amazingly FUN instrument. My ukulele sits in a stand next to my 5-string in its stand, and it's just so easy and fun to pick up the uke, it gets the lions share of attention these days. I've never encountered any question of legitimacy about either of my instruments, but I can certainly understand how people may come to the conclusion. Just more people to convert!

OldePhart
01-16-2011, 01:47 PM
The ukulele suffers from its own cuteness and fun factor. Its just too easy to make it fun. That led people like Tiny Tim, Arthur Godfrey, and George Formby to make it part of a comedy act. Today we have YT sensations like GuGug and Kenny and the Melodicas, to name a few doing the same thing. Never mind that they are mostly really good musicians in their own rights. People remember the comedy acts, just as they do the Jakes, John Kings, Dominators, Aldrines etc.

It doesn't bother me. I can't really play the guitar, but its hard to look as fun when you are carrying one as a ukulele. Millions of people don't feel intimidated by this little instrument and its bringing out the music in them.

Just go with the flow.

By the way, its hard to take Al Franken, or Sonny Bono, or that guy who made it to Congress from Love Boat, seriously for the same reason.
Oh, man, please don't lump Gus and Fin with Tiny Tim! :)

Seriously, I don't think of what Gus and Fin do as comedy as such. Is it fun? Yes? But just because something is fun and different doesn't mean it should be dismissed as mere comedy. I can actually listen to / watch their videos and enjoy the music - the fact that they've got a fun way of presenting it - and a fun assortment of instruments and almost instruments to create it with - seems to me to be the icing on the cake rather than the cake itself. Honestly, Gus and Fin, Jake, and Tamaine are all about equally "guilty" of convincing me that I had to get my first uke - along with WS64 and "The Dirty Johnson" and rawuke and dominator uke and a bunch of other folks.

It's also a bit "mischaracterizing" to cast George Formby as being about comedy - his songs were fun and sometimes self-belittling - but they were also just darn good music!

Tiny Tim, on the other hand, has probably done more to firmly plant the idea in people's minds that the ukulele is a joke than any other single individual.

I played guitar and sang with a little bluegrass gospel group a few years ago. We had a guy on washtub bass; it added a fun element but he was as good on that washtub as I am on a real bass - and we weren't going for "comedy points."

I think when we characterize GuGug as comedy we kind of play into what the OP is posting about - treating the uke as if it were less than an instrument. Instead, we should stand and salute folks who can take ukes that really were toys and make sweet - well, fun - music on them!

Okay, stepping down from the soap box now... :)

John

SweetWaterBlue
01-16-2011, 02:19 PM
I don't think you should go away thinking I don't like GuGug's or Formby's music - but I'm not sure they average person on the street would see their work as serious music the way we do.

philpot
01-16-2011, 03:54 PM
More and more people see ukuleles as serious instruments, through people who post amazing covers of awesome popular songs. I periodically post links to Aldrine's playalongs on my facebook and people are dumbfounded. "A ukulele can do that!?" they say. It's venturing out of the realm of a "joke" instrument into the popular mindset, and I for one love being part of a craze. I'm about as non-non-conformist as you get ;)

Oh, and I know I'm gonna catch some serious flak for this but... I love Tiny Tim. yes, I said it. *throws up flame shield* He was a literal walking musical encyclopedia, an amazing man with amazing talents. Yes, he used the ukulele and his own weirdness to gain fame but you shouldn't overlook the good parts. This is part 2 of a 3 part interview with him, I recommend you watch them all to get some insight into who he actually was beyond the stage falsetto and novelty act.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjzqlIK_aN0&feature=related

mds725
01-16-2011, 04:19 PM
What Marymac (post #4) and 70sSanO (post #14) said.

Ron
01-16-2011, 04:52 PM
gotta add an amen to the hallelujah chorus here. one of the best things about ukulele is the lowered expectations. if a person manages to develop even moderate skills on the uke they can come across to the average person as amazing.

this is a great comfort to me, and a source of most of the dollars in my tip bucket too! :-)
I think that's right HH. We notice an interesting phenomenon. AFTER we've been bagged for playing uke (Terry gets this the most because he's known in this town as a really good guitar player. He disappered from the scene for a while but has returned as half the Ukes of Hazard) there is a moment when the bagger waits to see what we do. So they can laugh some more. They're expecting "when I'm cleanin' winda's" or "ukulele lady" or something. So we start a country number. Something cool and obscure and halfway through T busts out a blinding solo. I mean, he's really good at making his wee Kala archtop sing - bent notes, hammer ons, up and down the fret board - all the moves a guitarist would do but on four strings.
Jaws drop. Opinions change. The low expectation works massively in our favour.

Plainsong
01-16-2011, 05:11 PM
It's just ignorance, and if someone really wants to be a jerk about it, they're most likely trying to make themselves feel better. There's a physical attribute that they lack, and need to bully others in order to compensate. Real musicians are too busy creating music to give a rip.

CoLmes
01-16-2011, 05:19 PM
The best thing Jake said during one of his shows that I was at, was that people had such a low expectation for the uke when they first see it... so anything you do will be amazing. lol

bbqribs
01-16-2011, 05:54 PM
"Do you really have to take lessons for the ukulele? Can't you just play it?"
"The uke only has 4 strings...why don't you play a real musical instrument?"

Plainsong
01-16-2011, 06:18 PM
That one gets me. The violin is also small and has four strings. Why can't your kid just play it then? Plenty of instruments are small, but are still instruments. Hardcore recorder players suffer the same thing that uke players do as well. In fact there was a head of a uke company that bashed recorder players on Facebook. That was especially classy.

If they want to criticize it, they're free to pick it up and do better. If they can't, I'll thank them to STFU.

Pippin
01-16-2011, 09:49 PM
Welcome to Ukulele Underground Hudman. I am "Masterbuilt" from HCAG. I also publish Ukulele Player Magazine. There is a link to the download site in my sig.

I have had lots of reactions to ukulele similar to what you describe, but I have played ukulele since the 1960s, along with guitar. I have quite a collection of ukuleles in various tone-woods and sizes. Some sound more guitar-like, some sound more "toy-like" or "plinky". My favorites are solid Hawaiian Koa and have a much better tone, but one I love has maple back and sides with a spruce top and is, perhaps, as loud as many of the acoustic guitars I have owned.

I always show doubters Jake Shimabukuro's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" video from Central Park. Follow that with the video where he plays the song with Tommy Emmanuel and people's jaws drop. From that point onward, the nay-sayers remain mesmerized and scoff no more.

Congratulations on the Lanikai uke. They do have great factory setups. I mentioned that on the AG forum at Harmony Central.

Good seeing you here.

...Mickey

bbqribs
01-17-2011, 11:02 AM
Met a retired music teacher. When I told him that I play the ukulele, he just smirked. (He taught music theory, not real music! ha ha)

Plainsong
01-17-2011, 11:18 AM
How is theory not real music? There's a long list of composers that would disagree.

Hudman
01-17-2011, 11:20 AM
Welcome to Ukulele Underground Hudman. I am "Masterbuilt" from HCAG. I also publish Ukulele Player Magazine. There is a link to the download site in my sig.

I have had lots of reactions to ukulele similar to what you describe, but I have played ukulele since the 1960s, along with guitar. I have quite a collection of ukuleles in various tone-woods and sizes. Some sound more guitar-like, some sound more "toy-like" or "plinky". My favorites are solid Hawaiian Koa and have a much better tone, but one I love has maple back and sides with a spruce top and is, perhaps, as loud as many of the acoustic guitars I have owned.

I always show doubters Jake Shimabukuro's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" video from Central Park. Follow that with the video where he plays the song with Tommy Emmanuel and people's jaws drop. From that point onward, the nay-sayers remain mesmerized and scoff no more.

Congratulations on the Lanikai uke. They do have great factory setups. I mentioned that on the AG forum at Harmony Central.

Good seeing you here.

...Mickey

I was hoping to run into you here.

I already had your ukulele site bookmarked. You do an awesome job.

The ukulele has been a very nice and well needed change of pace for me. The guitar will always be my first love (25 years of playing), but it's nice to be able to take a break from it and still make music. I am motivated and excited to play the ukulele and learn new stuff.

Thanks for the warm welcome!

Ed

SweetWaterBlue
01-17-2011, 11:20 AM
How is theory not real music? There's a long list of composers that would disagree.

I'm pretty sure his tongue was planted firmly in his cheek when he said that.

HojoKing
01-17-2011, 12:08 PM
It's dumb for a REAL musician to think that a ukulele is not a real musical instrument. I ordered my 1st UKE last week and I told my colleague about it. Suprisingly, he did give me a large smirk. He also added that it's a toy. I didn't bother to defend or argue. I play a flute from time to time with my daughters and I don't care what anybody think......

gnomethang
01-17-2011, 12:27 PM
I have only haad a Uke for 6 weeks but played guitar for 24 years (although not to an exceptional standard).
The only people who consider a uke a toy (in my very humble opinion) are those that:
A) Have no ear for music
B) Have never tried to play a musical instrument or
C) Listen to Radio 1 (in the UK but you get the picture)

Personally I have no desire to play 'Sweet Child 'O Mine' or 'Enter Sandman' on a Uke - I have one of two guitars for that - but I AM interested in learning a new instrument that makes me (and other people) smile when I strum it. I can play the recorder too!

Night All!

Ukulele JJ
01-17-2011, 12:40 PM
My goal in playing any musical instrument is to simply enjoy the process of creating music. It's not to impress other people. It's not to be "taken seriously".

So what if someone doesn't think it's a "real" instrument? How does that change me or my ukulele? How does that change what I get out playing it?

If everyone on the planet but me decided that all ukuleles were toys, I'd still play them. I think most of us here feel the same way.

JJ

Bosconian91
01-17-2011, 01:11 PM
I think many of us (who grew up outside Hawaii, Japan or anywhere where ukulele is common) are guilty of this. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The fact that a ukulele is so simple and unassuming gives it its own appeal which makes it even more attractive. I believe that the ukulele is not the instrument of choice if one wants to "prove something;" and since I'm not about to prove anything, I chose to play the ukulele. =)

Hudman
01-17-2011, 05:50 PM
My goal in playing any musical instrument is to simply enjoy the process of creating music. It's not to impress other people. It's not to be "taken seriously".

So what if someone doesn't think it's a "real" instrument? How does that change me or my ukulele? How does that change what I get out playing it?

If everyone on the planet but me decided that all ukuleles were toys, I'd still play them. I think most of us here feel the same way.

JJ

You missed the point I was trying to make.

I wasn't looking for approval when I decided to play the ukulele. I did it based on the fact that I like the instrument. It's the same reason I decided to play the guitar 25 years ago.

I think it's a shame that such a wonderful instrument is considered a joke by many (musicians and non musicians alike).

I'm not losing sleep over it and it has no impact on my desire to play the ukulele.

Like you, I really don't care what anyone thinks about hobbies I pursue and I don't do anything with the intent to impress people. I think most adults approach life the same way.

I am sorry for giving you the wrong impression.

Miss Michele
01-17-2011, 06:06 PM
When I told my sis-in-law about playing the uke she called me an "old lady" and laughed. I think my friends and family still don't understand my love the ukulele. Then again, I haven't played for them yet.