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Ukulele History

Image of Martin 3K Professional Ukulele
Image via Wikipedia

Roughly translated as “jumping flea”, the ukulele has long been associated with music from Hawaii, where it originated and was developed as a concoction of the Madeiran braguinha and raj√£o.  Being similar in appearance as the cavaquinho, the braguinha originated from the city of Braga, thus its name.  With regards to its tuning, the Madeira raj√£o is tuned D-G-C-E-A, while the Portuguese cavaquinho is tuned D-G-B-D, in G-Major chord.  Both the D and G strings are re-entrant, which means that they are always tuned an octave higher than what is usually used in regular low-high string course.  The GCEA strings of the raj√£o, on the other hand, is the basis for the tuning of the modern ukulele.

Ukuleles made from Koa wood or Acacia Koa is one of the most expensive types of ukuleles today, which can easily sell for thousands of dollars.  They are well-known for their elegant color and appearance, as well as their exceptional tone.

US Mainland

During the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the ukulele started to gain popularity due to the regular performances by the George E.K. Awai and his Royal Hawaiian Quartette in the Hawaiian Pavilion, which featured an ensemble of guitars and ukuleles.  These performances started a fad for Hawaiian-themed songs among Tin Pan Alley songwriters.  They were also the one who introduced the lap steel guitar and ukulele in the United States mainland music, where it was highly popularized by theatre performers in the likes of Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards and Roy Smeck.

The ukulele then started to become an icon of Jazz Age, attributable in part to its portability and inexpensive nature, which also have become a hit for amateur musicians coming into the year 1920.  This can be seen in the introduction of tablatures for ukuleles in most music sheet publications at that time.  Examples of well-known manufacturers of these instruments include Harmony, Regal and Martin.

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