Famous Solos & Duets for the ‘Ukulele by John King – Review

I’m a huge fan of John King’s Classical Ukulele book (in an, “OMG!!!1! It changed the way I think about the ukulele,” way). So it was only a matter of time before I picked up his Famous Solos and Duets for ‘Ukulele as well.

The book contains tab and standard notation for 22 tunes (18 solo pieces, 2 ukulele duets and 2 ukulele/guitar duets) and comes with a CD of the tunes faultlessly performed. Most of them are Hawaiian tunes and, despite the cover proclaiming ‘arranged by John King’, many of the arrangements are by the original ukulele arrangers such as Ernest Ka’ai and N. B. Bailey

The full tab list is:

Loke Lani by Ernest Ka’ai Arr. by John King
Haele by Ernest Ka’ai
Hone A Ka Wai by Ernest Ka’ai
Polka-Mazurka by Ernest Ka’ai Arr. by Henry Kailimai
Ka Wehi by Ernest Ka’ai
Funiculi-Funicula by Luigi Denza Arr. by N. B. Bailey
Hene by Henry Kailimai
Ahi Wela by Arr. by Keoki E. Awai
Spanish Fandango by Henry Worrall Arr. by N. B. Bailey
The Blue Bells Of Scotland by Arr. by T. H. Rollinson
Leilani by Ernest Ka’ai
Banjo Schottische by Ernest K. Ka’ai
Lauia by Henry Kailimai Arr. by Ernest Ka’ai
Wailana by Malie Kaleikoa Arr. by Keoki E. Awai

The Good Stuff

Lovely Tunes: For the most part, the pieces are beautiful, lilting Hawaiian tunes. They’re pleasurable to play and repay attention to dynamics and touch – something that I’m definitely guilty of neglecting.

Strummed and Picked: There are quite a few strummed tunes in the book. And the strummed arrangements are just as much of a challenge as the picked tunes. They involve a whole load of tricky techniques which are explained in the introduction.

Range of Difficulty: While it’s not for beginners, there’s a good mix of difficultly in the tabs. Some, like Hene, you can have a reasonable stab at playing on sight. Others are very challenging.

Introduction: John King is probably the best writer on the history of the ukulele there’s ever been. The lack of his writing in Classical Ukulele is one of my few complaints I have about it. It’s not a complaint that could be made about this book. There’s a big chunk of ukulele history and ukulele tab history (a delight for me, but I’m the world’s biggest uke tab nerd) at the beginning and it’s a great read.

The Not So Good Stuff

Famous?: Despite spending a lot of time playing tunes from the book, there is a noticeable lack of people saying, “Hey, was that Hone A Ka Wai you were playing just then?” I must admit that before getting the book you could count the number of tunes in the book I could confidently hum on the fingers of one finger.

Duets: It’s a little light on the duets, if that’s what you’re looking for. As it happens, there are more duets in the Classical Ukulele book. Luckily, I have no friends anyway.

Tuning: The notation is for a C-tuned ukulele, yet the ukuleles on the recording switch between D-tuning and D#-tuning.

No Campanella – The arrangements are excellent. They sound great and are very playable. But the don’t have the distinctive harp-like sound of the arrangements in Classical Ukulele.


It’s probably not fair of me to keep comparing this to Classical Ukulele. I regard those arrangements as a work of genius.

This book is really a tribute to the original ukulele arrangers – Ernest Ka’ai in particular – and it has given me a whole new appreciation for those musicians who took the instrument and created new techniques and a new repertoire for it. Playing the pieces the way they played them gives me a more direct connection with its history than any amount of reading. Well worth the price of admission.

If you’ve got the book, let me know what you think in the comments.

Buy Famous Solos & Duets for the ‘Ukulele on Amazon

View Comments


  1. Josh Gordon September 2nd, 2009 6:42 pm

    I’m really fond of the “famous solos” book; in fact, it’s sitting in front of me right now. It took me a bit to realize that many of the arrangements are putting early 20th century material into modern format. (For some reason, I always dive straight into the tab, and skip the introduction.) Some of them are downright goofy, in a good way — an odd blend of Polynesian, Portuguese, and classical European musical influences. The “Banjo Schottische” is just a hoot!

  2. Woodshed September 2nd, 2009 6:59 pm

    Josh: I know what you mean. I usually skip intros. But not in the case of John King.

    I would never have pegged Funiculi-Funicola as an early ukulele standard.

  3. Pascal September 2nd, 2009 10:22 pm

    I have this method and I appreciate it very much. At first the songs surprised me a little, but ultimately it is very endearing. I listen to the cd even when I do the dishes (so my wife likes too). Some tracks seem very difficult as the first “Loke Lani” but others are very accessible and they are very pleasant !
    After reading your article I decided to record one – the second “Haele”- to illustrate my reply.
    This is very far from perfect but it proves we can play with some of the pieces of this method even with a modest level:))


  4. Andrea Low September 3rd, 2009 8:17 am

    Hi – I’m currently doing my DocFA and it includes a history of the introduction of the ukulele to New Zealand (where I’m from) but I’m interested in anything related to Ernest Kaai – apart from him being my Grandfather I think he may have introduced the instrument here or if he didn’t then he popularised it with his touring groups – The Royal Hawaiians, The Hawaiian Troubadours, The Waikiki Hawaiians (there are a lot of names to sift through) so great to see something about Ernest on your site (great site too by the way).

  5. Jim D'Ville September 3rd, 2009 4:30 pm

    I love the picking arrangements in this book, Spanish Fandango, et. al. I use two brass finger-picks and a plastic thumb pick to bring out the brightness of my tenor ukulele for these songs. The picks also help for speed, especially the double-time part in Fandango. Downside, some of the recordings being in a different key than the arrangements. Why?

  6. Pascal September 3rd, 2009 5:20 pm

    I do not understand, this video seems to correspond to the first song Loke Lani but did not carry the same name??


  7. Woodshed September 3rd, 2009 6:21 pm

    Pascal: Nice work on the video. I enjoy that tune too. “Maile Waltz” has me baffled as well. The tune is definitely Lokelani. I can’t find any reference to a tune called ‘Maile Waltz’ other than this John King video.

    Andrea: That’s fascinating. If you ever want to write a guest post about Ernest and/or ukes in New Zealand let me know.

    Jim: I’ve been practicing the double time part of Spanish Fandango. Can’t get it right. I’ve just had it pointed out to me that even John is playing it slower than double time.

  8. Tamster September 4th, 2009 3:03 am

    The song “Maile Waltz” is from Ernest Kaai’s “The Ukulele: A Hawaiian Guitar and How To Play It”. It’s from 1910. The song is on page 18 & 19 for those who have the book.
    I bought the fascimile from Elderly Instruments a few years ago. I don’t know if they still sell it but here is the link about it from John King’s own website:


  9. Woodshed September 4th, 2009 9:06 pm

    Tamster: Thanks very much for the info. I thought it might be on Google Books but it looks like they haven’t got round to scanning it yet.

  10. Mike Boldi June 27th, 2011 4:00 am

    Just got JK’s book … With a little re-arrangement of Hone A Ka Wai, I find more Campanella runs in the music than in the book … Got part of my arrangement from this … who is this guy ? Big Like !!

  11. David Krycer January 10th, 2017 9:54 am

    I recently bought the book and really like a lot of the arrangements of the tunes but it’s doing my head in!! Apart from the fact that some of the tunes are recorded in a different ukulele tuning so you can’t play along with them, there is the fact I’ve just discovered that the standard (5 line staff) transcriptions do not have one sharp or flat, even though the arrangements call for them in the tab!! So the standard transcription is just nonsense and trying to read it leads to playing rubbish. Does anyone else notice this or do I have a special copy sent out to Australia? It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen as every other time there’s been a discrepancy between the standard notation and tab in a music book, it’s been the tab that’s wrong. Oh well, just as well I can read tab I guess.

  12. Woodshed January 10th, 2017 12:13 pm

    David: That is very weird. My version does have sharps and flats.

  13. David Krycer January 11th, 2017 12:18 am

    Ok, I’ve let Mel Bay know. That one obviously slipped through but how did they do it? Dropped the sharps and flats ‘accidently’ on the floor? (I couldn’t resist the bad pun)?! There are a couple of tunes with a flat in the key signature but no accidentals in the body of the tune even though some exist in the tab. Someone must have pressed delete when they shouldn’t have I guess.

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