Has the ukulele just caught your attention? Are you considering taking lessons to learn the basic chords of the trending instrument? Do you want to be the fun friend who starts the happy-go-lucky sing-alongs at parties? First you’ll need to know which one to buy.
There are four main ukulele sizes, but the smallest, the soprano, is the most iconic. The soprano is the size that most people associate with the ukulele. A few practice strums will immediately produce that classic ukulele sound and bring a smile to your face.
Sopranos can feel very small to many adults, however, with their traditional tininess making them a bit trickier to play than concerts or tenors. A concert or tenor size uke are good middle-of-the-road sizes that work well for beginners and give off a warmer, more resonant sound than the sopranos.
Try not to obsess about choosing the right size. Chances are you’ll find yourself starting a collection and owning ukes of every size before long.
There are a ton of different woods used to craft ukuleles. The most common is koa, a type of wood from Hawaii. Thus, most ukuleles that come from their birthplace are made from koa. It has a beautiful grain and generates a very warm sound, but note that koa is used on more expensive ukuleles. If you’re not looking to break the bank, but still want a uke that will stay tuned, you’re probably going to get one made of mahogany. A mahogany ukulele sounds a little bit softer than one made of koa, but it’s still a good wood choice.
There’s a bewildering range of ukulele brands available today. The brand you choose really depends on what your local music store has to offer, and your personal preferences and budget. Some brands that come to mind are:
Ashbury—good quality, entry-level ukes from a UK company
Kala—hugely popular in the islands and elsewhere, but generally with a big price tag
Kamaka—the oldest surviving ukulele maker, family-owned and Hawaii-based
When it opened in 2008, the Barcelona branch of the Shine School of Music was the first specialised guitar school in the city, offering classes in all styles of guitar—from classic to flamenco to electric—with qualified and experienced teachers in English, Spanish and Catalan. Today, they continue to provide guitar lessons to all ages and levels, but have also begun training students on a variety of other instruments including piano, ukulele, cavaquinho, accordion, clarinet, saxophone and more. Understanding that most people study music for enjoyment, as a hobby, the school delivers a simultaneously structured, creative and fun approach to learning an instrument. At Shine, people feel comfortable socialising, collaborating with other musicians and showcasing their progress.
Shine is also one of two music schools in Barcelona that offer intensive flamenco/guitar/piano courses to tourists looking for an educational holiday, along with being one of the few music schools worldwide to give private online music classes in a coherent and organised fashion for you tech-savvy musicians out there.
When it comes to the ukulele, Shine is keeping up with that trend, too. Not only can their teachers melt your heart with a few joyous chords and teach you how to delight friends and family with some melodies of your own, but the school in Gràcia sells ukes, as well. They sell mostly sopranos because “it’s the most popular,” said Shine’s owner Miloš. “The soprano is what everyone plays, what’s all over YouTube these days.” You can also rent a dynamic ukulele from Shine for 30 euros a month.
Once you’ve bought your first (or maybe your tenth!) ukulele, go to our list of top 12 ukulele songs to play, some time-honoured classics but others you may not have previously associated with the uke.