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Four-string ukulele

The ukulele ( Hawaiian ʻUkulele ) is a guitar - like four - string box-neck lute whose strings can be partially or entirely double-choir . The plucked instrument is usually around 60 cm long and 20 cm wide with guitar-like proportions.

In contrast to the guitar, the fourth (top) string is often octave and thus tuned higher than the middle strings. This gives it its unmistakable, exotic sound.


The Portuguese immigrant João Fernandez brought the Braguinha , a local form of Cavaquinho , from Madeira to Hawaii in 1879 . There the musical instrument was given the name ukulele ('hopping flea'), which is supposed to give the impression of fingers moving quickly over the fingerboard of the instrument. The indigenous people decided to recreate it and made the first ukuleles out of native koa wood . Fernandez's compatriot, Manuel Nunes , then produced and refined the ukulele, which he manufactured in his own factory from around 1889 and which became known worldwide as Nunes ukuleles . Nunes is considered the official inventor of the Hawaiian-style ukulele.

During the Pacific War , American soldiers previously stationed in the Philippines and Hawaii brought ukuleles to Melanesia . In New Guinea they were among the few imported musical instruments and after 1945 enabled the formation of string bands that created the first modern musical style of New Guinea's music, which until then had been based purely on local traditions .

Amanda Palmer with her Tiki- Ukulele (2019)

From Hawaii , which has been a state of the United States since 1959 , the ukulele came to North America and from there back to Europe. In England it became popular as an accompaniment instrument for skiffle music. By Billy Wilder film Some Like It Hot (, Some Like It Hot ") in which Marilyn Monroe as Sugar plays a ukulele, the instrument was further known. The ukulele has been popular in Germany since the late 1990s. Younger German television audiences in particular are familiar with the ukulele from Stefan Raab's raabigrams . In the 2000s , singer-songwriter Julia Nunes , who became known through YouTube , gave the instrument cult status. The American musician and actress Kate Micucci also makes many appearances with her ukulele.

The ukulele also became internationally known through the Hawaiian musicians Israel Kamakawiwoʻole ("IZ") and Jake Shimabukuro . In the UK, the comedic Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain plays this musical instrument.


Ukulele and its parts

Ukuleles are usually made of wood. Some are also made partially or entirely from plastic . Inexpensive ukuleles are made from laminated wood . Better ones often have a solid top made of tonewood , such as spruce . Other ukuleles, on the other hand, are made entirely of solid exotic wood (e.g. mahogany ). The original ukuleles are mostly made from Koa , a Hawaiian wood known for its sound and typical grain.

Ukuleles often have the figure eight shape familiar from acoustic guitars . Popular but also more unusual are body shapes such as an oval, pineapple (Engl. For pineapple ) called. Cigar boxes are also used for the body of some ukuleles . The standard ukulele has four strings, but these can also be combined to form choirs , so that the instrument then has eight strings.

Originally strung with gut strings, today's ukuleles are covered with plastic strings that are either made of pure nylon or - for higher quality versions - with fluorocarbon or nylgut, a new development that is supposed to combine the advantages of a nylon string with the traditional gut string (catgut) .

Almost all of the ukuleles have no fasteners for straps from the manufacturer. Therefore, playing with two hands while holding the instrument at the same time is a tricky business for the inexperienced. In the 2010s, a number of manufacturers were now offering lightweight belts that were looped around the entire body of the instrument.

Size and mood

From left to right: baritone, tenor, concert, soprano ukulele (manufacturer: Cordoba, Martin , Luna, Baton Rouge), on the far right an
acoustic guitar for comparison
Bass ukulele (manufacturer: Kala)

There are different models, voices and moods . The classic ukulele, which is also the most widespread, is the soprano ukulele with a total length of approx. 54 cm and a scale length of approx. 35 cm. In addition, there is the smaller sopranino ukulele as well as the concert, tenor and baritone ukuleles (in ascending order of size) . There are also five-, six- and eight-string instruments in different sizes and designs, but these are rare, especially in Europe.

There are two common tunings for sopranino, soprano, concert and tenor: the so-called C tuning g'-c'-e'-a '(also called Hawaiian tuning ), and the so-called D tuning a' one whole tone higher -d'-fis'-h ' (classical tuning). The spread of the different moods varies from region to region and time; Currently, the D-tuning is still quite common in Europe, while the C-tuning is popular in the Anglo-Saxon region. Due to the formative distribution on the Internet, the C-mood is also finding supporters in Europe. The D mood, on the other hand, was very popular and widespread in the USA at the beginning of the last century. Both in the Anglo-Saxon region and in Europe there is training literature, fingering charts and scores for both tunings. In the past, the e'-a'-cis'-fis' mood was common for tenor ukuleles, but this has almost disappeared.

In contrast to the guitar, the fourth (top) string is octave in these tunings and is therefore tuned higher than the middle strings. This gives it the unmistakable, "exotic" sound. Tenor ukuleles in particular are often tuned with a low 4th string. The baritone ukulele is usually tuned dgh-e ', whereby the D string is not octaved here. This shows the closeness to the guitar , whose tuning EAdgh-e 'corresponds to the baritone ukulele except for the two lower strings.

Type Scale length overall length Mood ( sound symbol )
Soprano or standard 35 cm 54 cm g'-c'-e'-a 'or a'-d'-fis'-h'
concert 38 cm 59 cm g'-c'-e'-a ', g-c'-e'-a' or a'-d'-fis'-h '
tenor 43 cm 66 cm g'-c'-e'-a ', g-c'-e'-a', d'-gh-e 'or a'-d'-fis'-h'
baritone 50 cm 77 cm dgh-e '

Bass ukulele

A relatively new form is the bass ukulele, which is offered by some manufacturers. Strictly speaking, this instrument is not a ukulele, but a miniaturized electric or acoustic bass about the size of a baritone ukulele. Because there is only a small market, it has not yet been possible to establish generally accepted dimensions. Their lengths vary around 52 cm and their lengths around 75 cm. The instrument is tuned in fourths (‚E-‚ADG). This does not correspond to the ukulele tuning. Due to the short string length and the small body, large volumes are not to be expected; such instruments usually cannot do without an amplifier . The sound is usually picked up piezoelectrically . The strings used are either polyurethane or steel-coated plastic strings . PU strings only have a very short sustain , with steel strings you can hear the handling noises relatively louder than with full-size instruments due to the low inherent volume.

Audio sample: The open strings of a ukulele in C tuning (245 kB)


There are various notations according to which the ukulele can be played. A distinction is often made between (melodic) plucking and (song-accompanying) beating.


For the accompaniment of mostly rock , pop and folk music , the chord names are often given above the lyrics . These are universal to instruments; That is, a chord sounds the same on two different instruments. The corresponding fingering can be looked up in fingering tables for the right tuning of the ukulele.

A couple of chords:


Tab is short for tablature . In contrast to a chord, this is an instrument-specific notation. The ukulele tablature consists of four lines that represent the four strings of the ukulele. These are given in reverse order. In the gcea tuning, for example, the bottom line is assigned to the g-string, up to the top, the a-string. The numbers noted on the lines indicate the fret in which the respective string is to be gripped. In addition, you can not only specify what is to be played, but also how.

Tab notation for the ukulele


Of course, the ukulele can also be played according to notes, for example to interpret classical pieces that are not in chord or tablature notation. Naturally, this requires knowledge of reading notes and knowledge of the fingerboard position of a note. These can be found in the following table, which is arranged in reverse order according to the tab notation.

Related instruments

Johnson Resonator Ukulele JM-980

Ukuleles are now available in a variety of different designs. There are models with pickups that can be connected to a guitar amplifier or effects device , for example . Various producers offer ukuleles whose form and function are modeled on, for example, the resonator guitar , the electric guitar , the steel guitar or the double guitar . For guitar players who do not want to learn new fingerings in order to get the typical "Hawaiian" sound, there is the Gitalele . However, knowledge of transposing is required here, especially when playing with guitars , as the guitar ele is tuned a fourth higher. The cavaquinho or the cuatro is also related to the ukulele.

The ukulele banjo (also known as banjulele ) was developed around 1917 by Alvin D. Keech, who was born in Hawaii. This instrument, also voted 4 Nylon strings (g'c'e'a '), has the short neck of a chords but the body of a tenor banjo . There are various models from major instrument manufacturers (e.g. from Gibson or Ludwig ) in specialist shops . In jazz it was used by Al Bowlly .

See also


  • Jim Beloff: The Ukulele. A visual history . Backbeat Books, San Francisco 2003, ISBN 0-87930-758-7 .
  • Rigk Sauer: Learn to play Blues Ukulele . Mayer-Scholz, Mering 2007, ISBN 978-3-86611-359-6 (1 DVD)

Web links

Commons : Ukulele  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Ukulele  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ʻUkulele in Hawaiian Dictionaries
  2. Collins Dictionary , viewed February 14, 2019
  3. The History of the Ukulele , viewed July 6, 2010
  4. Martin Ukulele Strings on
  5. Aquila New Nylgut® Strings on
  6. Several pages on the Internet with offers for ukulele shoulder straps ; accessed on Nov. 16, 2016.
  7. Alvin Keech, Kelvin, and the Banjulele (French. Accessed on April 18, 2014)