There are more ukuleles bought in December than in any other month of the year. A uke is the ideal Christmas gift easily linked to new year resolutions. Maybe your plan is to try something different, stimulate your grey matter or just have more fun.
You might be buying for yourself or for a friend or relative. If you, or the person you are buying for, is just starting out with music, or wanting to get back into it after a break, ukuleles are a great starting point. They are fun, not outrageously expensive and you will soon be making music.
Erin Harrington is a BUMS member, ukulele teacher and performer and has worked in music stores. If you are buying for someone else, her tips are:
Ukuleles come in different sizes – soprano (the smallest), concert, or tenor. Think about who will be playing the uke. For a child, a soprano may be right where they can reach around the instrument and smaller frets will suit small hands. For an adult with larger hands, a tenor may be best.
How much to spend
You’ve probably seen ukuleles on sale for $30-40. These are really toys and you will probably find they are hard to keep in tune and difficult to play properly. A cheap uke can be frustrating for a beginner and might turn them off making music.
Ukuleles can cost over $1000 but there are many good beginner ukes for less than $200. Budget for the extras that can make learning easier – such as a strap to hold the instrument steady and a music stand. Keeping your instrument in tune is easy nowadays using a clip-on tuner, an app on your phone or a tuner built into the uke.
Fit with lifestyle
You should ask do they have a quiet space where they can practice uninterrupted? A ukulele is not loud and can be played in an apartment without annoying family or neighbours.
Do they have time to learn? Are they the self-motivated type who will follow up online tutorials, an e-book or work from a music book?
Finding music buddies
The ukulele is a very social instrument. It’s great fun to play with others and of course having a buddy can be very motivating as you progress and learn from each other. Think about music teachers and community groups to help them hit the road running. Music teachers can get a new player off on the right track and regular lessons can help stimulate progress.
Matching their style
If they have musical experience, think about how they like to play. There are two sorts of musicians – a ‘strum and sing’ musician and an instrumentalist. A singer might prefer a uke with an electronic pick-up so they play and sing at an open mic down the track. If they are an instrumentalist, consider the quality of the tone and timber of the ukulele. This will mean a lot more to someone who is technique focused and using an instrument to resonate and ‘sing’ for them.
Make it fun
You could set a regular time to catch up with them and play some simple songs. Choose some songs to play together – make your own repertoire that you can practice and see how you are improving. Making it fun will create beautiful memories you will never forget.
BUMS runs many jams around town, and some provide short beginner classes before the jam.
The BUMS website has many tips and resources to help people start their ukulele journey. Arrange for them to subscribe to the BUMS newsletter for updates on jams, beginner classes, workshops and more. It’s free.