'The Nation's Ukulele Orchestra'
BBC News, Radio 4, 23rd September 2014
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Ukulele FAQ

  • How is the name of the instrument spelled?

    English speakers often call the instrument the "uke" (yook) or "ukulele" (yoo-koo ley-lee), whereas given the instrument's Hawaiian origin, it might be more accurate to say the "uku" (oo koo), or "ukulele" (oo koo lay lay). In Hawaiian apparently, all syllables end with a vowel and 'e' is always pronounced as a long 'a'. The conventions of transliteration from Hawaiian probably allow both spellings: ukulele and ukelele. The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain use the former spelling but they don't speak Hawaiian.

  • How did the ukulele get its name?

    It could be that in 1879 in Honolulu, Joao Fernandes, who had just disembarked from Madeira, played the braguina with such virtuosity and speed that the Hawaiians, impressed with his jumping fingers, called the instrument the "ukulele", meaning dancing flea. But then according to Queen Lili'uokalani the name means "the gift that came here", made from "uku" (gift or reward) and "lele" (to come). Perhaps the name comes from "ukeke lele" or "dancing ukeke" (the ukeke is a Hawaiian musical bow). Some say that Edward Purvis, an English army officer, who was a small man and an agile braguina player, was himself nicknamed "ukulele" and the name later became connected to the instrument itself. Then again, it could be that Gabriel Davian and Judge W. L. Wilcox coined and translated the name, joking that the way one scratched at it, the instrument must have been a jumping flea.

  • What is a Ukulele?

    It is a small, four course, or four string, re-entrant tuned, plucked chordophone. In other words, it has four strings, and if you play it right handed, the string nearest your nose is tuned high. A ukulele is a bit like a small guitar although the construction details are different and give it a distinctive tone. The ukulele is not related to the banjo, although the ukulele-banjo is often referred to as a "uke". The Ukulele is arguably related to the cavaquinho, the braguina, the cuatro, the mandora, the chittarino and the requinto. The early guitar had four strings. A modern guitar can be thought of as a "genetically modified" ukulele. A ukulele can be thought of as a "bonsai" guitar. There are some ukulele style instruments which have more than four strings, such as the "taro-patch" which has up to four courses (that is to say, some of the strings are double, tuned in unison or octaves). Distinctions between guitar like, mandolin like and other fretted, plucked stringed instruments are sometimes difficult to make. There is even a mando-uke. (The instrument called the ukeline is actually a cross between a zither and a bowed psaltery, and is not related to either the ukulele or the mandolin, but that's another story). The history of the ukulele, from its origins in Madeira via early construction and naming in Hawaii to its popularity in America is well documented. See the links page for more information.

  • Why play the Ukulele?

    The ukulele is small, convenient and relatively inexpensive, and one can often quickly and easily learn the basics to a rewarding level. One can then undertake a world tour with only hand luggage. Some people go so far as to say that playing a tune on a ukulele is a way of identifying good music; if the composition is good, it sounds good on a ukulele; the very limitations of the instrument encourage thinking creatively about music.

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