Campanella: The Best Way to Play Ukulele?

If you’ve been following my fingerstyle arrangements for a while you’ll have noticed – and probably been frustrated by – how much jumping between strings goes on. It’s certainly not the easiest ways to arrange tunes but it’s very effective and gives the uke a harp-like sound of close harmony notes ringing into each other.

What is Campenella?

The campenella technique was developed for the ukulele by John King who took long forgotten techniques for playing re-entrant instruments and gave them new life. In this style of playing you play one note of the melody on each string and let them ring into each other.

If you can avoid it, you never play two consecutive notes on the same string.

Here’s a standard way of playing a melody:

And here’s how you could play it campanellla style:

To get the full effect, it’s vital that you let the notes ring together. So you want to have your fretting hand moving as little as possible – holding chord shapes rather than playing single notes – and have your picking hand doing most of the work.

Why Play This Way?

The harp is my absolute favourite instrument (take a listen to Savourna Stevenson). If I had been richer and not so lazy as a kid you’d reading an article on Harp Hunt about how to make your harp sound like a ukulele.

I love to recreate that sound of notes cascading into each other on the uke.

It also creates a sound that is unique to the ukulele. Of course a uke is never going to sound like a harp. Playing single notes on the uke can often just sound like a guitar played high up the neck. Whereas the campanella sound couldn’t be achieved recreated quite the same on any other instrument.

How Do You Arrange This Way?

The way I do it is trial and error. When you play this way there are any number of different ways a simple line could be played.

The example we looked at earlier could also be played like this:

Or like this:

Finding the right one depends on a combination of playability, fluidity and note emphasis.

It’s also well worth keeping an eye out for open strings you could use. These will give you an opportunity to change positions whilst keeping a note ringing.

Campanella Arrangements

If you’re looking to play some campanella arrangements you have to get John King’s Classical Ukulele.

Some campanella arrangements on this site:

Hoppipolla
Sailor’s Hornpipe
Larry O’Gaff

View Comments

30 Comments

  1. Armelle March 31st, 2010 6:37 pm

    Thanks for the explanations on the campanella technique.
    I love the sound of notes ringing into each other, it creates a very unique effect.
    It is however more difficult to play this way as you have to read your tab ahead to find out how long you can hold a note and you also have to choose the correct left-hand finger on each string, otherwise you will end up releasing the note earlier than needed.
    Exactly the kind of stuff I am struggling with when playing classical uke.

  2. PotofBasil March 31st, 2010 8:26 pm

    The harp is one of the best instruments ever.
    The sheer number of strings is daunting, and
    unless you get a bunch of strings together
    with the same tuning, I’d always be afraid of
    hitting the wrong one. But like anything else,
    no matter how much you might love this style,
    too much of it will send you, at least temporarily,
    to something else for a while. It’s no accident
    that the official instrument of Heaven is the harp.

  3. Herman March 31st, 2010 8:33 pm

    It was common use during baroque period, even the king Louis 14th used to play that way!

  4. mictoboy March 31st, 2010 8:55 pm

    I can totally understand your love of this playing style, it really makes the instrument sing, and certainly in the hands of someone like John King it still has the capacity to amaze me how versatile our 4-stringed friend can be.

    It’s a major ball-ache though.

  5. cardboardfrog March 31st, 2010 9:15 pm

    major ball-ache **salutes**
    A beautiful style, but one i feel doesn’t match my ‘That’ll just about do’ style lol.
    loved the explaination though mr woodshed

  6. milko March 31st, 2010 10:30 pm

    Oho! Very interesting, thanks. In some of your tabs and mentions of John King this has been alluded to, but now all is much clearer. And it has a name. Harp hunt sounds tricky, I might start otamatone hunt instead.

  7. George April 1st, 2010 7:31 am

    Interesting timing, I finally got around to picking up “The Classical Ukulele” earlier today. I’ve meant to for awhile and it was there live and in person and I couldn’t think of a good reason not to. I don’t know when or if I’ll have the skills to play any of the songs, but the disc has definitely been worth listening to.

  8. Ron and Jeanne April 1st, 2010 11:15 am

    We ordered Classical Ukulele last week from your recommendation and Amazon link. Thanks for that, Al! We can’t wait to get it. We’ve been working on James Hill’s campanella-style arrangement of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, since Jsnuary. The tab is from the January issue of Ukulele,Yes. We posted our effort to date on our YT channel with a link for the tab. It is not “up to speed”, we’re still working on it, but we have enjoyed the hours we’ve spent learning this together. We look forward to attempting more campanella-style arrangements. We did a quick search for the Bach Bouree you’ve used for your examples above, but we weren’t able to find anything. Would you consider doing the tab for the rest of it?

  9. Woodshed April 3rd, 2010 4:03 pm

    Armelle: Glad you found it useful.

    PoB: Good point!

    Herman: Thanks for the info.

    mictoboy: It can definitely be a balls ache but worth it.

    cbf: Haha. Fair enough.

    milko: Thanks for bringing the otamatone to my attention.

    George: Hope you enjoy it.

    RnJ: Hope you enjoy it. You two should check out his duets book as well.

  10. Metsaz April 6th, 2010 6:12 pm

    I love understandable explanations of things that initially seem complicated. Thanks!

  11. Woodshed April 7th, 2010 2:40 pm

    Metsaz: Thanks very much!

  12. Frankevich March 10th, 2011 10:25 pm

    I like this cmpanella style. It’s very reminiscent of “melodic” style in bluegrass banjo playing, i.e. virtually all notes on separate strings. It took me some time to acquire a taste for it (on banjo) in lieu of the Scruggs or Reno styles, but once having listened to Bill Keith, Carl Jackson, Alan Munde and, especially, Butch Robins (and a number of others in that style) it became an acquired, and preferred taste. I can easily see how it might have similar success on the uke. (Listen to that “Larry O’Gaff” tune by John King on this site. Wow!)

  13. Kimberly March 11th, 2011 7:06 pm

    This is a great example of why I love this website, normally I have to surf around on the internet picking up scraps of knowledge every-which-way I go, but here at Ukulelehunt.com all the knowledge is in one place! I’ve been studying the ukulele on my own since January and I had never heard of this beautiful style. I’m totally going to try to incorporate it into my own playing now :)
    I guess I need to start practicing….

  14. Woodshed March 12th, 2011 12:37 pm

    Frankevich: That’s a very good point. I’ve never touched a banjo in my life but I see what you mean.

    Kimberly: Thanks. You’re very kind. Good luck with the practicing.

  15. Frankevich March 12th, 2011 8:22 pm

    A couple more points comparing melodic banjo style with campanella uke style:

    In addition to what I mentioned above, more open strings are played in melodic–as in campanella.

    There are differences of course: there are still some fill notes in melodic, as it’s not really a classical style note-for-note as campanella. Also, only three fingers are used, not four as in campanella.

    In “melodic” style on banjo there certainly isn’t any strumming as in uke! In fact, as I go forward on the uke, I want to get away from all the strumming–I should really say “from only strumming” which I find many uke players just do, and little else. They limit themselves in that, I believe, unless they play like virtuosi James Hill or Jake Shimabukuro and a few others.

    Melodic banjo is supposed to be more difficult than Scruggs style presumably because of more melody notes per given measure. And the fact that there are fewer outstanding melodic players than Scruggs style players would seem to support this idea. But I have found that the style that is easiest to learn is the style one is REALLY interested in–the interest/motivation factor seems to me to make up for any greater degree of technical difficulty.

    I also want to develop a three finger “traditional bluegrass” style (like Scruggs) on the uke. There doesn’t seem to be much instuction on it that I could find except a couple of numbers by Richard Hefner and the playing of “Pinalapupu” by Pinoflavius and dbegg on YouTube. Check ‘em out.

    There is also a “Bluegrass Banjo” book by Sokolow from Hal Leonard, but so far it doesn’t seem that helpful. But Mike Lynch and Ken Middleton do some three finger uke which can be very nice, but it’s not what I would call “bluegrass”.

    Hope someone finds all this of interest and helps lead them to a uke style which gives them the most enjoyment.

    Aloha.

  16. Woodshed March 13th, 2011 11:52 am

    Frankevich: Thanks very much, interesting stuff. I’ll check out the stuff you mentioned.

  17. Frankevich March 20th, 2011 5:23 am

    Woodshed: check out “ukuleletim” on YouTube playing “Farewell to Whiskey”, “Niel Gow’s Lament” and some others for some good three finger uke picking. From the few songs of his I have heard, he seems to have found just the right combination of melodic style uke playing, using three fingers (being similar but with differences from John King’s “campanella” four finger style.)

    Ukulele Mike Lynch also on YouTube (many tutorial videos) has a few lessons on three finger picking (e.g. “Travis picking”). He’s a very good teacher.

    One of these days, someone is going to come out with a good book/DVD tutorial devoted solely to three finger ukulele picking integrating bluegrass and melodic banjo styles and campanella for the uke. I think the instrument was made for this kind of playing. In the meantime….

    Aloha.

  18. Woodshed March 21st, 2011 7:28 am

    Frankevich: Yeah, I love Tim’s playing. I featured Farewell… in the last UkeTube. I think I had Lament on at some time too.

    Not so much a fan of Mike, though. Not really my thing.

  19. Ondrej March 26th, 2011 4:06 pm

    For Frankevich

    Yes, “Bluegrass Banjo” book by Sokolow from Hal Leonard, is for beginer.
    For advanced is “Ukulele Bluegrass Solos” by Sarek from Mel Bay.
    Ten tablature for Scruggs fingerpicking and ten tablature for flatpicking.

    Ondrej

  20. Frankevich March 27th, 2011 7:52 pm

    Thank you, Ondrej. Don’t know how I missed this one. You are the author I presume, judging from the name on the cover! I ordered a copy today and will look forward to trying it out.

    Aloha,

    Frankevich

  21. Ondrej March 27th, 2011 8:40 pm

    Yes, I am author:-) I hope, it will help you.
    Ondrej

  22. Amanda July 25th, 2011 1:41 pm

    I started playing my lil sisters uke a little over two weeks ago. But I’ve quickly realised that strumming just isn’t for me. For some reason it just doesn’t sound right to my ears when I do it myself. That said I did work through the lessons, and promptly gave myself bleeding fingertips on my left hand from practicing ’til the wee small hours, much to my partners annoyance.

    Then I found your guide to fingerpicking and then finally this article on campanella, leading me to realise that this is the way I would like to play my own uke when I pick it up in a couple of weeks.

    That way my lil sis and I can play together with her providing the strumming sound (which she unlike myself frikkin’ excels at) and me providing the rolling series of notes that lie on top of the foundation created by hers.

    So a small (or perhaps not so small, I’m not really sure) request. Any chance of some babystep pieces in single note/campanella style with matched strummed tabs? Or even a short article on how to convert from one to the other?

    Regardless thank you so much for this website and all the work you’ve put into it. It’s an amazing resource for anyone who really wants to get to grips with what my partner calls “that midget guitar thing, that’s on the table AGAIN!”

  23. Woodshed July 26th, 2011 9:15 am

    Amanda: Good question! Campanella is really a way to play melodies rather than chords.

    If you’re playing melodies, campanella is a pain to work out. There’s no substitute for having the melody and working out how to play it note for note.

    For chords, I’d suggest trying out a few fingerpicking patters – there’s an intro to it here. Play the same chords, but pick them out with a pattern. So long as you’re holding down the chord, you can play pretty much any pattern that fits the time signature and it’ll sound right.

    Hope that helps.

  24. Amanda July 26th, 2011 3:35 pm

    Woodshed,

    Thank you your reply is actually of huge help. It kind of clicked a few things into place for me. For my partner too who is a classical guitarist (hence her rapidly diminishing scorn of the midget guitar thing). She’s helping me to break down pieces into melodies starting with a few simple nursery rhyme type pieces.

    Hopefully a melodious future beckons, though considering she’s decided that she’s getting me a mandolin for Christmas, my confusing the two instruments is far more likely to end in an odious future. *sigh* What can you do when someone offers to buy you stringed instruments except accept with dignity and put up with the confusion that ensues.

    Anyway thank you again, I really didn’t expect such a fast response and it is so very, very welcome.

  25. Woodshed July 29th, 2011 7:50 am

    Amanda: I just remembered this post which you might find helpful.

  26. Amanda July 29th, 2011 2:01 pm

    Wood, thank you so much. That article is wonderful, very simple to follow and gives me a really great extra daily exercise to add to the huge amount I’ve already picked up from your site. Very much appreciated.

  27. Jonny September 14th, 2012 5:15 pm

    Struggling with the ring finger! He just doesn’t want to do it. I’ll keep practising though. Makes a lovely sound.

  28. Woodshed September 15th, 2012 6:01 am

    Jonny: Good luck with the practicing!

  29. Kekoa Ah Yat November 21st, 2013 9:54 pm

    For expert at playing ukulele is awesome cause it soothe you down in minutes.

  30. Kekoa Ah Yat November 21st, 2013 9:59 pm

    I brought mine six years ago and started practicing with a famous ukulele/guitar player and his name is Bennedict Uyetake. If you guys wanna learn more songs with mR.Uytake.

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