Someone inform Zooey Deschanel on an olde tymeÂ phone: the ukulele has gone mainstream. Yes, the instrument that was once a hipster essential alongside thick-rimmed glasses and craft beer is currently enjoying a massive sales boost. Amazon reports that, between 2013 and 2014, sales of the ukulele have increased by 1,200%.
But is the rise due to the so-called â€œMumford effectâ€,Â orÂ should we blame recent four-string abuser Meghan Trainor instead? â€œUkuleles are replacing the recorder in schools now,â€ says Will Grove-White, member ofÂ the Ukulele Orchestra ofÂ Great BritainÂ and author ofÂ Get Plucky with the Ukulele. â€œItâ€™s an easy way for kidsÂ toÂ get into music. Unlike the recorder, you donâ€™t need a lot of technique to get aÂ tune out of it quickly. And ukuleles are also cheap: aÂ goodÂ one costs lessÂ than Â£30 (or $45).â€
OK, weâ€™ve got our diminutive friend in our hands, we have banished all memory of Tiny Tim tiptoeing through his tulips and weâ€™re trying hard toÂ channelÂ Joaquin Phoenix in HerÂ instead. So where do weÂ begin?
â€œThe easiest place to start is with some one-chord songs such as Bob Marleyâ€™s Get Up Stand Up,â€ says Grove-White. Thatâ€™s just aÂ CÂ minor chordÂ for the whole thing. Or you could try Chain ofÂ Fools by Aretha Franklin. Itâ€™s just a C 7th chord.â€
Great, but now weâ€™re getting pins and needles in our fingers and we have to admit that our Aretha impression isnâ€™t quite what it used to be. Is there anything we can try that makes us look more like, say,Â “Ryan Gosling in BlueÂ Valentine”?
â€œSinginâ€™ in the Rain is a C and aÂ G 7th chord and Rock Around the Clock is C, F and G.â€ Simple enough and no bleeding finger tips or having to play Under the Bridge. â€œLearning ukulele is much easier than learning the guitar,â€ agrees Grove-White. â€œThatâ€™s mainly because on the ukulele youâ€™ve got four strings and not six.â€
Still, the ukulele had aÂ formative part to play inÂ rockâ€™nâ€™roll: the best Davids (Bowie and Byrne) started on it, Joni Mitchell had one andÂ even Jimi Hendrix began on aÂ humble one-stringed one.
â€œAll you need is the three basic chords and, once youâ€™ve got those, you can play pretty much every song in theÂ history of rockâ€™nâ€™roll.â€ Even All About That Bass (A, BÂ minor and EÂ 7th, since you ask).