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#frequently asked questions about the ukulele

At Flea Market Music, we do our best to keep site visitors and store customers informed about all things ukulele.  To that end, we have worked hard to compile a listing of some of the most frequently asked general questions posed to us over the years, along with our answers to them.  

Many thanks to Dan "Soybean" Sawyer (and Dale Webb of The Magic Fluke Company) for providing us with many of the answers found herein.  If you have a question regarding vintage ukuleles, be sure to consult our Uke Yak section, where you can submit a question to our resident expert, Chuck "Frets" Fayne.

General Questions Page 1 of 2 View All FAQ Categories
Question:   What is a ukulele?
Answer:   A small, 4-string musical instrument with great charm.
Question:   Why the ukulele?
Answer:   There are as many reasons to play the ukulele as there are people who love to play it. Some of the advantages of the uke are: it’s small and very portable, easy to learn and fun to play, brings out the smile in your audience, everyone on your block doesn’t play one, doesn’t need to be checked as baggage on a flight, great conversation starter, and last but certainly not least, a unique and beautiful sound.
Question:   How is it played?
Answer:   It is held in a manner similar to the guitar and usually strummed or picked with the fingers.
Question:   How should I pronounce it?
Answer:   The proper Hawaiian pronunciation is “oo-koo-lay-lay”, even though mainlanders have been saying it wrong for years. To make things more confusing, the shortened nickname is still pronounced “yuke”. So, pronounce it anyway you like!
Question:   How do I learn to play?
Answer:   You will find that there is a wealth of method & song books, instructional DVDs and videos many of which are available in the Flea Market Music online store. There are also a few private teachers, but make sure you get one that really plays the uke, not just a guitar teacher trying to make a few extra bucks. An easier route for most folks, is to join a uke group or club or simply get together with some friends. Most of us love to sit around and play songs together. You’ll find musicians of all levels play the ukulele.
Question:   Is the uke just a small guitar?
Answer:   Not really. There are many differences, but the biggest is probably the way it’s tuned. The ukulele uses a type of tuning called “reentrant” tuning.

In reentrant tuning, instead of the strings being tuned across the neck from high to low, one of the strings jumps up in pitch while its neighbors drop progressively. Reentrant tuning is found on other stringed instruments including the lute, Venezuelan cuatro and 5-string banjo. It’s great for strumming since the up and the down-strokes sound almost the same.

Question:   What are some other differences?
Answer:   A standard electric or acoustic guitar has 6 steel strings. The uke uses 4 nylon strings. It is also pitched higher than the guitar.
Question:   I know how to play the guitar. Will I be able to play the uke?
Answer:   Yes, many chords forms are similar. For example, a D7 chord form on the guitar is a G7 on the uke. It’s usually pretty easy for guitarists to make the switch, at least with the chording hand. Strumming and picking can be a little more difficult if you are used to using a plectrum, since we use our fingers.
Question:   Won't my fingers be cramped on that tiny ukulele?
Answer:   This is a common concern of former guitarists, but it’s really not a problem. With a little practice, your hand will soon get used to the uke. Even Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (Bruddah Iz) could wail on a soprano uke and just listen to John King or Roy Smeck to hear some pretty agile fingers.
Question:   Where should I strum?
Answer:   Unlike the guitar, the ukulele is strummed over the area of the 12th fret, not the soundhole.
Question:   Are there ukuleles with more than 4 strings?
Answer:   Yes. There are ukes with anywhere from 4 to 8 strings. The additional strings are tuned in unison or octaves with the original four strings. The 8 string uke is called a taropatch and the 6 string uke has the nickname Lili’u.
Question:   What is a tiple?
Answer:   Originally based on the South American tiple (pronounced “tee-play”), the North American tiple (pronounced “ti-pul”) is a 10 string variation of the ukulele. It uses steel strings and was a popular jazz instrument in the 1930’s.
Question:   Is this a ukulele?
Answer:   If you have a Ukelin, Hawaiian Art-Violin or Violin-Uke, none of these are ukuleles. They are completely different instruments more closely related to the zither. The main reason we don’t like them is; they’ve stolen our name!
Question:   But seriously, how can I get some more information about these instruments?
Answer:   Go to the excellent "Bob’s Ukelin Home."
Question:   Is my old uke valuable or collectible?
Answer:   In general, older instruments have increased in value, especially in the last few years as more uke enthusiasts come into the fold. We’ve seen values go up tenfold for certain ukuleles. Instruments in excellent, original condition with no cracks or damage have the most value to collectors. Some of the most sought after instruments include the older Hawaiian ukes. The top mainland brands are equally in demand. These would include Martin at the top, with Gibson, Weymann, National, Lyon & Healy and some smaller makers following. Favilla, Regal, Dobro,Gretsch and Harmony have their fans as well. If you have a specific uke you would like a value or opinion on, please visit the “Uke Yak” section.

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Flea Market Music offers an on-line community for ukulele players, informative books on the ukulele, ukulele CDs,songbooks, videos and information on our instrument manufacturing of the FLUKE ukulele. Brought to you by "Jumpin" Jim Beloff. -