Jennifer Hink, of Galloway Township, purchased a four-string ukulele last month because she thought she could teach her special needs students how to play it.
Hink, 35, took a free one-hour ukulele lesson one Saturday morning last month at the Guitar Center in Mays Landing.
A music teacher for Cape May County special services and a pianist for a quarter of a century, Hink had tried learning the guitar, but could never get the hang of it. She found playing the ukulele to be easy. The class did teach her to correct a bad habit she developed playing on her own. She has been picking the ukulele up at least four times per week ever since.
"I have tried to play the guitar for many years, and the guitar hurts your fingers. It's so hard to get all the strings down. As soon as I got on it (the ukulele), I was like, 'I can play this instrument. This is great,'" said Hink, who added she taught herself "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
During the past 15 years, the ukulele has experienced a resurgence in popularity.
The late Beatle George Harrison is one of the people who brought attention back to the ukulele. In recent years, other pop musicians have followed in Harrison's footsteps, including Taylor Swift, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Sara Bareilles, Jack Johnson, Zooey Deschanel, Nellie McKay and Colbie Caillat.
Ken Bari Murray organizes the annual ukulele festival in New York City. A ukulele video was one of the first YouTube sensations, he said.
"Jake Shimabukuro, his popularity grew from going online almost the first month that YouTube existed, and he did a version of 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps,' the George Harrison song, and it was probably the first viral event on YouTube, or one of the early ones. That cemented his position as probably the top ukelele player in the world," Bari Murray said.
The ukulele's return to the spotlight is due to its affordability, among other aspects, Bari Murray said.
"It's creative. It's cultural," Bari Murray said. "In my own case, I'm a traveler. It's a very easy instrument to travel with. I think so many people are traveling these days. The ukulele is booming in Thailand, in Korea, in Japan and in Hawaii itself. It's a great instrument."
Musician Andrew Lindsay, 19, of Egg Harbor Township, received his ukulele from his older brother in December.
"I play bass. He thought it would be cool for me to get into it because they are both four strings," said Lindsay, a freshman at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Pomona. "I've been playing bass for five years. (The ukulele) came easier to me. I mess around on it every other day.
Lindsay is in a Mays Landing jazzy pop band named Period 12. One other guy in the group plays ukulele on stage, Lindsay said.
"I've seen a lot of people learning how to play," said Lindsay, who works at the local Guitar Center store. "Also, a lot of popular music has ukulele incorporated, if you ever listen to any Jason Mraz or any music like that, there will be a lot of ukulele."
The ukulele's nice, happy sound may have more appeal to people right now for whatever reason, Lindsay said.
In recent years the ukulele has definitely been experiencing a real boom, said Rick Bruner, a ukulele enthusiast and the leader of the band the Sauverinos in Brooklyn, N.Y.
An award-winning feature documentary, titled "Mighty Uke: The Amazing Comeback of a Musical Underdog," was in the theaters in 2009 and was released on DVD in 2010. The filmmakers traveled the world to discover why so many people of different ages, cultures, musical tastes and nations were turning to the ukulele to express themselves.
Perhaps the ukulele's most endearing attribute is it is a relatively simple instrument to play.
"The tuning is kind of similar to a guitar, so anybody who has dabbled with guitar at all finds it especially easy, but even people who never played an instrument before, it only has four strings compared to a guitar, which has six strings, so it's at least one-third easier," Bruner said.
Bernard Somers, 19, of Egg Harbor Township, always wanted to learn how to play an instrument, especially the guitar.
While visiting in the area last month from the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, Somers attended the free ukulele lesson at Guitar Center. He found it pretty difficult at first because he was not used to it putting his fingers real close together in different shapes.
"After the class, I went home, played a little bit. I wasn't real good. It was my first time, so I played for maybe 10 or 15 minutes, then, I set it down because it wasn't sounding good. It didn't make me feel very good about myself," said Somers, who borrowed a friend's ukulele for the four days he was in southern New Jersey.
Somers said it felt more natural on the second and third days that he played.
"By the fourth day, I was just strumming, walking around the house," said Somers, who added he played for about two hours on his fourth day with the instrument. "I was just hanging at the house. My family liked the way it sounded."
At age 76, Jim MacMillan remembers the earlier wave of ukulele players, including Tiny Tim and Arthur Godfrey.
MacMillan, of Rio Grande, has been a ukulele buff all his life. Currently, he has a mandolin and four ukuleles, one of which is a Martin handmade baritone ukulele. He bought a Les Paul ukulele at Guitar Center for $99. He drove 30 minutes one way from his home on multiple Saturday mornings to sit in on the center's free ukulele lessons.
It's not easy to find a uke instructor," MacMillan said.
"Somewhere I read that just by knowing a handful of common chords, you can accompany yourself on a lot of songs, so it seems to be pretty simple," MacMillan said. "There are three songs that I'm working on 'Hawaiian Wedding Song,' 'Let Me Call You Sweetheart' and 'Laughing on the Outside (Crying on the Inside).' I can clumsily get through all three of them, but not smoothly. I'm working on getting them to sound good."
Contact Vincent Jackson:
A buyer's guide for the ukulele
• Children's or beginner-adult ukulele can be purchased for $49 and $59, respectively, said John Epifanio, owner of the Music Central stores in Egg Harbor Township and Vineland.
• The type of wood makes a difference in the cost of the ukulele. More exotic woods, such as Koa, carry a higher-end price.
• The four different types of ukuleles include soprano, the smallest, concert, tenor and baritone, the largest.
• Private, half-hour, one-on-one lessons are available at Music Central at a cost of $80 per month for once per week meetings.
On the Web
• Ukulele chord chart for beginners: dobani.com/upbeat/
• More complete chord chart (more confusing, but more complete): ukalady.com/Images/UkeChart.pdf
• Song charts with ukulele chords: ukesterbrown.com
Beatles songs with ukulele chords, together with a cool, play-along feature: beatlesite.info
• Free beginner training videos: ukuleleunderground.com
• "Play along with the late Elvis Presley" feature and interactive chord finder, among other things: ukulele.nl
Ukulele workshop and concert
Six-time Grammy Award winner Daniel Ho holds a three-hour ukulele workshop at 1 p.m. and concert at 7:30 p.m. today. Tickets are $20 for the workshop only, $35 for the workshop and concert and $25 for the concert only. The workshop will be held at Academy Hall, 27 S. Black Horse Pike, Blackwood, Camden County. The concerts will be held at the Dennis Flyer Theater, on the campus of Camden County College, 200 College Drive, Blackwood. For tickets, call 856-227-3091 or visit mainstage.org