Learning to Play Ukulele

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Maui, Hawaii

As I have mentioned I have had a lot of downtime at Travaasa Hana, last night I went to Ono Farms to learn about all the different fruit grown in Hawaii and how pretty much most of it was brought in from immigrants.

It turns out it is the same with music. While the ukulele is an iconic symbol of Hawaii, it was actually brought in by Portuguese plantation workers in 1879.

They slightly changed the instrument and then named it for its appearance: uku means bug and lele means flea – as that’s what your hand looks like while playing it – a jumping flea.

I am not musical at all but I really wanted to take a lesson at the resort. My mother and I sat down with two other guests who were clearly musically gifted.


We were the opposite.


But our teacher Doug explained that the ukulele is actually easier for people who don’t play the guitar as it’s only strum with one finger and we would not have the bad habits guitar players would have.

I think he was just trying to be nice.

But after 45 minutes we learned how to struggle through You are my sunshine and I started to think with enough practice I could actually play the instrument.

And perhaps the more interesting video was actually Doug playing a Hawaiian song because he explained that the songs have many hidden messages. Apparently Hawaiians are lewd and lascivious and when the missionaries came over to the islands they needed to hide all their dirty singing with double meaning.


And I think they do it best, I have never heard a prettier dirty song.



 Image (c) Jayneandd

Join the Conversation

  1. ballawana13 says:

    I love the sound of the ukelele when playing Hawaiian music (whether dirty or not). Please post more photos or videos. Hawaii is too beautiful to just capture in words.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It’s been wonderful discovering Hawaii as more than a beach destination, the culture really is beautiful.

  2. What an interesting experience – learning to play an unusual local instrument is right up there with learning to cook local food.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Ahh well learning the local food is easy for me, the music is so much harder but it is interesting to see how music plays a role in how a culture develops.

  3. I can play the ukelele. Learned it in elementary school, and I’m pretty sure I still know a song or two.

    (I’m THAT cool.) 😛

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Oh I had no doubt you were that cool!

  4. Nate @yomadic says:

    Surely, the Ukulele is the happiest instrument ever invented.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It is definitely tough to think of a happier one.

      1. Ron | Active Planet Travels says:

        I don’t know…the Native American Flute can be a close runner up…but I guess that would be considered more tranquil. How about a banjo….never mind…Deliverance pops into the mind with that one and that would never leave happy thoughts… O.o

  5. I love the sound of the ukulele – it is so calming and peaceful. I’d love to learn how to play it.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It is such a great instrument, I am really tempted to learn more.

  6. I love this, even after living in Hawaii I never knew that the word ukulele meant bug and jumping flea! I also didn’t know it came from Portuguese migrant workers.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I find the things you learn last are often from home.

  7. I don’t think you can listen to a ukelele and not smile.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I know I can’t.

  8. Steve @ ImNotHome says:

    Music is one of the great things about travelling. And learning an instrument, you get the culture and the theory. Theres usually more than just making a sound.

    As a guitarist, I loved getting Sitar lessons in India. A completely different take on how you play.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I bet the sitar would be amazing to learn in India, just the conversations it would begin.

      1. Steve @ ImNotHome says:

        I had a blast, I wished I’d picked one up while I was there, but the shipping back home was ridiculous. It would have cost more than the instrument!

        I had a great day sitting int the gutter in Udaipur in the sweltering summer heat learning a local bowed instrument from a local guy, complete with foot-long beard and colourful turban. He spoke no english, but we had a great time. His grandaughter kept bringing us cups of chai tea. A really special moment!

  9. Roy Marvelous says:

    And here I thought the ukulele was a joke instrument….

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Whaa..who said that?

  10. Please, keep that to yourself. Many a good bonfire / hang out has been ruined by that person who thinks we all like that horrid instrument.

    Cool you’re playing just know that there is a large contingency of people who cringe when someone spoils a good time. 😀

    Safe travels!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Oh no Rob, you are the one person in the world who doesn’t like the ukulele!

  11. This is brilliant. Everyone I know back home loves the ukelele and has them stashed away in their houses!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Seriously? Is it something that needs to stay hidden?

  12. Nomadic Samuel says:

    My girlfriend plays the ukulele. It looks like a lot of fun!

  13. Ron | Active Planet Travels says:

    I got a ukulele back on Kaua’i and I absolutely love this thing…there’s something magical about this instrument…that and the ladies love it! 😉 lol

  14. Nice! I got a ukulele for Christmas and I’m still trying to learn how to play it. Love the sound of it – I’m just not the most musically inclined… 😉

  15. When I was stuyding audio engineering, I did an independent study project on the music of hawaii. It was so interesting, they have some unique instruments and such a distinct and recognizable sound. I also wrote about all the covers that have been done in hawaiin style, my favorite is “Somewhere over the rainbow”

  16. nice post!
    Love ukulele, the magic sound it got.
    Thanks for sharing

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