They’re easy to carry around.

Cheap to buy.

And a joy to play.

What’s not to love?

Thousands of people each year fall in love with the little instrument known as the ukulele.

“It’s become the trendiest instrument for everyone — from kids to senior citizens,” says Douglas Newport who is helping to spread the ukulele craze in Rotonda West.

“People love it,” he say, “because it’s amazing how easy it is to play it — and how much fun you can have doing it.”

Doug has a musical background, playing the clarinet in high school and the Lowrey organ later in life.

When he picked up the ukulele during a class in Maine, he was captivated by how much fun the small instrument offered.

“You don’t need a musical background to play one,” he says. “You don ‘t even need to know how to read music.”

After he moved to Florida, Doug became part of the ukulele group at Stillwater in Englewood.

When Rotonda West opened its own community center, he saw the perfect opportunity to start a ukulele group.

“At first we only had a few people. But as word spread we kept getting more people join us.

They now have 34 people, with an average of 20 ukulele enthusiasts joining in the Monday afternoon class at the Rotonda West Community Center.

“It’s not really a class because we don’t teach anyone to play. We call ourselves a ukulele band,” he says.

That doesn’t mean someone can’t learn to play there. “We encourage each other and learn from each other. People who never held a ukulele before can come to their first session and end up playing a song before it’s over,” he says.

“That’s how easy it is to play one.”

Because the ukulele only has four chords and some songs only call for two or three chords, the learning curve is brief.

“We have what I call low level jams that are not hard,” Doug says.

But beware.

If you pick up one of those little ukuleles, it can easily be the start of an addiction — an addiction to fun.

There are at least four ukulele groups in the immediate Englewood area. In addition to the jam at Rotonda West, there are ukulele jam sessions at Stillwater, Holiday Lakes and Veterans Park on Dearborn Street.

Lorene Thomson, who organized the Cowboy String jam on Dearborn, says she plays in four different ukulele groups.

“I first taught myself to play by watching a YouTube video. When you join a group you keep getting better just by playing along,” says Lorene.

“Some people come just because they like to sing and singing is part of the fun in any ukulele jam,” she adds.

Doug Newport says he often keeps another ukulele available for people to try. “We even have an extra book of music available for those who would like to come see what we do. All the songs we play are available on paper or on their computer tablet or Ipad.”

Class participants credit Dough’s patience and encouragement with helping them learn.

Ukuleles cost from $45 to hundreds of dollars but you don’t need an expensive one to get started.

“Ollies had a beginners ukulele kit for $19.99,” Doug says.

Many ukulele enthusiasts start off with a cheap one then upgrade as they get better.

Kari Hale says the Monday afternoon jams at the Rotonda Community Center offer “nice fellowship, plenty of fun and the chance to get together to sing your heart out.”

Many say the singing is as much fun as playing.

Those who want to go see what the fun is all about are welcome to come but are requested to first call Doug at 941-786-5455, or send email to rubrotonda@gmail.com.

Pattie Mihalik is a regular columnist for the SUN. Contact her at newsgirl@comast.net.

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