Johann Sebastian Bach and . . . the ukulele? It’s not a combination one might ordinarily think of, but the two make a great fit. 

Bach and Ukulele’s Family Tree

It’s funny to think that Bach’s music has become so popular on the classical guitar when it is likely from historical information that Bach may have never even written any music for the lute, the guitar’s cousin. And the ukulele is a yet farther distant cousin, twice removed from its six-string family member. So it’s quite surprising how great the German kappelmeister’s music sounds on our tiny, four-stringed instrument from the Hawaiian islands. The pitch register of the ukulele creates a completely different sound than what you’ll encounter with other members of its family tree, and its unique sound thus creates a new way of hearing the music of J.S. Bach.

The Universal Nature of Bach’s Music

Perhaps a simpler explanation for this nice fit is that the music of J.S. Bach has a universal appeal. Bach’s precise compositional style creates an architectural symphony of moving, independent voices that intertwine, at times joining together and at others departing from one another, but always making sense together and belonging to a singular musical texture. Bach’s mastery of this kind of writing gives us the sense that there are multiple instruments resounding from the one, that there is, to quote the great Spanish classical guitarist Andrés Segovia, “a tiny orchestra” in six, or in this case four strings. And hearing this “polyphony” (multiple voices) on the ukulele can be quite enchanting. 

Bach on the Ukulele

So I’d like to invite you to explore the wonder of the music of J.S. Bach on the ukulele. I have recorded a lot of his music for the Grades curriculum at Ukulele Corner Academy and below will share with you a few performances of just some of those pieces. I hope you enjoy and that in the future when you think of the ukulele you might just think of the music of J.S. Bach as well!  

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

Prelude from Cello Suite No. 1 (BWV 1007)

Arioso from Cantata 156 (BWV 156)