I found myself in the early evening hours of the last Friday the 13th just smiling, apparently for no reason whatsoever. And then I remembered – I’ve just finished planning not one, but two ukulele-related acts for a sci-fi con, something I’ve been looking forward to and dreading for the past few years. I’ve been playing the ukulele, on and off, for almost five years, but in the summer of 2019 something had finally snapped and I’ve found I want to play all of the songs, all of the time. Here are just a few reasons why that might be the case.
#1 It was made for short-fingered people
Yes, I am aware that there are other types of bass other than the electric bass guitar. Yes, I am certain that, with time and practice, I might’ve approached an acceptable level of (amateurish) proficiency in almost any instrument, since I’m good at faking and improvising. But, with the ukulele, at the very least I don’t have to torture my poor, poor left hand fingers all that much with the usual chords. YMMV.
Random Ukulele Encounter at Istrakon 2018. Photo by Marin Rukavina.
#2 It’s incredibly easy to transport
Yes, even by a public bus. Overnight. In a backpack. At the bottom of the storage area. (Not doing that again!) While I was learning to play the bass, I was carless, and it’s freaking heavy. With the classic and/or acoustic guitar, I’ve had issued with trying to carry anthing else at the same time. With the ukulele… you just treat it as a (fragile) purse, hang it off your shoulder, and you’re good to go! (You can even carry it cross-body if you’re smallish as me, but it’s not all that comfortable.)
#3 ‘Complicated’ chord progressions are e-a-s-y on the ukulele
Which makes playing Sinatra songs two times more fun! The week after Rikon 2019 (because the whole year was incredibly kind to my ukulele skills) I’ve finally understood why anybody would put all those ‘7 chords in the same song – because they’re goddamn close on the strings. Sure, I’m aware that not many songwriters thought of the inconspicuous ukulele. But I, as an amateur and a lover of all things 1940s, am very grateful for the chords nonetheless.
#4 Mistakes are harder to be heard
It could be argued that, in noisy environments, the ukulele is a bit hard to be heard altogether but, for an amateur (and I cannot stress this enough, since the last time my music held any other type of promise was in the mid-nineties), there’s just something so comforting in knowing sometimes your carelessness and skillessness (khm) would just drown in the rest of the sound. It doesn’t mean you get to put in less effort, but it’s a bit liberating. (A little bit.)
#5 It’s freakin cosplay friendly!
Like, really. All you have to do is take your gloves off, most of the time. I’ve played the ukulele while wearing both Oliver Queen and Slade Wilson so far, as well as Steve Harrington, and I’m planning on playing it wearing almost every other cosplay in the future. Um, yeah, I have a thing for simpler cosplays, but still. On the other hand, maybe there’s something to be said for playing music in cosplays altogether. Fun fun fun!
Photo by Pavao Hodap, Rikon 2019.
#6 Prog rock songs were made for the ukulele
While it does sound like not such a big deal, it is to me. The first song I’ve ever learned to play on the guitar was the House of the Rising Sun, and the first chords I remember printing out were Stay (FASC) by U2, but the songs which gave me the most kick on the ukulele were Pinball Wizard and Battle of Evermore. I enjoy them so much I’ve actually considered, for a short time, to go and try to learn the banjo, too. Something in my upbringing must have gone incredibly wrong… or perfectly right.
#7 The ukulele brings people together
I’m not sure what it is about it, but playing the ukulele has brought me one of the best geek experiences of my life so far, one that just keeps on giving. A few years ago I was lucky enough to have a singer friend ask me to team up for some sort of musical act for our local sci-fi conventions, one we’ve ended up dubbing the Random Ukulele Encounter. While it was a rocky start, we haven’t given up on it, and, due mostly to said friend’s unstoppable drive, we’ve even expanded on to include an upright bass player and to perform onstage this year. Next year… well, spoilers!
#8 Nobody takes you too seriously…
…and neither should you! Sure, there will always be glorious ukulele examples like this one, but, for the rest of us, hitting the right chords at the right time is more than enough, thank you very much. Also, even with the internet and all, there are still a lot less people, out there, playing the ukulele than any other crowd-friendly instrument. I literally know of only two more people in my hometown who play it – I’m sure there are more, and if not, there bloody well should be, but we’ve never crossed paths.
What is the rest of the world waiting for? 🙂
#9 George Harrison used to play the ukulele
Which is, frankly, enough for me. And then there’s this.