Is the ukulele just a fad?

Someone asked me lately: “Is the ukulele just a fad? Are people getting bored with it now?”

I replied: “Is the cup of tea a fad? Are people getting bored with it now?”

OK, that may have been a tad on the facetious side but it got my view across very quickly, without me having to explain my reasoning or feelings about the issue. Since you’re here now, and I’m feeling a bit more reflective and maybe even a bit serious, I’ll tell you instead.

In short, no. I don’t believe that the ukulele is a fad. Yes, it’s experienced something of a renaissance in recent years, but I believe that the ukulele is an inclusive instrument, which allows impatient people like me to play a song they know within an hour, rather than having to spend years becoming accomplished enough to make a song sound familiar to others. I believe that the ukulele is a wonderful first instrument. It opens music up to those who believe that they are ‘unmusical’ (I don’t believe that anybody is unmusical, only that some people are more encouraged and then become more committed in their childhood) since millions of adults didn’t benefit from a good musical education in childhood, many of them yearn to be able to play something, but lack the time to spend years catching up with people who began piano or guitar as children. Many adults want to play an instrument and participate in a song with others quickly. The ukulele gives them that. It should stay firmly on the musical map.

The ukulele was my first instrument. For a few years it was my only instrument. Without it I’d be a mere consumer of music, instead of a participant. Nowadays, my very being and sense of self is based upon playing music. My existence before I was able to play anything was unfulfilled and sad. OK. That’s not technically true, but there is a nugget of truth in it. I feel that I’ve grown as a person through learning and committing to music, and that love would never have flourished without the ukulele. The seed was planted and now my life is very different. Whilst not everyone has the same experience that I did, most people find playing and singing with others therapeutic.

Ukulele Wednesdays, and then Learn To Uke’s very success is based on group ukulele playing and singing. I think that meeting up and playing ukulele in a group is a great thing. It’s a way to spend time with others, make music, forget about everything else and relieve stress. I believe that somewhere, very deep within the human psyche we have a need to play and sing with others. It’s ethereal and can take you off to another place, even if it does sound somewhere between a football chant and a cockney knees up at times. The point, is not to be the next One Direction, but to connect with others in a fundamental way. Years ago, people used to sing together frequently, whether they were; at Irish gatherings, the folk drop ins where lots of people bring an instrument and join in, or at Church, or around the piano with the family at home.  It was a way of life that isn’t seen often today, and I think our collective consciousness needs it. I don’t see any other instruments bringing as many people together so inclusively, so I feel that there should always be a place in our society for ukulele playing and singing. It’s a pity that it has been overused by advertisers, and the media. I hope that it has been, or does become realised as a seriously inclusive instrument, fun to play in a group with others and is not dismissed as easily as Jedward hair.

Jedward Hair

The Martini Encounter

Learn To Uke has turned out a number of performers and groups, who are happy to go on record and talk about their time with us and where it’s taken them to. In this Interview, we get to talk to one of our wonderful performing alumni groups, The Martini Encounter. If you’ve never come across this charming trio, you ought to check them out. They sing close harmonies, in a cheeky cabaret style. Tongue firmly in cheek, they offer a 1930’s take on older and modern classics from the Andrews Sisters to Blur, Cab Calloway and The Muppets. Their tagline reads “Permanently shaken. Occasionally stirred. It’s happy hour with The Martini Encounter” and I think this says it all!

Here’s our interview:

What was your first instrument?
Maud: well I do not profess to be an expert, though my acquaintances say I am quite the natural. As a small child I dipped my rhythmical toe into the water with my very own set of spoons. Things really just snowballed from that moment.

Why did you take up the ukulele?
Muffy: Well it’s just the most darling instrument. What’s not to love about a baby guitar?

How did you find Learn To Uke?
Binkie: A very amiable young man introduced me to the idea whilst showing me his g-string at the Royal George in London Town. I was instantly smitten.

Would you recommend them?
Muffy: Yes of course!
Maud: You would need to speak to our agent.

What was your favourite song to learn to play on the ukulele:
Binkie: Oh but we loved them all and now we have an all-encompassing repertoire ranging from Cab Calloway, The Andrews Sisters, The Bonnie Tyler, Blur and, of course, The Muppets.

They can be found at various theatres and venues across the UK. For their tour schedule see their website, twitter, or facebook accounts.

What is that Ukulele in the Canary Islands?

Canarian Ukulele? Yes! The Timple from the Canary Islands

International ukuleles, (well, not actually ukuleles in many cases, if we’re being really honest) come in all different shapes and sizes. The Timple, from the Canary Islands (sometimes known as the Tiple, as the instrument of this name is known as in Argentina, Columbia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Menorca, Peru and Uruguay) is one of them. It has 5 strings rather than 4, and they are tuned to the notes G-C-E-A-D. If you were to ignore the top string that is tuned to a D, you’d have a ukulele. That’s the way that many of the young Timple Players in the Canary Islands do it these days, apparently, though the traditional 5 string players frown upon this type of behaviour, as it is ‘considered less traditional’. As wikipedia puts it:

The timple is a traditional Spanish 5-string plucked string instrument of the Canary Islands.

In La Palma island and in the north of the island of Tenerife, many timple players omit the fifth (D) string, in order to play the timple as a four-string ukulele, though this is considered less traditional by players and advocates of the five-string version. The players of the four-string style, in return, say that they are simply playing the timple in the old-fashioned way from before the time when a fifth string was introduced in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. The common tuning is GCEAD.

Timple players (timplistas) of note are Benito Cabrera from Lanzarote, José Antonio Ramos and Totoyo Millares from Gran Canaria, and Pedro Izquierdo from Tenerife.

If you listen to the timplistas above, you’ll hear that some people play them like a classical guitar, or like a classical guitar mixed with a Spanish guitar, or simply like a Spanish guitar, and others play their Timples like ukuleles. It seems the Canarian cousin of the ukulele, the Timple has very distinct similarities, as we all know, the uke sounds very different depending upon who’s hands it ends up in.

I first came across the timple in 2010 because of Bossarocker, Lou Armer, who came over to Tenerife to see me, and had done her homework on their local instruments. This peaked my interest and I’ve been back a few times bugging the local music shops by tinkering around with their instruments. We toyed with the idea of buying one back in 2010, but we didn’t dive in. I’m now wondering whether I made a mistake, as I’d be a lot further along with my Timple playing than I am now. Ah well.

Here’s some skilled Timple players that I found on YouTube for you to feast your eyes on. (If you wait for video number 2, try not to compare them to the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

Here’s how it should be done:

Want to learn how to play Timple yourself? (In Spanish) Go here.

Or, if you fancy learning how to play the Ukulele in pubs in London. Come to us!

I’m left handed. Can I play the ukulele?

I want to start this blog by saying, honestly that I’m right-handed. I don’t want anyone to think I’m implying that I’m left-handed, as I’m not. I do, however, care about my students’ wellbeing and ease of playing, so I’ve done a lot of anecdotal research on this subject over the years.

I’ve been teaching since 2009 and I know a lot of left-handed ukulele players, both from my classes and also from Ukulele Wednesdays. As I wanted to get it right in the early days, (especially prior to spending years teaching in primary schools, as I didn’t want to scar or ruin anyone’s chances at a musical future) I asked a lot of questions. I’ve accidentally sat in on many hours of debate about what is the right thing to do for lefties. From this, I’ve deduced that there are two schools of thought. I’ve tried to list the pros and cons of each so that you can come to your own conclusions:

Camp 1:

They believe left-handed ukulele players should play their ukuleles right-handed, using the right hand to strum with. The justification for this is that you don’t see any left-handed pianos, or left-handed violin players in an orchestra.


1. There are more ukulele tabs, readily available to you
2. You can play more people’s ukuleles – as there are more people who play right-handed
3. Your stronger hand makes the chords


1. If this doesn’t feel natural to you, you’re fighting your instinct and that can make rhythms and strumming harder (though if neither hand feels natural, it doesn’t really matter)
2. You’ll find it odd playing lefty after you’ve trained yourself righty

Camp 2:

They believe that left-handed ukulele players should play their ukuleles using the left hand to strum with. If you want to, and you’ve bought a right-handed ukulele, the quickest and simplest way to change it from right-handed to be a left-handed ukulele is to switch the middle two strings around, as the outside two strings are very similar in thickness. Ideally, you’d ask a luthier to adjust the bridge and neck, too, but if you’re looking for simplicity you won’t want to do that yourself, so just switch the middle two strings for now. You can see how to change strings here


1. If this feels the most natural way for you to hold it, you’re following your instinct
2. You can play other left-handed people’s ukuleles – as the righties can’t
3. Your stronger hand does the strumming


1. There aren’t many ukulele tabs that are written up for left-handed players.
2. You may find it difficult to test out right-handed ukuleles, say, in a shop before buying, for example.

So, there you have it, in a nutshell. 3 pro’s and 2 cons of playing left vs right. I think the short answer is to do what feels natural for you. Some people honestly prefer to play right-handed when they’re left-handed, yet some naturally prefer to play left-handed because it feels weird to fight nature. The right thing to do is what feels right for you, so you’ll be happy and comfortable playing. Here at Learn To Uke, we’ll support you, no matter which hand you choose to strum with.

Grab yourself a left-handed chord chart from here

What if you want to get more technical than just swapping the strings around? Read more here

If you’ve enjoyed this, here are some more posts of ours that might help:

If you’re in London, UK, you’ll learn this in our courses. Join us. Book your course.

How to play the G chord, here.

See how to play Bb chord on the ukulele, here.

How to play the E chord, on the ukulele here.

Get a free ukulele chord chart (and help with how to read it) from here.

Do you want 6 basic strum patterns to get you going? See more here.

Have you already got a ukulele? You can find our recommendations, here.

If you’re in London, UK, you’ll learn this in our courses. Book your course to join us in London.

If you’re not, please support us on Patreon so you can get access to all our upcoming online tutorials and challenges.

Here is our Amazon Affiliates shopfront, with lots of other ukuleles and accessories to choose from. In the interests of transparency, we are part of the amazon referral scheme so if hundreds or thousands of you buy based on links you clicked via us, we may make a few pence. In the unlikely event that millions of you click, we may make a few pounds. If you’ve found this information useful, please share it around liberally, as we like the idea of this unlikely instance.

Updated on 27/9/2019.