Wednesday, April 24, 2013

U is for Ukulele

“My dog has fleas.”

That’s the classic refrain used to test whether an ukulele is in tune. Ukulele, by the way, kinda sounds like “oooh-coo-lay-lay” with fairly equal emphasis on all the syllables.  You can watch this video on youtube with two children tuning their ukulele to "My dog has fleas."

Source: Hyacinth via the English language Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Why fleas? Well, the ukulele got its name from the plucking of the strings that looked like fleas jumping. A very practical and descriptive name for an instrument associated with the romance and culture of Hawaii.

Interestingly enough, the Portuguese immigrants brought the instrument to Hawaii, where it was dubbed its new name and popularized in the royal court. As an aside, I wonder if the Galego village that I've been following on twitter plays instruments similar to the ukulele. 

The ukulele is the instrument taught in public schools all over Hawaii. I was tormented by my inability to play the ukulele, but through many years of therapy, can now talk about this publicly. There are even support groups for people who couldn't play the ukulele.  ;) wink! GRIN!

However, there are ukulele virtuosos, musicians who have made the ukulele do magical things. One of the best known ukulele players in the world is Jake Shimabukuro from Hawaii. I think you'll agree. This TED video is 7 minutes long, mind you, but well worth watching if you have the time, and you don't have to watch all the advertising at the end. 

Aloha and mahalo (thank you) for reading!

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I'm doing my best to keep up with commenting, but do sometimes get behind. Mahalo for understanding!


  1. Great post, very interesting. When I think of Hawaii and the ukulele of course I think of the late Israel Kamakawiwo'ole and his medley of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful Life". I will check out the video by Jake Shimabukuro.

  2. My mom bought a ukulele when we lived in Hawaii, which she passed on to my sister since she's the musical one in the family. And since my mom is scared of the internet, I helped her buy my sister Jake's CD for her recent birthday as inspiration.

  3. I am proud to say we have a ukulele store in my town way up here in the mountains!

  4. Amazing! What mountains are they?

  5. Yes, Jake's ukulele cd is inspiring, although I would find it intimidating but then that's why I don't play ukulele. There's a wonderful ukulele festival every year on Maui at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC), free and open to the public for one day. Lots of kids and families.

  6. Santa Cruz Mountains, the coastal range south of San Francisco and almost due west of San Jose.

  7. Wow, I completely missed this one but the minute I saw the music, I had to laugh. We had a ukulele growing up and I could always tune it but never play it.

    No, I have a twitter account but can't remember the password. However, I can share my information on the fingered citron is you want to contact me at It is traditional that at the New Year, you break off fingers and give them to people who you want to have good luck.

  8. The fingered citron (Buddha's hand) on your post was fascinating. I even had to put in on pinterest. I love that New Year's tradition, would love to have access to fingered citrons on Maui! Maybe you could do a post on them, including any intriguing tidbits.


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