Mark Kailana Nelson – Juke’n the Uke Tab Book Review

You might, and should, know Mark Kailana Nelson from his essential book Fingerstyle Solos for Ukulele.

His latest book is a collection of blues, rag and hokum tunes from Mark’s album of the same name.

He was kind enough to send me a copy and here’s what I thought of it.

What You Get

Tab and standard notation for all the songs the Juke’n the Uke album and six others.

All but three of the tunes are for low-G ukulele. Each has a short description with hints on playing and fingering (there’s no fingering in the notation itself).

Short Lessons

Introduction to reading tab, blues scale, bottleneck slide, chord inversions for major, minor, 7 and minor 7 chords, transposing.

What you don’t get: A CD.

The Good Stuff

Adaptability

Learn the patterns in this book and you’ll probably be able to cobble together a version of any number of blues and hokum tunes.

There’s a fair amount of blues licks stuff out there. Which is useful. But not so much stuff that will set you up to play full songs. Juke’n the Uke fits there very nicely.

Because so many blues and hokum songs follow a similar pattern the ideas you pick up in the book (and there are plenty) are going to apply across a huge range of songs.

Videos

There are a few video lessons of tracks from the book on Mark’s YouTube channel. All done in a friendly and accessible way and perfect for people who like to learn by video.

Level of Difficulty

The book definitely isn’t for beginners. You have to be fairly confident with fingerpicking before you tackle it. But if you are then there’s a very good range of difficultly. Some stuff you’ll be able to pick up after a couple of runs and some stuff you’ll have to practice hard to get.

Slide Songs

Four of the songs in the book use a bottleneck slide (the type you put your finger through and play with your ukulele upright). They make for a nice bit of variety and something fun to try out.

The Not So Good Stuff

Low-G

All but three of the tabs are for low-G ukulele. The back of the book says they are, “Playable on any ‘ukulele (low G preferred).” Which, I suppose, is true but that doesn’t necessarily mean they sound good.

Here’s a snippet from the first low-G tune Richland Woman Blues played on low-G:

 
Low-G

And here it is on high-G:

 
High-G

The dissonance between the A and the Bb creates a nice bit of tension in the low-G version (where the notes are nearly an octave apart) but earache in the high-G version (where they’re right next to each other). This sort of thing crops up a number of times in the arrangements. And there’s the fact that sometimes the alternating thumb line doesn’t sound right with the high-G.

So I’d say the book is really only for low-G fans. That’s a deal killer for me.

Gets a Bit Samey

Because many songs in this genre are very alike, a lot of the tabs in the book are quite similar. I counted eight in the key of F. Most of the arrangements involved alternating thumb patterns on the G and C strings with additional notes on the E and A strings.

No CD

I was actually going to put this in the “good stuff” section. I hate CDs! And you can listen to the whole album on Spotify and on Rdio. And he has videos for most of the tabs that aren’t on the album. But these ways are restrictive and I think people might feel a bit short changed not to get a CD.

Tune Order

The books are arranged in terms of difficultly. Which makes sense. But I had wanted to play along with the album. But I was using a PDF of the book. It wouldn’t be as much of a pain to find what you’re looking for if you’re using the real book.

Conclusion

Mark’s books are always well put together and full of ideas. But I wouldn’t recommend everyone dashes out and buys Juke’n the Uke like I would Fingerstyle Solos for ‘Ukulele.

The tunes are arranged for an album first and a tab book second. So it’s not ideal for learning purposes. If it’s an area of music you’re interested in I’d definitely recommend checking out Mark’s album and then grabbing the tab book if you want to play it.

Buy Juke’n the Uke on Amazon US

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12 Comments

  1. Mary August 16th, 2012 3:02 pm

    Great review. I LOVE his first book, and found it is the best out there for my needs. The low G is always a killer for me..so was disappointed to hear of the preference for low G on the songs..thanks for the audio clip… I agree…
    Thanks also for your Great tabs over the years!

  2. Woodshed August 17th, 2012 9:27 am

    Mary: Thanks very much!

  3. Cappers August 20th, 2012 2:23 pm

    I bought this when it first came out. Overall i have thoroughly enjoyed playing along to the tunes in this book. While i agree about the low/high G issue it’s not such a deal breaker for me. I don’t actually have a standard uke tuned low G, but i do have a baritone, which i’ve been using for these tunes. Sounds great, just a different key. Although, due to a larger fretboard there are a few sections where there are big stretches for the little fingers.
    I agree with you about the fact that there are a few too many songs that are a bit samey. Quite a few have the same key, with very similar patterns. I would have liked a bit more variety. But there are plenty of songs in there to get your teeth into.
    I’ve not tried the slides tunes yet. I didn’t realise the uke would have to be upright to play that on. I assumed it would be the same as slide guitar.
    CD – yes, i’d have preferred one to be honest. But as you say, you can find versions online somewhere, so not a major issue.

  4. Mark Nelson August 20th, 2012 11:22 pm

    Many thanks, Al, for the review. I appreciate the points you brought out— particularly about the lack of warning about the low G tuning. With any luck I can make a couple changes in the next edition of the book and get rid of any confusion.

    Didn’t realize “low G is always a killer.” Sorry about that; the world I run in — Hawaii & North America — is chock full of folks who keep one uke in Low G. I’ll be more sensitive to the re-entrant players in the new book I’m writing now.

    Couple more quick thoughts & clarifications.

    First off, the book came first; I did the CD after I’d written all the arrangements. And yes, you can hear it for free all over the place, including my MySpace page.

    Why so many similar tunes? Cuz I wanted to help folks build their repertoire. As a teacher, I hear the opposite complaint all too often: “I wish there were more songs at each level of difficulty instead of so much variety.” So, once you can play “Richland Woman,” “Fishin’ Blues,” “Let the Mermaids Flirt With Me,” & “Movin’ Day” won’t be a stretch.

    B’sides, what’s the difference between a blues musician & a jazz musician? A blues musician plays three chords for hundreds of people…

    Lastly: @ Cappers, check out this lesson I posted on bottleneck uke:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0VLwxco6kk

    Thanks for checking out the book. Hope to meet some of y’all in person some day.

    Laterz,

    Mark

  5. Woodshed August 22nd, 2012 4:20 pm

    Cappers: Thanks for the review. Glad we had similar thoughts on it.

    Mark: Low G is always a killer for me. There’s plenty of people for whom it’s not.

  6. Howlin' Hobbit August 29th, 2012 6:36 pm

    the thing that just kills me about the prevalence of low-4th tuning in tabs and such is that it (low-4th) was substantially pushed by tenor players, many of whom are (or at least play like) Jake wannabes.

    but, as far as I can recall (or find on the net for that matter) Jake himself uses re-entrant tuning.

    the rest of the push for low-4th seems to have come from jazz guitarists taking up ukulele.

  7. Mark Nelson August 29th, 2012 11:31 pm

    Interesting thought, Mr. Hobbit. Not sure if I’d agree, though.

    I learned to play the uke in Hawaii where many players–including Isreal Kamakawiwo`ole–favor low G tuning on tenors, concerts and even on Lili`u 6 strings. My initial uke teachers–Herb Ohta Jr. and Keoki Kahumoku–both play with low G tuning.

    Neither plays anything like Jake, nor do I. Nor am I a jazz guitarist, sad to say. Still trying, though.

    I’ve also hung with the great slack key uke player Sheldon Brown on Maui, who plays with a low G.

    Ditto the entire Canadian ukulele-in-the-schools muisic program uses low fourth-string tuning. BTW; their best known product, James Hill, can’t play guitar to save his life (and I have a photo to prove it.)

    Of course, Byron Yasui does play in re-entrant tuning. And he’s a jazz guitarist. Go figure.

    So, again, it’s a big world out there. Not everyone tunes their instruments in re-entrant tuning. Heck, not everyone tunes their ukes to C tuning; the Canadians don’t, for one. Nor the Hawaiian slack key players. Nor do some tenor players like Lyle Ritz.

    If you favor one tuning over another, great. But please don’t knock those that tune differently.

    After all, ain’t we all about helping folks to get happy by playing the ukulele?

  8. Howlin' Hobbit August 31st, 2012 4:02 am

    @mark nelson — nope. if it were about “helping folks get happy by playing the ukulele” there’d be a hella lot more tabs in that happy sounding re-entrant tuning.

    also, I have a Lyle Ritz tab book (from the awesome Jim Beloff & Co.) and many — if not all… not going to dig it out right now — of the tunes in there are for re-entrant.

    seriously, there’s a lot of fine musicians playing some great music in low-4th. but if you close your eyes it sounds just like a guitar.

    there’s nothing wrong with guitar music. I personally love the guitar even though I don’t play it much anymore. but it just doesn’t sound like ukulele. and if you want to sound like a guitar, play a freaking guitar already!

    in fine, my main beef is that way too many of the tabs out there are for “mini-guitar” instead of ukulele.

    I’d probably be a lot more apologetic about my opinion if the so-called “ukulele community” showed a little more love for those of us who play ukulele that sounds like ukulele. but personal experience has indicated that if you aren’t shredding like a mini Eddie Van Halen or Jake wannabe you’ll get ignored. at least by the aforementioned “community.”

    fortunately, a lot of regular folk like the music, regardless of my choice of instrument.

  9. Walter Otter October 9th, 2012 10:03 am

    to have a high g or a low g misses the point, it depends on the music you are playing or want to play as has been said here just have a couple of ukes or more and string one with a low g.

    Personally I treasure juke the uke as a companion to Mark Nelson’s slack key uke tome and the classic fingerstyle uke book which puts him in my mind as a a fellah with his feet on the floor kinda bloke you’d want to take ukulele lessons from.

    I disagree that the book is all samey, its designed for wayward pickers like me still learning his way around the instrument and settling in the fingers into those deceptive ragtime patterns and blues runs.

    And its a great history lesson too and finding all the youtubes of Mississippi John Hurt and the rest is a wonderful journey that kicks all that tosh on the tv into a cocked hat.

    Mr Nelson you can’t please everyone but here in the picking parlour downstream with the girl who loves banjos we is having a Huck Finn of a day.

    keep on picking and grinning

    Walter O

  10. Marc Geisler November 14th, 2012 3:54 am

    After reading the comments, I decided to buy the book. It’s an absolute treasure trove. If you are not an expert already and want to learn this style of music with extremely helpful performance notes and clear guidance, and you have a low g uke, I most highly recommend it. Thank you, Mark, for putting lesson videos on Youtube! And thank you for providing more arrangements for low g tuning, much appreciated from someone who likes both low and high g arrangements. Viva la difference!

    Marc G.

  11. Mark Nelson November 14th, 2012 6:52 pm

    Thanks for the kind words, Marc. Glad you like the book. I hope to get some more vids up when I get the time.

    For you re-entrant fans, here’s a head’s up: I am in the final proofing my new Mel Bay Book, “More Fingerstyle Solos for Ukulele.” 33 new arrangements ranging from Early Music to Hawaiian to folk, Celtic, ragtime & even a couple Bossas. All in what Mr. Hobbit so sweetly calls, “that happy re-entrant tuning.” Stay tuned.

    Happy uke’n!

  12. Marc Geisler December 21st, 2012 5:36 am

    Mark–Sounds like a nice addition to your first book, and to the excellent work of Rob MacKillop and Tony Mizen–I look forward to it.

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