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    The History of the Ukulele

    The ukulele is a member of the guitar family of instruments; it generally employs four nylon or gut strings or four courses of strings. The word 'ukulele' comes from Hawaiian, 'uku' (“flea”) + 'lele' (“jump, jumping”).

    Developed in the 1880s, the ukulele is based on several small guitar-like instruments of Portuguese origin, the machete, the Cavaquinho and the Rajao, introduced to the Hawaiian Islands by Portuguese immigrants from Madeira and Cape Verde. Three immigrants in particular, Madeiran cabinet makers Manuel Nunes, José do Espírito Santo, and Augusto Dias, are generally credited as the first ukulele makers. Two weeks after they disembarked from the SS Ravenscrag in late August 1879, the Hawaiian Gazette reported that "Madeira Islanders recently arrived here, have been delighting the people with nightly street concerts."

    One of the most important factors in establishing the ukulele in Hawaiian music and culture was the ardent support and promotion of the instrument by King Kalakaua. A patron of the arts, he incorporated it into performances at royal gatherings.

    After the 1960s, the ukulele declined in popularity until the late 1990s, when interest in the instrument reappeared. During the 1990s, new manufacturers began producing ukuleles and a new generation of musicians took up the instrument. Hawaiian musician Israel Kamakawiwo'ole helped re-popularise the instrument, in particular with his 1993 medley of "Over the Rainbow" and "What a Wonderful World," used in films, television programs, and commercials. The song reached #12 on Billboard's Hot Digital Tracks chart the week of January 31, 2004.

    Construction
    Ukuleles are generally made of wood, though variants have been composed partially or entirely of plastic or other materials. Cheaper ukuleles are generally made from ply or laminate woods, in some cases with a soundboard of an acoustically superior wood such as spruce. Such instruments typically cost from $50 to $100. More expensive ukuleles are made of solid hardwoods such as mahogany. Some of the most expensive ukuleles, which may cost thousands of dollars, are made from koa (Acacia koa), a Hawaiian wood.

    The tone and volume of the instrument varies with size and construction. Ukuleles commonly come in four sizes: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone.

    Typically ukuleles have a figure-eight body shape similar to that of a small acoustic guitar. They are also often seen in non-standard shapes, such as cutaway shape and an oval, usually called a "pineapple" ukulele, or a boat-paddle shape, and occasionally a square shape, often made out of an old wooden cigar box.

    These instruments may have just four strings; or some strings may be paired in courses, giving the instrument a total of six or eight strings. The strings themselves were originally made of catgut. Modern ukuleles use nylon polymer strings, with many variations in the material. Some of the lower strings, particularly on the larger sizes, are wound with aluminum.

    Instruments with six or eight strings in four courses are often called taropatches, or taropatch ukuleles. They were once common in a concert size, but now the tenor size is more common for six-string taropatch ukuleles. The six string, four course version, has two single and two double courses, and is sometimes called a Lili'u, though this name also applies to the eight-string version.[

    Tuning
    The most common tuning is C6-tuning: G4 C4 E4 A4. The G string is tuned an octave higher than might be expected. This is known as reentrant tuning something believed to originated in the Rajão, the Portuguese 5-string instrument that had DGCEA, with the D and G being high. Some players prefer "Low G" tuning, with the G in sequence an octave lower. The baritone is usually tuned to D3 G3 B3 E4, which is the same as the highest four strings of the standard 6-string guitar.

    Another common tuning is D-tuning, A4 D4 F#4 B4, one step higher than the G4 C4 E4 A4 tuning. D tuning is said by some to bring out a sweeter tone in some ukuleles, generally smaller ones. This tuning was commonly used during the Hawaiian music boom of the early 20th century, and is often seen in sheet music from this period. D tuning with a low 4th, A3 D4 F#4 B4 is sometimes called "Canadian tuning" after its use in the Canadian school system, mostly on concert or tenor ukuleles.
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