Ukuleles in Country Music

Although the use of ukuleles was popularized by, and is best known in island music (Calypso, Soca, Reggae, etc.), the use of ukuleles in today’s music has far surpassed those genres. It’s hard to believe that most people believe the musical range of a ukulele is so limited! In the next few posts, I’d like to highlight a few examples where the ukuleles using a very nontraditional sense – either in a nontraditional style of music, an interesting recording technique, or something in between. In my experience and throughout my life, I’ve seen these instruments bring joy to so many people from so many different walks of life, that I’d like to help break the stereotypes and expand the range and popularity of this beautiful instrument. In the first installment of this series of blog posts, I’d like to address the polar opposite of island music: country!

Although I live in Hawaii, it often doesn’t feel like it’s a part of United States. Compare that in stark contrast with much of the popular country music today – imagery of dirt roads, big trucks, girls in jean shorts, and acoustic guitars. Come to think of it, the Island lifestyle doesn’t sound all that different from life in Texas! In both places, were easy-going, like to relax, drive trucks, and work outside… Maybe this’ll be easier than I thought.

First up: Wagon Wheel

The first example of ukuleles being used in a nontraditional way should be an easy transition – Wagon Wheel by Darius Rucker. What a beautiful song to start with. The mellow strumming lends itself well to being played on the ukulele, and the player looks like he’s totally at ease. He plays the song in the key of A, which makes it pretty easy to follow along. He gives an awesome breakdown of all the chords involved, making this a great video to start with, regardless of your skill level. Enjoy!

Country Road by Paula Fuga and Jack Johnson
Although this is more of a “contemporary island jam” than a strict country song, it still comes across as a good example of ukuleles in country music. The tabs on this site make it easy to learn & follow along.

Take Me Home, Country Roads – John Denver

I love this song! Obviously it’s a classic, but this YouTuber’s rendition came across as so genuine – it made me appreciate the song in a completely new way. Simply by playing this song on a different instrument, keeping almost everything else the same, the vibe and the meaning of the lyrics are completely changed. Rather than picturing yourself in West Virginia, I picture myself in Waikiki, drink in hand, breeze blowing off the surf.

Live country music jam with ukulele

Although this isn’t a mainstream country artist, it’s an incredible video that further shows the versatility of this beautiful instrument. It seems like this video was taken at a country bar, who knows where (let’s assume Tennessee, since that’s what I’m picturing 🙂 ), and the audience loves it! I would assume that the audience is expecting to hear strictly country music at a place like this, and this guy delivers! The use of the ukulele doesn’t change the genre of the music, rather, it simply adds to it.