Fingerstyle Solos for ‘Ukulele by Mark Kailana Nelson Review

I’ve had a copy of Learn to Play Fingerstyle Solos for ‘Ukulele by Mark Kailana Nelson (Mel Bay) for an absolute age. And I’ve got a lot of pleasure out of it. So it’s long past time I gave it a write-up.

What You Get

Tab and standard notation intended for high-G tuning (although 13 of them can be played on baritone or low-G according to the book) for

Ahi Wela (which you can download tab for on his site)
All Through the Night
Aloha ‘Oe
Blue ‘Ukulele Blues
Danny Boy
Dona Nobis Pacem
E Ku’u Morning Dew
Hilo March
Isa Lei
Kaulana Na Pua
Las Mananitas
Mbube (Wimoweh)
Minuet in G
New Spanish Fandango
Over the Rainbow
Planxty Irwin
Pua Sadinia
The Ragged Little Flea
The Southwind
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
Wehiwehi ‘Oe

As the title suggests, it’s all fingerpicking.

It comes with a CD with a recording of each arrangement (but no tuning notes).

You get brief guides to reading music and tab (probably not enough if you’re entirely new to them but a decent reference) and fingerpicking; performance notes for each piece and a list of chord inversions.

The Good Stuff

Perfect for Intermediates: I think this is the best book around for intermediate players who are experienced with chords and want to start tackling fingerpicking pieces. Each track has some performance notes that are going to offer you some guidance.

And the tunes are arranged fairly simply.

There’s a lot of crossover between the tunes in this book and those in, the more advanced, John King’s Classical Ukulele. They make for an interesting comparison. Here are the opening bars of Greensleeves arranged in Fingerstyle Solos (at the top) and Classical Ukulele (at the bottom) in the same key.

Mark Nelson’s version is much easier to play but less elegant.

Mbube (aka Wimoweh aka The Lion Sleeps Tonight) and Over the Rainbow: Easily my two favourite arrangements in the book. Over the Rainbow is particularly useful for occasions when someone you want to impress requests it.

FYI: Using Over the Rainbow to impress a potential suitor: acceptable. Using I’m Yours or Hey, Soul Sister to impress a potential suitor: entirely unacceptable. Using Wimoweh to impress a potential suitor: very much encouraged.

The Not So Good Stuff

Lack of Variety: You might have noticed I like to play uptempo tunes. Unfortunately, Fingerstyle Solos for ‘Ukulele is very heavy towards the slow, light tunes. There’s very little fast tempo stuff.

Not always carefully arranged: Some of the position choices in the book completely baffle me. For example, here are the opening notes for Planxty Irwin:

I can’t see any reason for that big jump between 3rd and 8th fret when you could play the C note much more easily on the g or E strings.

I have found myself rearranging a lot of the tunes in the book to suit my own style. Not necessarily a bad thing.


Definitely a recommended book for people looking to start of fingerpicking. Also a lot of fun to use as a basis for your own arrangements of tunes.

You can get a free arrangement from the book on his site.

Buy it on Amazon

View Comments


  1. Andy Rathbone July 28th, 2010 6:30 pm

    I’ve been enjoying Nelson’s book for some time, as well. I think he added those odd jumps to show intermediate players that you *can* do those things, even if you wouldn’t necessarily want to.

    Those odd jumps got me thinking outside of my usual comfort zone, which is something I’m looking for when I turn to a book.

  2. Woodshed July 28th, 2010 8:44 pm

    Andy: I think, for the sake of smooth playing, big jumps are to be avoided whenever possible. A jump from 3 to 8 is doable, but not when you’re barring across the 5th as well.

  3. Humble Jeff July 29th, 2010 8:02 pm

    I have Nelson’s book. As a humble player and a detail orientated draftsman’s mentality I often feel that I must strictly adhere to the music as written. It’s the plan, the rule — But Al, thanks for the reminder to KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid)

    I had been working on an arrangement of Tijuana Taxi Cab from Wikifonia and I was playing up and down the A-string. I think it’s time to do a re-write using tighter boxes.

    I know that there’s an arrangement already out there but I was working my skills. I have thought also about adjusting some of it into 3rds. Were can I learn more about arranging songs in thirds without taking college music theory classes?

    Thanks for keeping a variety of topics. I like the finger picking and twiddley bits.

  4. Woodshed August 3rd, 2010 4:43 pm

    Jeff: There’s a simple bit about thirds on Ukulele Underground.

  5. Humble Jeff August 3rd, 2010 5:25 pm

    Thank you Al. I have a general knowledge about the scale and that it can be made on different string pairs and different keys. The Bob Brosman class at his studio also skimmed over the subject and related them to chords as well. There are places like wikifonia that I check out ad get single note melodies. I would like to build on these ocassionally. Thanks for your insight. Jeff

  6. Mark August 9th, 2010 8:16 pm

    Thanks for a very insightful review. I appreciate the comments, both positive and, well, not so positive. That’s how we learn, innit?

    “I can’t see any reason for that big jump between 3rd and 8th fret when you could play the C note much more easily on the g or E strings.”

    Yep, there are other ways to do it. My thought was to show that the C chord and the F chord are just the same “grips.”

    But, as you have pointed out, it is an awfully big jump… of course, the `ukulele is an awfully small instrument. ;-}

    For the record, I tend to play the C to F with my pinky as a slur, and grab the rest of the chord on the beat. Maybe I shoulda put that in the notes?

    “I have found myself rearranging a lot of the tunes in the book to suit my own style. Not necessarily a bad thing.”

    Not a bad thing at all. In fact, I’m overjoyed. That’s the whole point. It is always best to find your own way, be it fingering, interpretation, dynamics, whatever. Have fun, make it musical; and then share what you have learned.

    I wrote the book as a bridge between the EZ, “Strum these Chords” type song books and the more difficult melodic methods by John King, Lyle Ritz et al.

    Glad to know someone is actually using it.

    Keep up the great music, everyone.


  7. Greg May 14th, 2011 3:09 am

    You mention 13 songs for the Baritone…if one were to have a baritone and want to start learning fingerstyle playing, is there a better option? Would this book be a huge waste of time for me? Having a really hard time finding sources for Bari Fingerstyle. Thoughts?

  8. Woodshed May 15th, 2011 11:34 am

    Greg: I don’t know of any baritone specific fingerstyle stuff, I’m afraid.

  9. Dick Andersen October 29th, 2015 9:48 pm

    I’ve been playing from the book and really like it since I favor Hawaiian style songs. I also play slack key guitar and wonder if there is tab available for those songs that have guitar accompaniment. It’s probably not that complex but I am not good at taking music from recordings.

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