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Playing the Ukulele in Africa

Discovering the Uke

I had, of course, heard about the ukulele, and had a faint idea that it was an instrument similar to a guitar. The ukulele, unlike the guitar, is not very popular in Africa.

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Perhaps what immediately stood out when I first saw a ukulele was the size. I have a tenor ukulele, which is pretty small compared to the size of the typical acoustic guitar. It is a miniature instrument, but what is lacks in size, it makes up in its fantastic sound, sleek design, portability and instant gratification.

Comparing Ukulele Sizes

There are four types of ukuleles: soprano, tenor, concert and baritone ukulele. Soprano, concert and tenor ukuleles are all tuned to the pitches of G C E A while the baritone ukulele is tuned to D G B E.

Of the four, the soprano ukulele is the smallest followed by concert ukulele. The baritone ukulele is the largest while the tenor ukulele is the second largest.

You can watch the video below to see the comparison of the various sizes.

Purchasing the Ukulele

Since ukulele is not a very common instrument in Africa, getting the right one might be a bit tricky. Although you are likely to find a ukulele in a major town where you live, the variety to choose from might be very limited. In the case of Nairobi, which is close to where I live, I could only find a limited range of soprano ukuleles.

The other option would be shipping directly from Amazon. Here only four countries in Africa (Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya) are eligible. The shipping should not take more than two weeks. The downside of this option (apart from the fact that it is not available for most countries in Africa) is the expensive shipping fee.

The best option then might be to look to buy the instrument locally if you can get a good ukulele near you.

Starting Out

 I was so excited about getting the ukulele that for the first few days, I would not let it out of my sight.

The first thing to do was to tune the instrument. I could not for the life of me figure out how to tune the instrument from the tuner in ukulele.io, you will need to have a trained ear to do it that way.

Thank goodness for technology! I had an electronic tuner and in a few moments, the instrument was tuned. Rebecca has even made a video on how to use the electronic tuner. You can view it here.

21-MED-Lo-ResAnother option is to get an smartphone app that will help you tune your ukulele. There are lots of other apps about ukulele playing too. Click here to learn more about how to use Android and iOs smartphones in playing the Ukulele.

If you are a newbie, you will need guidance on the basics and 21 Songs in 6 Days  gives you all you would require and much more to get you started on playing the ukulele.The  book also comes with free access to online ukulele videos. You get to read, listen and watch for the fastest, easiest learning experience possible.

You have a Small Guitar

“Paul, you play a small guitar ?” that was the question of almost everyone who saw me with the ukulele.

“No no, this is not a guitar, this is a ukulele” was my prompt answer.

Ukulele sounds very much like a Swahili name. In fact, some of my friends had to Google it to confirm that it is actually the English name for the instrument.

What I love about it

 Once I started playing the ukulele, it was impossible not to fall in love with it, and for good reasons:

  • Those four strings produce sweet, full-sounding chords that make good music. I have continually been singing through my hymnal book to see how they sound with the ukulele, and it is glorious.
  • At first, I was uncomfortable about the size of the ukulele. It was too small. After a while, however, I started to like that it was miniature. It is very light and thus convenient for carrying around. It also fits well into small corners.
  • The uke is one instrument that is completely unintimidating; you do not have to have any prior knowledge of music to play it. It is an instrument for every person; young or old. It is particularly easy to learn. Playing the chords is not as strenuous as for the guitar. Most chords are very easy to hold on the ukulele. I could play some few simple songs on the first day of practicing with it.
  • It is kind of cool to play the ukulele; it’s almost as if I have made a discovery since I am the only one of my friends and family who knows how. I could not wait to show off my uke playing capabilities to my mom who plays the piano far better than I. It also sounds very well when played with piano accompaniment.
  • It is very easy to teach yourself. With a few hours each week, I was able to play a great number of songs.
  • The fact that you can make music with the uke (and any instrument for that matter) is a very satisfying feeling. You move from being just a consumer of music to becoming a creator. The experience is exhilarating!

I am hooked to the uke. It is a fun, exciting, melodious, wholesome and satisfying little instrument that will keep you smiling as you play. Uke playing is one hobby I am sure to cling to for the rest of my life.

photo credit: Map of Africa via photopin (license)

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