Ukuleles: making a light, happy sound

Beachcombers Ukulele Group Singers

“Aloha,” said Graham Walker, ukulele enthusiast. He explained that his greeting is from the land of the ukulele, Hawaii, though the instrument may have been carried there by Portuguese sailors who strummed a similar guitar. 

Whatever its origins, the four-stringed ukulele has become popular on the Sunshine Coast. “It’s a world-wide phenomenon,” said Walker who teaches the ukulele (the name means jumping flea in Hawaiian) to beginners. 

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For those of you who think it’s just a toy, a peewee version of its melodious guitar cousin, then you could be right. Okay, so it’s not a virtuoso instrument, but a ukulele is definitely user friendly. Walker believes that everyone wishes they could play a musical instrument, and once you’ve gotten the hang of this one, you can easily play a few tunes. 

“It gives a light, happy sound,” Walker points out, “and it’s small, so it fits your hand.” 

Walker has taught drums and guitar and considers the ukulele lessons to be a first step to learning chords on any other stringed instrument. If you have no musical background, there’s no shame in putting coloured stickers on the neck of the ukulele to make learning easier. 

The Beachcombers Ukulele Group Singers (BUGS for short) started as a class then kept going for the fun of it. It turned into a sing-along group in which good voices blend with weaker ones and those who feel confident will perform at various community events or at the Gibsons Public Market. About 200 people have passed through this musical gathering over the past five years. They are looking forward to improving their skills with a workshop in September with professional musician Del Rey. 

Walker also plays in an informal group called Loose Endings with four or five other fans of the ukulele. Musicians Mark Trevis and Jill Shatford offer a course, Expanding the Joy of Beginner Ukulele, that teaches those who have learned a few chords greater ease, comfort and facility of style. 

Shatford took up the ukulele when she had a broken shoulder and couldn’t play the guitar. “It’s such an accessible instrument,” she said, “and being in a group allows you to hear the music resound.” Musical experience is definitely not required to join the group. “Not one inch,” she notes. “Everyone is musical in our world.” The course starts again in September at the Music Makers Hall in Davis Bay. For course information, email jillsheretosing@gmail.com. 

One of the highlights for enthusiasts is the second Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. when players meet at the Gumboot Café in Roberts Creek to enjoy an evening together with audience. Bring an instrument or come to listen and sing. To find out more or join a group, see www.bugssc.com

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