Author Archives: ukulelesecrets

Secret Update and James Hill cover video

Hey Folks,

Well, I am finally moved back into my space, with the studio partially together.

1. Apartment repairs complete
2. Garage semi normal
3. Doctor visits complete and feeling much better
4. Business trip to Seattle over
5. Earned my CUA – Certified Usability Analyst
6. Lots of craigslist.com stuff out the door (with still more to go)
7. Received my signed copy of James Hill’s new CD A Man With A Love Song

And started a new chapter in life.. in a few different ways.

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My day job is absolutely crazy right now and will be for several months to come but I am resolved to share more secrets… so here’s what’s coming up.

1. the Train rhythm (my secret weapon)
2. a duet version of Tico Tico that will make your socks go up and down
3. Elvis has left the building.. the quintessential Elvis rhythm
4. a TAB of my Danny Boy arrangement
4. and “Claw-panela” a unique (to me) way to combine claw hammer technique with campanela runs

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WTH is claw-panela?

Well, I coined the term yesterday after having loosely worked up James Hill’s claw hammer medley from his new CD, of which I was a “Mover and Shaker”. The track is called Assam/Like a Bird and is a tribute to John Kavanagh and John King, respectively. An incredibly beautiful tribute. When I first heard it I was entranced. I still am.

BTW the CD is great. Lots of excellent James Hill compositions and playing and musicianship from guest artists. I highly recommend it.

Back to claw-panela. The song is played in the claw hammer style utilizing campenala style to play beautiful melody lines. I have been exploring ideas with the technique and will share what I have come up with in the future.

Meanwhile here is my toob of James HIll’s Assam/Like a Bird (minus his superb foot-stomping)

See you soon..

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Top 50 Ukulele Sites


Ukulele Secret #10 Claw Hammer Triplet

Howdy folks,

I’ve been playing with this technique for a few weeks and thought I would share my progress and let you in on the secret. There is a prerequisite. You really need to be somewhat comfortable with basic claw hammer technique. But as you will see, and I would like some feedback on this, the technique is VERY similar to the mechanics of the common triplet STRUM.

So, my theory is.. if you are good at the triplet strum that is INDEX DOWN, THUMB DOWN, INDEX UP, and not that good at claw hammer, this might be a way to sneak into claw hammer technique. Kind of like a back door. Don’t know if that makes sense or not. But let’s continue

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In the video I demonstrate the technique with a C F G ditty similar to Larry O’Gaff chords with a little A minor thrown in for a Swallowtail feel. I am not trying to play those melodies but just have fun with the progressions. I also use the ‘Pretty Up Your C F G‘ chord forms as an example of potential melody.

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The technique is simple, but may be tricky.

Using the basic claw hammer technique, strike DOWN with the index finger. If you are striking the bottom string you can follow through to the body of the ukulele. In my case I am hitting the head of the banjo uke thus producing a percussion beat.

The thumb follows and lands to rest on the top string at the same time the index is striking. Basic claw hammer.

Next is the thumb pluck DOWN. It is important to leave your index finger where it landed after the first strike.

Now for the triplet finish. Pluck the same string UP with your index finger. And there you have it. The claw hammer triplet.

Getting a little deeper, you can use the index DOWN strike on inside strings as well. It takes a little more precision, meaning a little more practice, but you open up a lot of melodic possibilities. This is especially true when using the ‘Pretty Up Your C F G’ chord forms.

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I have heard of this technique being used with banjo, maybe Celtic banjo. I am curious as to which songs can be learned with this technique. If anyone knows of any banjo or ukulele videos using this technique, please let me know. I am anxious to expand on this and see what others are doing.

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Here’s the viddy..

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Top 50 Ukulele Sites


Ukulele Secret #9 Exotic Scales & Claw Hammer

Video and scale tabs at the bottom of post.

I know, it’s been a while. So many things are happening right now but due to some persuasive nudging from some of you I put this together as fast as I could. Forgive my always brilliant video editing.

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Here are three exotic sounding scales that I have been having fun with on the banjo uke. (Banjo uke not required).

To be honest, there are only two scales here. The second example differs from the first only by skipping the note on the second string, sixth fret. It does make a difference. I like to mix them up, as you can see in the example.

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Examples 1 and 2

If you noticed at the beginning of the video, I am using these examples with the Claw Hammer ukulele technique. It sounds really amazing when I get warmed up. Review my basic, basic claw hammer tutorial and all the other great tutorials out there if you need to brush up.

During the scale demonstrations of 1 and 2 notice the technique I use while demonstrating them a little faster. I pick out some strategic notes and do the Koto sounding micro bend technique that I showed you in Sakura Sakura. This adds tremendous effect and authenticity to the scale.

Quick review of the Koto technique:

Before you pluck the note with your right hand finger, bend the note SLIGHTLY up with your left hand fretting finger. Then IMMEDIATELY after you pluck the note, let it return to it’s original ‘unbent’ state.

Also, don’t be afraid to improvise. Mix the notes up.

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Example 3

You might remember this scale from Sakura Sakura. It is a common Japanese scale (I think). In that video (linked above) I play the scale using John King’s campanela style. Here I am playing it in a more linear fashion. THEN I add the microbend Koto style and there you have it.

Exotic Ukulele

And the vidya..


Ukulele Secret #8: Cross Training, with demonstration videos

I recently read a forum post with someone inquiring about an unusual instrument (harp ukelele, but that is not important). It seemed like every other reply was something like “I would never play that!” or “What’s the point?” or “That is stupid.” I am paraphrasing but that is the general feeling I got.

On the other hand, there were some folks, like myself, that were excited and intrigued and even wanted to get one in their hands. That’s more like it! To me, at least. I am always curious to try some new kind of instrument.

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Which brings me to Ukelele Secret #8: Cross Training

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If you ever get the chance to pick up a new (to you) instrument, I highly recommend doing so. Whether “picking it up” means buying one or just trying it out at a friend’s house or a music store, do it!

And I am not talking about trying different ukuleles. Do that, too. But I mean different INSTRUMENTS. Like a banjo, mandolin, sitar, bass guitar, venezuelan cuatro, hammer dulcimer, violin (wince).. etc. These are all stringed instruments but don’t stop there…

Try a piano or keyboard. Learn how to do a triplet or paradiddle on percussion. Get shakin’ with a shaker. Try like heck to get a good note out of a bamboo flute. Pluck a kalimba (thumb piano). Make a sound, make music with whatever you can get your hands on.

After all, you are a musician.

It might sound less than pleasing at first (starting something new always has some learning curve) but spend some time learning a few chords or fishing for a melody.

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Getting out of your comfort zone is a good thing.

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Gosh, why?? Well, because of the different tuning, different sound, shape and feel, new musical ideas emerge that would not have, if you stuck to just one instrument. You don’t have to master it, just noodle. Your brain gets exercised and your creativity gets a boost that you can bring back to the uke.

It will make you a better ukulele player.. maybe even a badass

I am not blowing smoke here, either. I speak from the mountain. I currently own, play, or have played all the instruments mentioned above and gained a level of proficiency with them as well.

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Listening to different kinds of music fits into cross training, too. You don’t have to go buy K-Tel’s Top Hits but just be curious. Try to play something that was originally played on a different instrument. When I was 16 or 17 I transcribed Frank Mills’ Music Box Dancer, a piano song, to classical guitar. I loved the melody so much I just HAD to learn it. So I taught myself.

Which brings this stream of consciousness to my next secret.

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Play anything. Any type of music.

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Don’t limit yourself to “ukulele music”. That’s what’s fun about being a musician. But if you haven’t tried it, there are TONS of resources, tabs (even on this site) for ‘different’ kinds of music to play on the ukulele. Al Woods, proprietor of Ukulele Hunt is one of the best examples of a musician turning the ukulele into a black hole and sucking every kind of music into it.

And if you’ve come to know me even a little, you can see I love to play a great variety of music and flavors.

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So.. here is an example of the joy I get playing different kinds of instruments. It’s a bluegrass classic called Blackberry Blossom. Rhythm guitar is in the left speaker and melody features mandolin, ukulele and acoustic guitar. I am by no means a master of any of these instruments but just getting through a song like this is really fun.

And now for something totally unrelated.. well, not totally. I wrote and recorded the music, played the instruments, except the electronic drum loop, for this self shot and edited video, featuring me enjoying another hobby of mine. Hula hooping.

Get creative!


Sakura Sakura: Japanese Traditional Video and Tab

Download the TAB to Sakura Sakura

Well, since I am a bit under the weather tonight and missing my monthly Austin Ukulele Society meeting, I thought I would at least try to be a little productive.

I arranged Sakura Sakura using influence from John King and Jake Shimabukuro’s versions. John’s version, found in his Classical Ukulele book is a single note melody and Jake’s version has more chords and some harmonics. Although I hope I am not ripping them off (I really don’t think so), I think I came up with a good combination of the two that is not difficult to play. It sounds good, too.

PERFORMANCE NOTES: Koto sounding notes and harmonics. These are the two SECRETS to this arrangement.

FIRST the KOTO sounds. Very often in the song I am using tiny bends of the strings to get that particular sound. I know you can hear it. They are not noted on the TAB.. because I didn’t know how. So, you will have to watch the video and listen closely. I try to place them strategically.

The TECHNIQUE.. Before you pluck the note with your right hand finger, bend the note SLIGHTLY up with your left hand fretting finger. Then IMMEDIATELY after you pluck the note, let it return to it’s original ‘unbent’ state. And there you have it. Instant KOTO. The technique combined with the right notes will transport you to their origin. Badass.

SECOND.. the HARMONICS. I may be mistaken but I believe they are called ARTIFICIAL harmonics, hence the “A.H.” over the notes in the tab.

The TECHNIQUE, if you don’t know how already.. Fret the note indicated in the TAB with the left hand finger. Then place your right index finger on the string DIRECTLY over the fret (not between the frets like we play regular notes) TWELVE FRETS UP, on the same string. An octave.

IMPORTANT: DON’T push the string down onto the fretboard.

With the right thumb pluck the string. It’s a little tricky but worth figuring out. If I haven’t explained it well enough just ask and I will try again. Or, I am sure there are countless explanations online.

There are also many versions of this song on youtube and Al Wood recently tabbed out a nice version over at ukulelehunt. Listen to as many as you can, even versions played on other instruments. You might get some really cool ideas to incorporate.

さようならありがとう (thank you and goodbye)

Download the TAB to Sakura Sakura

And here is the viddy..

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Top 50 Ukulele Sites


Ukulele Secret #7: Pretty Up Your CFG… plus bonus chords

Who says a ukulele badass can’t play pretty stuff.. at least once in a while?

Here are some different chord voicings, or inversions, plus some ideas to ‘pretty up’ the basic C F G chord progression, otherwise known as the I IV V (1 4 5) progression in the KEY of C. C is the I chord, F is the IV chord and G is the V chord.

First some chords, then ideas. BTW, videos are at the bottom of the page.

CHORDS: These chords have a really nice continuity as they all have the C string open. I’ll throw in an Am voicing (VI chord) because it is very close to the F chord. They are played like triads with the open C as the glue between them. Pay close attention to the fret markers.

The left hand fingering for ALL the chords:

1st string – pinky
2nd string – index
3rd string – open
4th string – middle

Playing them this way makes it easier to switch between them.

C chordF ChordGsus ChordAm Chord

Experiment and try them in various orders. Below I’ll mention a few songs I mess around with as well as an original I wrote using all these chords. But first…

BONUS CHORDS: Here we ascend from the original C voicing and head for celestial realms. The Dm7 is the ii chord, the Em6 is the iii chord and here is another F. Again, pay attention to the fret markers.

Dm7 ChordEm6 ChordF Inversion

Honestly, this pattern of triads can continue for as many frets you have.

IDEAS: We all know there are thousands of songs in the key of C. Here are a few to play with using these voicings.

Romeo and Juliet – Dire Straits
Bad Moon Rising – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Insert yours here…

Here is the video tutorial so you can hear what it sounds like.

And here is the original song I wrote a few years ago using these chord forms. The actual chords mentioned in this tutorial begin around the 48 second mark. Also note, if you follow this blog, I am using the Folksy Fingerstyle technique.


Ukulele Secret #6: The World’s Most Dangerous Triplet

I came across this a while back on an Italian blog and it has given me great entertainment once I figured out the secret. It is deceptively simple, and gives the appearance of being simple, but the ears hear a lot more than the eyes see.

This was coined the ‘index and pinky strum’. I hear a triplet in there so I am lumping it in with my triplet strums category. DISCLAIMER: I usually don’t like to put something out there that has already been done but I think my slant might help simplify it some.

Well, how do you do it?

As you see in the video, it really is a triplet. Index down, index up, pinky up. Repeat.

POINTERS: I only strum the top two strings with my index and the bottom two with my pinky. This can vary and by all means, don’t try too hard to do that. It will work itself out. Those are the basic mechanics of the strum.

THE SECRET: Don’t try to be accurate with the index down, index up, pinky up, etc, etc. Instead… be sloppy. The technique or concept I used to get better at this is pretending I spilled hot water on my hand and I’m wringing it furiously in pain and trying to get the water off.

This means the right hand is going up and down in an effortless and RELAXED manner. And fast.

Thanks to Bob Guz for showing me the chord progression I use to demonstrate. He played in the Shorty Long band and said this was the basis for tin pan alley sound. It’s fun, too.

D, B7, E7, A7 — or — 1, Dominant 6, Dominant 2, Dominant 5

Here ya go..


Cripple Creek: Bluegrass Video and TAB

Download the TAB for Cripple Creek

Well, let’s see. What haven’t I covered? There’s been Irish, Scottish, classical from Rossini, folksy fingerstyle, Hawaiian, Spanishy..

Oh, yea.. BLUEGRASS

Although I’ve touched a little on the claw hammer technique (more old time than bluegrass) I think it’s time for some three finger ukulele bluegrass.

I say “three finger” because it is a technique borrowed from the guitar and banjo that I use frequently. If you remember Folksy Fingerstyle, we are using the same fingers here.

4 – T or P
3 – T or P
2 – i
1 – m

I don’t have the right hand fingering notated on the TAB so pay close attention. Your thumb will ALWAYS pick the 3rd and 4th strings (top two). Your index finger will ALWAYS pick the 2nd (from the bottom) string. Finally, your middle finger will pick the 1st (bottom) string. Therefore your thumb will be doing a sort of alternating bass line.

But don’t think about it that way. Just learn the TAB. It is probably at the intermediate level so be patient. The rolls can be tricky.

Also notice the tied notes in the 8 to 9th measures and 10 to 11th measures. The note begins on the AND of the four beat as it sort of jumps in early. You’ll hear it. Additionally, the tie between the 3rd and 4th frets on the third string is always a slide.

I don’t follow the TAB in the video. I play it different every time. The TAB has most of the variations and you can mix them up and develop your own. It is quite fun.

I am basing this arrangement on a youtube video I found a few years ago. There was no video of the performance, just a picture and the music. I labored to pick out the notes and I’m fairly satisfied with the outcome. I also threw this video together way too fast and at too fast a tempo so enjoy the ‘naturalness’ of it.

Download the TAB for Cripple Creek

And the vidya..


BASIC basic claw hammer ukulele

Did I say BASIC? I mean it.

There are many wonderful tutorials on claw hammer ukulele technique on the youtube. I know because I learned from them.. there is the incomparable Aaron Kiem and also YoppyKyabetsu’s 5 minute claw hammer ukulele, and more. Look them up.

If you have already tried these and are still having trouble, then this is for you.

Here I break down the mechanics of claw hammer technique and emphasize repetition. emphasize repetition. emphasize repetition. emphasize repetition. emphasize repetition. emphasize repetition.

Warning: It is a slow and long winded video (with crappy, amateur editing, thank you) intended for microscopic inquiry. If you are interested in playing claw hammer technique but haven’t quite got the hang of it this just might help.


Alacran y Pistolero: Spanish Ukulele Vocal Video and Tab

Download the TAB for Alacran y Pistolero

This is my favorite song from the Once Upon a Time in Mexico movie soundtrack. I recorded this a few years back and strangely enough it is by far my most viewed video on youtube. 5,000+ views! Google for the lyrics.

And so, two years later, after many viewers literally demanded the tabs and berated me for not providing them… I have succumbed.

The intro is fingerstyle and strumming and here is where you get to use one finger per string. Thumb on the fourth, or top string, index on the third, middle on the second and ring finger on the first or bottom string.

When the singing starts I tabbed it to be one strum per measure but as you see in the video I am strumming the one and three beats. It’s in 3/4 time. You can interpret however you like.

Download the TAB for Alacran y Pistolero

UPDATE: pepamahina has graciously provided the lyrics in Spanish along with the English translation. Thanks, pepamahina!

Download the LYRICS for Alacran Y Pistolero

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UPDATE #2: Manny Sanchez has offered up the lyrics with chords. Now you can strum, fingerpick, or play it any way you want. Thanks, Manny!

Download the LYRICS and CHORDS for Alacran Y Pistolero