Ukulele - even the name is fun to say.
No longer just the guitar’s little sister, the four-stringed Hawaiian instrument has grown in popularity over the past few years.
Mick Berghuis, founder of the Swingaleles ukulele social group, says this is probably because it’s such a fun instrument to play.
‘‘You never walk away without a smile, it’s such a happy instrument,’’ he chuckles.
What started as a few friends getting together with a new hobby 12 years ago has turned into a weekly extravaganza, with up to 80 people turning up to the weekly practise sessions.
‘‘Every week there’s more people,’’ Berghuis says, adding that all age groups come along, the youngest member just 12.
New players get a crash course on the ukulele - which means ‘‘jumping flea’’ or ‘‘the gift that came here’’ depending on who you ask - when they first show up to a meeting, and Berghuis says they are playing in no time at all.
‘‘It’s a happy instrument, easy to start with. You strum along and if you don’t know the song, you pretend, as long as you sing.’’
But he says the ukulele can be quite a complex instrument to learn and play if you want to improve your skills.
‘‘It’s similar to a guitar and it can be just as complex, it depends how far you want to take it. I mean, I could teach you three chords on a guitar and you could walk away doing half a dozen songs, which is the same as the ukulele,’’ Berghuis says.
‘‘But a ukulele is cheaper, easier for carrying and it doesn’t matter where you go, everyone seems to play one or there’ll be a club.’’
‘‘It depends what vein you want to go with. There’s some real virtuosos on the uke.’’
There are four classic types of ukulele, the soprano, baritone, tenor and concerto, as well as other shapes such as the pineapple ukulele which is more rounded and the fluke ukulele, which is triangular. The style a person plays depends mostly on personal preference and what sound they are after - some believe a soprano has a more traditional ‘‘uke’’ sound, for example.
The Swingaleles have a reportoire of more than 200 songs and there’s no limits on what they will attempt to play and sing along to.
‘‘We are tied in with the jazz club, so a lot of it is jazz-oriented, but we do pop songs, songs everybody knows, anything from ABBA to Chuck Berry to Frank Sinatra - you name it,’’ Berghuis says.
Dressed in Hawaiian shirts, funny hats and leis, they play regularly around the Illawarra, usually breaking off into smaller groups to manage performances a little better.
Berghuis says once you start playing the little instrument, it become addictive. ‘‘It almost becomes an obsession where you get to the stage where you have 20 or 30 ukeleles on the wall.’’