As a staunch believer in non-existent superstitions I feel that the ukulele is a very dangerous, sensual instrument that could lead to the ruination of our young people and rend the very fabric of society. That said, I can now play Stand By Me on the Populele, a feat that was rendered possible by the melding of LEDs, Bluetooth, and a clever app.
The Populele by Popuband is a $159 ukulele with a plastic fretboard. LEDs embedded under the fretboard light up to show you where to fret your chords and the included app allows you to play learning games or follow along to popular songs. The resulting mix of high and low tech (and sinful ukulele playing) are a real treat.
The uke is a four-stringed instrument tuned to G–C–E–A (you can also tune the ukulele to an open or slack key tuning which makes playing a little different.) The basic chords – G/C/D and the occasional F and Am – are all easily accessible for anyone with basic hand-eye coordination and if you’ve played a guitar then a uke is quite simple. Add in a cute, candy-colored app featuring floppy ukulele-loving bunnies and you’ve created a gateway drug to the ravages of ukulele music and/or a great opportunity for music fans of all ages to play the “jumping flea.”
The best thing about the Populele then is how easily you can get started. The games show you how to chord a few notes and then start playing simple songs while the songbook lets you follow along, strumming violently with each tick of the Guitar Hero-esque interface. My eight-year-old daughter picked it up in a few minutes, forever damning her soul.
Do you need a Populele to learn the uke? Not really, but it’s definitely better than going page-by-page through the Mel Bey Ukulele Method written by Roy Smeck. The cute app and fun LED fretboard make this less a chore and more like a video game. I could definitely see using the app for a few more months until muscle memory took over and I could fret without much prompting.
Maybe this is all the world needs: a more open and loving relationship with its darkest urges, brought out by the cloying strings of the Populele. Perhaps one day we won’t associate the ukulele with the howls of a thousand demons massing for the destruction of our souls and instead associate it with only rainbows and light. And perhaps, just perhaps, this Bluetooth-capable ukulele is the first step in that direction.