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The Joy of Ukuleles

In 2003, Bill Robertson released a wonderful documentary entitled Rock That Uke, a tribute to the ukulele and its unique sound, and the mystique that surrounds not only its musical qualities but its size and shape. Bill Robertson explained that much of the enjoyment uke players have is in the simple act of holding the instrument.

As he points out in the film, a ukulele “[is] about the size of a human infant”. And just like an infant, a ukulele is held close to the chest, near the heart, as if you were cradling a baby…. which probably seems a little sappy. You have this small, wonderful instrument that you’re shielding from harm which in turn gives you a real sense of purpose.

But what most people remember is that distinctive sound. Pleasant, innocuous, unrelentingly cheerful. It always has that same sound, no matter who may be playing it – such as Taylor Mac, who recently performed with a ukulele at the Dallas Undermain Theatre. As Taylor Mac pointed out, the sound of a ukulele takes us back to a time in our youth when “nothing is our fault”. Such memories can only leave you feeling happy.

Not only that, but the ukulele’s four strings have a high end but no opposing low end, as my ukulele guru Bill Robertson is quick to mention. So what you end up with is that distinctive “plink quality,” as Robertson describes it. As your playing, all of the sound is in the upper range, so you don’t have that “bass sort of support that a guitar has, that robust sound.” With a ukulele, you have only the high sounds, which create a “very childlike quality that conveys a certain innocence.”

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