Over the past ten years, this little instrument has reminded the world that it’s more than just a novelty.
Aside from its tiny body, part of what gives the ukulele its high-pitched, bright tone is its standard tuning: g-C-E-A. Unlike the guitar and bass, as well as other instruments in the string family including violin and cello, the top, or fourth string on the ukulele is higher in pitch than the following third and second strings (The first string is pitched a whole step above).
As the article teaches us, the instrument did not in fact originate in Hawaii—but it did become a cultural fixture there. And, Hawaiian music written on the ukulele came to define the instrument’s first repertoire, a style that the rest of the United States was introduced to along with the instrument in the early 20th century. The breezy, balmy island climate lent itself to the music (along with a variety of outside cultural influences), which in turn lent itself to the music of the ukulele. As a result, the ukulele is often used for pretty, uplifting, sing-song melodies, and frequently the offbeat strum of reggae.
Here’s an excerpt of the 1979 comedy movie The Jerk, starring Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters, that features a performance of “Tonight You Belong to Me” (Rose/David) on the ukulele (and trumpet!).
Here’s a video of Grace VanderWaal performing her original song on the ukulele on America’s Got Talent.
Of course, over time the instrument’s range of musicality has been stretched by countless artists.
Here’s Eddie Vedder performing “Without You” from his 2011 album, Ukulele Songs:
And Brittni Paiva, performing the song “Europa”:
And lastly, an example of the music played on the ukulele’s ancestor, the Portuguese machete: