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Baritone Ukulele Video!

The ukulele world seems to have an odd relationship with Baritone Ukulele. Most ukuleles are tuned GCEA (C6) or ADF#B (D6)–these are soprano, concert, and tenor ukuleles. There are exceptions and other tunings, and the D6 tuning is more prevalent in Canada and Europe. I only have one ukulele tuned to D6…my sopranino Caramel ukulele. The baritone ukulele generally is tuned DGBE (G6).

I have one, and only one Baritone ukulele (I cannot say that for any other scale of ukulele). The baritone ukulele was on a special “gambler’s” eBay offer, as a company bought a carton full of rejected Lanikai LU-21B ukuleles and sold them at a “make an offer” price. I bought one ($35 shipped), and in addition to a string change, it needed some work on frets and the saddle…but it plays O.K. If I were to play baritone full time, I’d want another instrument. I also put on Ken Middleton’s Living Waters all-fluorocarbon strings on my ukulele so that I wouldn’t have to deal with metal strings (many baritone ukuleles have one or two metal-wound strings).

Most ukulele resources, at least here in the USA, are written for GCEA ukulele. That said, there are a growing number of baritone ukuleles on the market. A lot of people like baritone because of the deeper sound (most baritones are linear instruments) and the baritone’s similarity to the guitar. The four strings of a baritone ukulele are tuned like the top four strings of the guitar. As a result, many guitar players like the familiarity of chord shapes–at least in part–to the baritone ukulele.

There are baritone ukulele resources out there, including Jim Beloff’s “Daily 365” and the Leap Year Edition. Still, the large majority of ukulele resources are GCEA resources–reflecting the overall popularity of GCEA tuned ukuleles.

Most schools in the United States are using GCEA tuned ukuleles (Many Canadian schools use ADF#B tuning) and as my occupational interest lies in GCEA ukulele resources, I haven’t made resources for baritone ukulele. I do know of some schools in the US that introduce baritone ukulele in 8th grade and guitar in 9th grade.

I have even heard people in ukulele clubs (leaders, even) make jokes about baritone ukulele players–meant in jest (I think). But I also watch the reaction of those players who don’t really think the jokes are funny. Have you ever been irritated by someone seeing a ukulele and asking, “Can you play Tiptoe Through the Tulips?” That’s how many baritone ukulele players feel in ukulele groups…as a “novelty instrument.” Let’s just take a stand at this point and say that baritone ukulele is every bit as of legitimate instrument as any other instrument.

Yesterday afternoon I participated in a Facebook play along with Pete McCarty, and I decided to use my baritone ukulele. As you would expect, I did fine (Pete’s song book lists chords but then shows chords on the side for GCEA or DGBE), but I did find it the most difficult to remember the F chord.

On that same note (or chord), one of the challenges with baritone ukulele for new players, particularly when playing with GCEA ukuleles, is that they Key of C isn’t friendly on a baritone ukulele…it requires F, which is the same as Bb on a GCEA ukulele. If you have beginners, you will want to start them in the key of G versus C.

At any rate, that play along was the longest continuous time I have played my baritone ukulele. As I have mentioned before, my “happy place” seems to be concert ukulele. Just for reference, sopranos have a scale length (nut to saddle) of 13″ or so, concerts 15″, tenors 17″ and baritones 19-21″. While I find it harder to stretch to reach chords on a baritone ukulele, I certainly understand why people like baritone.

As I prepared my latest play along, Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride, I decided to go back and convert the font from GCEA to DGBE, which wasn’t easy…the Chordette for Education font does not align with Chordette for baritone. I had to change all of the fonts AND change the size of every “follow-the-chord” box. I may ask the creator of the Chordette for Education font if he would be willing to make an educational font for baritone (showing fingering with numbers). I’ll see what the view count is for this video, and will likely make DGBE versions in the future, particularly when no “custom” chords are needed for a song.


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