UKULELE GLOSSARY

I thought it about time to collate my various Ukulele A-Z posts in to one single uke glossary / dictionary. Confused by a term? Look no further!



ABALONE

A highly prized shiny material obtained from shells and often used on ukulele fret marker inlays, on headstocks, or on binding around the edge of the instrument or around the soundhole.

ACOUSTIC

The term that means the ukulele makes it's sound with no amplification, utilising its own construction and soundhole to project the tone and volume.  A pure electric ukulele makes very little sound on its own, without being plugged in to an amplifier. An electro acoustic does both.

ACTION

The term that describes the setup of the strings in relation to the ukulele body and neck.  Most commonly this relates to the height of the strings away from the fingerboard.  Too high an action makes the ukulele harder to play and will create some issues with tuning accuracy on the fretboard.  Too low an action and the strings may buzz on the frets or, in the worst case, mute out altogether.

ARPEGGIO

The process of plucking the individual notes in a chord separately opposed to strumming them.

ATTACK

When a note is plucked on a ukulele, the full sound of that note has a beginning, middle, and as it fades away, an end.  Attack refers to the first point on that scale as the note appears from previous silence and reaches maximum volume.


BACK

The back of the ukulele,  this refers to the single piece of wood that makes up the rear face of the instrument.

BARITONE

The largest scale of ukulele (19 inches approx) developed in the 1940's and usually tuned DGBE

BAR

A sub-division of time in musical notation.

BARRE

The action of placing a finger (usually the forefinger) across all strings of the ukulele at a certain fret to effect the action of moving the nut down, and shortening the strings. 

BENDING

A technique when plucking a note on a string, created by pulling the string across the fingerboard whilst still holding it at the fret creating a slight sharp tweak to the note, proving expression to the playing.

BINDING

The term given to a cosmetic finish applied around the edges of the ukulele body (where the top and back meet the sides) usually in a contrasting colour and used to hide the join between the woods. Binding is also common along the edges of the fingerboard. Binding can also be found on the edges of some fingerboards and around headstocks. It is not essential and only employed to add to the attractiveness of the instrument.

BODY

The term given to the part of the ukulele that the neck connects to - the part with the soundhole in it! The body is made up of three main parts, the top, the sides and the back, and holds the bridge on the top.

BRIDGE

The wooden piece glued on the top of the ukulele below the sound hole which  holds the saddle. The strings pass over the saddle and this acts as the end point for the vibrating end of the string. Some ukuleles have a one piece bridge without a saddle, where the saddle is moulded into the bridge itself. 


CAPO

A device which attaches to the ukulele at a certain fret which, when tightened, has the effect of moving the nut to that fret, thus shortening the strings and raising the register of the instrument. Usually used by those wishing to play the same chord patterns to a song that is otherwise to deep for them to comfortably sing to.

CHORD

A combination of notes played in harmony,  effected on a ukulele by holding strings at different frets allowing the individual strings to play complimentary notes.

CHORD CHART

A diagram showing a range of chords and how the fingers should be applied to the strings (and at which frets) to play the particular chord.

CHORD PROGRESSION

A sequence of chords played one after each other.

CONCERT

One standard size up from a Soprano Ukulele allowing slightly easier fingering due to a slightly longer neck, usually tuned GCEA and with a 15” approx scale length.


DECAY

The decline and fade in the volume and reverberation of a note

DOUBLE BAR LINE

The double vertical lines on a stave of musical notation that signifies the end of the piece of music.

DOWN STROKE

The strumming action across the ukulele strings, moving from top to bottom.


EIGHTH NOTE

In musical notation, this signifies the time value of the note as being an eighth of a whole note ( half as long as a quarter note)

EBONY

A hard dark wood favoured for fingerboards and in some cases, nuts and saddles.

ELECTRO ACOUSTIC

The term given to a ukulele that looks and plays just like a standard acoustic ukulele with a sound hole, but is fitted with a pickup system allowing the uke to be plugged in to an amplifier.

END BLOCK

A solid piece of wood inside the ukulele construction at the base of the instrument to provide structural support to the instrument, and in some cases support for a strap or end pin.

END PIN

A (usually) metal button fitted to the base of the ukulele into the end block for the attachment of a strap, or in the case of electro instruments, the jack socket for connection to an amplifier.


FIGURE

The distinctive pattern produced by a wood's grain, annual rings, rays, colouration, or knots. A nicely figured uke can be desirable as well as expensive! Such a pretty uke is described as being 'Highly figured'.

FINGERBOARD

The area of the neck over which the strings run and into which the frets are mounted. The fingerboard is where your fretting hand holds the notes by pressing down on the strings between the frets. Fingerboards are often made out of a strip of dark wood or dark stained wood applied to the neck of the ukulele though on some models the frets are applied directly into the neck wood.

FINGERSTYLE

The technique of playing the ukulele by picking individual strings with the fingers or a pick, rather than strumming them. 

FINISH

The term used to describe how a ukulele body is finished in manufacture - either glossy, matte or painted (usually).

FLAT

Lower in pitch. (deeper)

FLATPICK

A triangular or teardrop-shaped piece of nylon or plastic used to pluck or strum the strings. Not something that is usually used to play a ukulele, but anything goes! The term 'flatpicking' is also sometimes used to denote playing fingerstyle without nails.

FLEA AND FLUKE

Names of modern designed ukuleles with distinctive shapes and moulded plastic backs. Their design is exact and are rarely badly set up. Manufactured by the Magic Fluke Company in the USA. The term Flea however comes from an old nickname for the ukulele - The Jumping Flea.

FOUR FOUR TIME

A time signature of four quarter beats in one bar of music.

FRET

The thin strips of metal set into the neck of a ukulele to allow you to change notes. By holding a string between frets, the fret nearest the bridge acts as a nut and shortens the length of the string, hence sharpening the note higher.

FRETTING

The action of placing a finger between frets, thus changing the length and pitch of the vibrating string.

FRET MARKER

The dots inlayed in the fingerboard of the ukulele to help finger placement and finding notes. Can also be found (helpfully) on the side of the neck facing up towards the ceiling when played.

FRICTION TUNERS

Tuners that rely on the friction created by tightening the tuning peg against the mount to hold the peg in place. Many beginners struggle with friction tuners, but this can often be down to a case of cheap models on beginners instruments which can be jerky or can slip. Top end friction tuners are smooth and work very well. Preferred by many on soprano and concert scale models.

GIG / GIGGING

Playing a live show

GIG BAG

A soft padded case for the ukulele which is not rigid, and designed to prevent scuffs and scratches when carrying the uke but not much more.

GRAIN

The direction or layout of the wood cells in the woods used in the ukulele. An attractive grain pattern on the top of a uke is often considered desirable.


HAMMER ON

The action of "hammering down" a fretting finger on to a higher fret of a string that has just been plucked, creating a sudden change up in the note without plucking it again

HARDWARE

The term used to describe the parts on a ukulele, most commonly the strap buttons, any electronics, the tuners etc.

HARMONY

Two or more notes sounding simultaneously.

HEADSTOCK

The flat piece of wood at the end of the neck that holds the tuning pegs and commonly displays the ukulele brand logo.

HEEL

The base part of the neck that widens as it attaches to the ukulele body


INLAY

The use of another type of material inlaid into the wooden parts of the ukulele, usually on the headstock, on the fret markers and around the soundhole. Beginner instrument inlays are usually made of plastic, but more expensive ukuleles have inlays made of mother of pearl or other exotic materials.

INTERVAL

The distance between two notes.

INTONATION 

The ability of your instrument to play and hold the correct note at any point on the neck. This usually refers to the accuracy of the ukuleles construction, and the ability for each fret, when fretted to sound the correct note for their position (ie not either sharp or flat). A bad setup or a badly made instrument will provide poor intonation, and a bad sound when played. The simplest basic check if you have no tuner to hand is that each string played open should sound the same note one octave higher when played at the 12th fret.

INVERSION

Structuring a chord with a note other than the root as the lowest note.


JOINT

Simply a woodworking term, and in relation to ukuleles, usually referring to where the neck meets the body of the instrument.


KERFLING / KERFING

Strips of wood glued around the inside seams where the top and back meet the sides of the instrument to add strength and stability.

KOA

A beautifully figured wood that originates in Hawaii - considered by many to be the finest tone wood used in ukulele construction, or at least the most traditional.

K-BRAND

The term given to a range of manufacturers who make their ukuleles to high specificaltons in Hawaii.  Brands include Kamaka, KoAloha and Kanile'a.


LAMINATED

The term applied to a type of wood used in construction of the ukulele - a laminated wood is made from very thin veneer strips of wood glued together and pressed flat. This is opposed to a solid wood which is simply a very thin cut of a solid, single piece of wood. Laminates are cheaper and as such more prevalent on cheaper instruments. Solid woods are preferable for their tonal qualities, though some very good laminates do exist.

LEGATO

A playing technique that purely consists of playing hammer ons and pull offs on the strings.

LOWER BOUT

The term given (on a traditionally shaped ukulele) to the bottom "bulge" in the shape below the narrower waist.

LUTHIER

The term given to one who makes guitars and ukuleles


MACHINE HEADS

The term given to tuning pegs that work using a gearing system to turn the string post.

MAHOGANY

A commonly used wood used in ukulele manufacture - dark, bright yet warm sounding and gives a good volume.  Often comes with an attractive grain pattern.

MAJOR CHORD

A combination of the first, third and fifth notes of a scale played at once.

MELODY

A succession of notes played one after the other - creates the tune for a piece of music.

METRONOME

A device that creates an audible clicking sound that can be set to any beat to assist with timing of a musical piece.

MODULATE

To change key within a piece of music

MOTHER OF PEARL

A material made from the glossy inside of shells used for making fret markers, binding and decorative trims on a ukulele.


NATO

A hardwood used as an inexpensive substitute for Mahogany.

NECK

The piece of wood that holds the fingerboard, and runs between the Body of the ukulele and the Headstock.

NOTATION

A written system of notes, figures, and symbols used to represent musical tones and dynamic values in a composition.

NOTE

The sound made when a string is plucked at a particular fret position. The note is designed by the frequency of it's vibration. The position of the frets on the ukulele creates different notes when the string is held and plucked in the various positions.

NUT 

The strip of material, either hard plastic or bone located at the top end of the fingerboard over which the strings are held in slots on their way to the tuning pegs. The accurate placement of the nut in relation to the saddle is essential for accurate tuning as is the height (or depth) of the slots.

NUT SLOTS

The four grooves cut into the nut that hold the strings in place at the correct spacing.


OPEN

The term which refers to playing a string without holding it at any fret, thereby letting it ring along the full length - this plays the note to which the string is naturally tuned. Sometimes shown on ukulele tabs as an X or an O.

OVANGKOL

A wood very similar to rosewood, though slightly lighter in colour. Provides a slightly livlier mid-range sound than rosewood.  Most commonly used in instrument backs and sides.


PEG

A term that refers to the tuning peg that is turned to tighten or loosen the string.

PEGHEAD

The piece of wood at the top end of the ukulele neck that is wider and flatter, through which the four tuning pegs are secured.

PICKUP

A device that picks up the vibration in either the body of the instrument or the strings, and converts to a signal that can be fed to an amplifier.  For more information on pickups, see HERE

PICKING

A style of ukulele playing where individual strings are plucked with the fingernails as opposed to strumming them.

PURFLING

Also known as Marquetry, purfling comprises several binding strips, laminated together to create a design often inlaid around the edge or soundhole of a uke.


QUARTER NOTE

A note that is played for one quarter of the duration of a whole note.  In 4 4 timing, a quarter note will represent one count in the the "one two three four".  Also known as a Crotchet.


RELATIVE HUMIDITY

The amount of moisture in a given volume of air compared to the amount it is capable of holding.  In plain English....  high humidity is sweaty and muggy! In respect of ukuleles, particularly solid wood ukes, both extreme high and low humidity can affect tuning in the best case, but can actually damage the wood of the instrument permanently by either swelling or cracking it.  You can learn more about it HERE

RHYTHM

The repetitive beat in a piece of music.  Playing ukulele for rhythm usually means strumming it.

ROOT

The first note of a scale.  A chord is named after its root note (even if, on occasion, that note isnt played)

ROSETTE

The decorative pattern or inlay placed in a circle around the soundhole of the ukulele.  They can range from the cheap (printed or inked, or plastic inlay) to the very expensive (intricate mother of pearl inlays).  Either way, they are purely decorative.


SADDLE

The piece of the ukulele, over which the strings run at the bottom of the instrument.  Whilst they are sometimes a moulded one piece item, the saddle is most commonly a thin strip of hard material ranging from plastic to bone and are set in a slot in the wooden bridge. Accurate saddle placement provides accurate tuning by ensuring the correct Scale Length (see below). Accurate height of the saddle ensures the correct action and intonation.

SCALE LENGTH

The measurement along the length of the strings measured between the nut and the saddle.  This length needs to be accurate in relation to the placement of the frets to ensure accuracy in the notes being played. The top of the 12th fret always denotes the exact halfway point of the string.

SETUP

The general term given to the adjustment of various elements of the ukulele, in particular the nut and the saddle to provide optimum playing feel and accuracy.

SHARP

The term given to a note that is sounded higher than its normal pitch.

SLOTTED HEADSTOCK

A traditional method of finishing the head of the ukulele. Rather than having tuning pegs running through the head from underneath a slotted headstock has the pegs running in to the instrument from the side, with the strings running in to the slots to be wound around the pegs. 

SOPRANO

The smallest of the four standard ukulele sizes. This is the traditional ukulele size and is tuned GCEA with a high, re-entrant G string

SOUND BOARD

The term given to the flat piece of wood that makes the top of the body of the ukulele and holds the bridge and the sound hole. Also simply called the "top" of the instrument.  The soundboard creates the sound a uke makes when strummed by vibrating.

SOUND HOLE

The hole in the soundboard or top of the ukulele, usually directly under the strings that provides projection of the sound created by vibrating the top of the instrument

STRUMMING

A style of playing which involves running the fingers over all or some of the strings in a rhythm


TABLATURE / TAB

A system of music notation for stringed instruments used as an alternative to sheet music.  In tablature the notes appear as numbers representing the fret position on a set of lines representing the strings. Read more about Tab notation Here

TAIL STRIP

A thin strip of wood on the base of the instrument where the two sides of the body meet.

TENOR

The second largest in the standard ukulele family, usually tuned GCEA or DGBE and with a 17" scale length.

TOP

The term given to the flat top of the body of the ukulele that holds the bridge and sound hole.  The term " solid top" refers to a wood used that is a thin slice from a single piece of wood as opposed to a laminate of several thin strips.

TRANSPOSE

To change the key of a piece of music by a specific interval

 TRIAD

A three note chord.

TUNER

One of two things! Most commonly the pegs (either geared or friction) attached to the headstock of the instrument around which the strings are wrapped. Turning the tuners tightens or loosens the strings allowing them to be tuned to pitch.  Also refers to a device used to check the tuning of the instrument electronically.

TUSQ

A synthetic material based on bone or ivory used in the bridge saddle, and in some cases, the nut.


UP STROKE

The term given to a strum that starts at the bottom of the uke and moves upwards, from string 1 (A) to string 4 (G)

UPPER BOUT

On a traditionally shaped ukulele, the upper bout refers to the top "bulge in the body, around the sound hole, and nearest to the end of the neck.


VENEER

A thin slice of wood glued on to another piece, usually to provide a decoration or improved finish.  Laminated ukuleles often have a prettier outer veneer to give the instrument an improved look. Veneers are also used to add details such as around sound holes, or on the face of the headstock.

VIBRATO

A shimmering or wobbling of a ringing note or notes, usually created on a ukulele by quickly rocking the fretting finger up and down within the fret spacing whilst the note is ringing.


VOICING

The arrangement of the notes of a chord, or the placement of the notes of a melody within a progression


WAIST

On a traditional shaped ukulele the waist refers to the narrow part of the body between the upper and lower bouts.

WHOLE BEAT

A beat in music which lasts for the complete bar (in standard four four timing).

WOOD

The commonest material used for traditional ukulele construction. Usually either laminated or solid.


ZERO FRET

A building technique which involves placing a fret strip immediately before the nut, in the accurate place where the nut should sit. This leaves the nut to simply deal with string spacing, and the zero fret to provide tuning accuracy.


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