Ukulele Secret #3: Campanela riffs

Skip the talk and get to the riffs.

As my friend Al from Ukulele Hunt once said, (um paraphrased) “the top 10 thing I learnt from John King is campanela“. Well, I agree. Me, too. And while that article contains 9 more gems, I will just add one more.


For me, that is what it takes to play like John King. There is no doubt in my mind he was impeccable in his practice and impeccable in his playing, if there is a difference.

First, what is campanela? And how is it spelled? Campanella? I will use the spelling John King used. There are many well informed articles, descriptions, introductions, analyses on many sites out there so I won’t go too far into it. I’ll just quote from John’s site and move on to the examples.

from Nalu Music

“In the time of J.S. Bach—some years before Capt. James Cook stumbled upon the island he called Owyhee—guitarists armed with re-entrantly tuned instruments had pioneered a style of playing they called campanela, which means little bell sounds. The bottom line is, they played each note of a melody on a different string, creating a sound like a harp—or little, pealing bells—where notes over-rang one another.”

but warning.. he goes on to say..

“The truth is it’s a crazy way to play the uke; ease of execution is all but sacrificed, subordinated to whatever it takes to get that shimmering, harplike sound. It works for me, because when I play it that way, the ‘ukulele sings.”

Accurate, to say the least. Not much more can be said, except that the effort you put into this technique is very rewarding.

While working up John’s arrangements that I found on his site and his book, Classical Ukulele, I discovered recurring patterns and forms. And as you can see in many of my song arrangements on the youtubes, I have embraced the technique.

Here are some of John’s secret hand positions and flow that I found in his campanela style. LEFT HAND FINGERING is provided on the TAB.

Examples 1 and 2 demonstrate some basic G major scale movement. When you get to the second beat of the measure, use your middle finger on the 7th fret and bar your index finger on the 5th fret. Watch the video closely. This is one of the most recurring forms I have seen so far.

Example 1

Example 2 extends the G scale and adds another hand position. Note the fingering and watch the example on the video. Here is where impeccability in practice comes into use. Start slowly and aim for precision and let the notes ring as much as you can before switching hand positions. You can see I take advantage of getting the finger needed first to the new position first and let the other fingers catch up. Farewell to Whiskey is pretty much contained in this riff.

Example 2

Examples 2 and 3 can be played together. Practice the position changes carefully and slowly at first.

Example 3

Use the same approach in the following F scale examples. When you see the index finger on the same fret, it is barred.

Example 4

Example 5

Example 6

Example 7 is my Ukulele Secret Weapon. I can’t pick up the instrument and not go into some variation of this. It is easy and pleasant to the ear. It can be expanded upon. You can see this demonstrated in Farewell to Whiskey and Red Haired Boy as I fill out the melody.

Example 7

10 responses to “Ukulele Secret #3: Campanela riffs

  • Wesley

    And where is the facebook like button ?

  • alec


    I came up with a C scale campanella scale too, but it’s a lot harder than a normal scale. What’s really useful is when you show how whatever scale you’re introducing can be used in a particular song, in this case Farewell to Whiskey. It makes the scale seem a lot more useful to practice hard.

    I mentioned this at Ukehunt too, but it might be useful to have some kind of series where you introduce a scale (like G here) and maybe some bluesy/country riffs that work in that key, and then give examples of how to play them in different songs, probably in different ways.

    I like to improvise around when playing along with songs, and like most people I figure, collect little turnarounds and whatnot, but it’d be great to have those badass moves that take advantage of campanella/reentrant possibilities.

    Keep it up!

  • Andy

    awesome thanks so much.

  • pam

    Ukesecrets are diamonds, cant think of a better place to learn finger techniques, love it heaps

  • Bob Jackson

    Agree with Pam – a great place for great tuition.

  • PurpleStreak

    Fantastic site. thank you so much.

  • Dan Key

    Grazie, thank you very much for your tutorials.
    After long searching the net I’ve finally found your site and I’m happy to say: for sure the best resource on the net for expanding the vocabulary for the uke.
    Great work, I really appreciate your kindness in sharing your knowledge.

    Dani (from Switzerland)

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