Home The Ukulele Brief history

Brief History of the Ukulele


I hear people say that the ukulele has recently made a comeback, but it has never really gone away, if one is prepared to accept that its ancient relatives have been around since the 16th century. In Spain it was the guitarra; in Italy, chittarino; in France, guiterre; in England, gittern. An example of the early chittarino may be seen in my Gallery.

There is a great deal of information about the development of the ukulele by browsing the web, if detail is required.

It is interesting to note that the earliest references to tuning of the early instrument were similar to the present-day ukulele. Perhaps it is not surprising that the tuning was G, C, E and A, just as the ukulele is tuned. In the early days stringing was in pairs, a double stringing known as a ‘course’ and tuned usually in unison; often as not the first was a single string. It was normal to tune the lowest pair with an octave high G, effectively providing a ‘re-entrant’ tuning.

As this little instrument meandered around Europe, emigrating by the Portuguese to Madeira and then to Hawaii, it was influenced by various musical cultures on its way and during its development.

No doubt, as an accompaniment to the voice it is best known, but not exclusively. There are many examples of its use as a solo instrument; after all, it is a small guitar and may be used similarly. Pieces for solo playing were composed by Alonso Mudarra as early as 1546.


Styles of Playing