Slide Ukulele

slide ukuleleI couldn’t take a look at Robert Johnson without covering slide playing. And using the slide on the ukulele seems to be a trend of late. Just in the last few months I’ve seen videos of it used by James Hill, Tomotaka Matsui (of the Sweet Hollywiians), Peter Madcat Ruth and plenty of other people. And it’s not hard to see why. It’s a lot of fun to do, you can pick up a guitar slide very cheap from almost any music shop (or on eBay) and, once you’ve got the basics under your belt, it’s a very intuitive and natural way to play.

The only problem is there aren’t any materials out there for people to learn it. So I’ve put together a mini-ebook outlining the tricks and techniques for slide playing with videos, photos, tabs and mp3s.

It’s focussed on the lap style of playing (that James Hill and Tomotaka Matsui are using) but, since I’m assuming you don’t have one of the world’s three Beltona lap steel ukuleles, it’s geared towards doing it on a standard ukulele (and re-entrant tuning).

Here are a few of the longer examples from the book:

Blues Flavored Tune


Blues Riff


Island Flavored Tune


The ebook focuses on techniques more than tabs, so it’s not really suitable for people who are new to the ukulele. I had in mind that it would be good for people who had read my blues ukulele ebook (or who were familiar with that sort of thing) and wanted to start playing around with the slide and improvising with it.

How to Play Slide Ukulele

Price: $7

Buy it here

If you haven’t bought one of my ebooks before, check out my FAQ page to find out the process. If you have any other questions you need answering, you can contact me here.

Slide Ukulele Tips

For those of you that don’t want to shell out for the ebook, here are the top tips to get you started:

Find a uke with high action: If you use one with low action, you’ll always be clattering the slide against the frets. If you plan on doing a lot of slide work, it might be worth raising the action on one of your ukes.

Muting: The most important part of slide playing. Make sure you mute the strings behind the slide with your fretting hand or you’ll get all sorts of nasty overtones. You’ll also have to mute the strings that you don’t want to sound with your picking hand.

Use an open tuning: You can only play one fret at once, so it helps to tune it to an open chord. I started out with open C tuning – GCEG – but decided it was a waste having two strings tuned the same (cutting down your note choices even further). In the end, I settled on C7 tuning: GCEBb (i.e. the A string tuned up one fret).

Over the frets: Rather than putting the bar where you would if you were fretting the uke normally, you have to place it right over the frets themselves. And make sure that the bar is parallel with the frets or some of the strings will sound out of tune.

Play very lightly: You don’t want to be pushing down on the slide at all.

Upright or Lap: If you want to play fretted notes as well as slide notes, you’ll have to go upright. But I prefer playing lap style – it allows for some slide techniques that you can use when you’re playing it upright.

How to Play Slide Ukulele

Price: $7

Buy it here

Robert Johnson – Walkin’ Blues (Howlett Version)

Robert Johnson – Walkin’ Blues (Tab)

A while back I decided to stop paying attention to the news. I must say, I’m a whole lot better for it. Anyhoo, I just found out there’s a second great depression now and absolutely everyone is eating their shoes to stay alive. So, to keep up the doom and gloom, I thought I’d have a week dedicated to one of the great musicians from the last Great Depression. A man so po’ he couldn’t afford a ‘g’ to put at the end of walking. Robert Johnson.

For the first post in the series, I’ve written up tab for luthier Pete Howlett‘s ukulele version of Walkin’ Blues. Most of it is clearly explained in the video, but the F7 sections are a bit tricky – he plays it differently each time he goes through it. So my tab is kind of a mesh of the ideas.

Another section which threw me a little is when the main riff comes in after the F7. It sounds the same as before but it’s shifted forward a beat. What was the fourth beat is now the first beat. The first beat is now the second. And you get the idea with that one. It can be a bit disorientating, so watch out for it.

Jake Wildwood – The Wood Wives

Jake Wildwood – Birch (MP3)
Jake Wildwood – Nightshade (MP3) via

When I interviewed Jake about his last album he mentioned he was working on a record of songs about, “a particular tree, bush, shrub, flower, that I’ve come to know up here.” He’s now finished it and you can download the album for free on his website.

As always, it’s a lovely collection of well crafted songs. Made even more impressive by being written entirely in a single night. That’s just showing off.

Zee Avi / Koko Kaina – Just You and Me (Chords)

Zee Avi – Just You and Me (Chords)

I love the things that can happen on the internet. Step One: Upload some songs to YouTube as KokoKaina. Step Two: Get the drummer off of The Raconteurs to watch them. Step Three: Get signed, fly to LA and change your name to Zee Avi. And she hasn’t let it go to her head. She did the sensible thing and spent the money on a decent ukulele and tuned it for the album version.

She has a lovely, jazzy voice and kudos to her for rhyming heart with Kierkegaard. I guess she couldn’t think of one for Gyllembourg-Ehrensvärd.

Suggested Strumming

For each chord in the verse, try this:

D – D U – U D –

You can use the same strum for the chorus but for the Em – Ebm transition do D – D U – on the Em and U D – on the Ebm.

And in the ba-da… bits, just two down strums each for C and D7 and one for G7.

Twiddly Bit

Here’s how she plays the fingerpicking intro.

Buy Zee Avi on iTunes

Saturday UkeTube: Tafra, Puppini Sisters

This week’s videos include an old old clip from Tafra, a new old clip of James Hill rocking the White Stripes look, The Puppini Sisters calypsoing around and Todd encouraging us to take a ukulele break (as if we needed any convincing). Read the rest of this entry »

Window Shopping: Pono Mango, Eleuke Butterfly, Kala Camo

The new Pono Mango ukuleles have some serious grain going on take a look at this one and this one.

BugsGear’s EleUke range gets crazier with each new uke: Butterfly Ukulele.

Whilst Applause go the other way and branch out into boring looking ukuleles.

If you’re in a belligerent mood try a WWII Victory Regal ukulele or a Kala Camouflage “with weaponary detailing.”

Friday Links

More technical issues this week. If you tried to access the blog on Thursday morning, you might have noticed the site was down. Boing Boing – very kindly – linked to me in their regular cute ukulele girl post. This sent a flood of visitors and shortly after a, “We notice your site is very popular today so we’ve shut it down,” email from my web hosts. We’re back in business, but they forced me to reinstall the plugin that caused the last problem. So if you notice anything acting strange – like new posts not appearing on the front page – let me know.

Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain will be playing the Albert Hall as part of this year’s Proms.

Bosko and Honey start dishing out ukulele tips (you have to sign up to see them). And they give me top billing over Jake and James (just thought I’d mention that).

Sketches for Amy Crehore’s Ticker 2 ukulele. Which seems to have been ‘coming soon’ since forever.

Bill Tapia shows us his underwear and his “unconventional friendship”.

The French win at cool ukulele book covers and skinny ukes.

MP3s: Dent May’s Daytrotter session including the previously unreleased Eastover Wivez (Thanks Gary). New songs from the legendary Ukuladdie Archie Bester discovered in the archives. Song by Toad has The Empty Set’s Portia, I Dreamt You Were Real.

Avett Brothers – Murder in the City (Intro)

I was knocked out by the Avett Brothers’ The Second Gleam EP so I was pleased to see the Avetts get picked up by ukers like Ken, krabbers and Adelle.

I was challenged by Tim to come up with a tab for the intro. Since there are two fingerpicked guitars playing the intro, it’s obviously an impossible task. So I couldn’t resist.

Here’s my stab at it.

avett brothers ukulele tab


UPDATE: Here’s a version of the tab with the fingering and the chord shapes I’m holding down:

10 Things I Learnt from John King

This was an incredibly difficult post to write. Not for the usual reason that tribute posts are difficult to write – to my regret, I was always too intimidated to even email him – but because everything he did is absolutely fascinating. A quick scan through his writing for a few juicy quotes ends up being half a day spent engrossed in his extensive and detailed histories. A glance through Classical Ukulele turns into hours picking apart his note choices (and trying to my fingers in the position 9058 for Bach’s Prelude). Visiting his YouTube page to pick out a couple of examples results in endless rewinds and ‘How did he do that?’ moments.

As someone who plays, writes about and tabs for the ukulele, I’ve always been a John King wannabe. Here are just ten things I’ve learnt from him.

1. Campanela Style Playing

Truth be told, if I had been rich you wouldn’t be reading Ukulele Hunt right now but Harp Hunt (or possibly Genial Harpes). I love the sound of the close harmony notes bleeding into each other. Which is why I was drawn to John King’s campanela style of playing. A technique he resurrected from re-entrant players of JS Bach’s time.

The idea is to play one note of the melody on each string and let the notes ring into each other. For example, you would usually play a descending E major scale like this:


And here’s how you’d play it in the campanela style (letting the first four notes and the last four notes ring together):


And here’s how they sound (standard technique first).


Playing in this way the re-entrant tuning from a restriction into the element that lets the ukulele ring and shine. It’s been a huge influence on how I arrange tunes: take a look at my arrangement of Baby Elephant Walk for example.

For a masterclass on campanela, watch John playing Carol of the Bells and get his tab for it here.

But it ain’t easy. As John himself said:

The truth is it’s a crazy way to play the uke; ease of execution is all but sacrificed, subordinated to whatever it takes to get that shimmering, harplike sound.

2. You can be classy on the ukulele.

Just watch his performance of Bach’s Bouree. Fluid and perfect.

Whenever I feel the need to impress someone with the classy potential of the ukulele I break out Tarantella Italiana from Classical Ukulele

3. If you’re really good you can make it look easy.

While some idiots can’t get through a tune without gurned and waggling their tongue around, John King made it all look simple and effortless. No matter how difficult it actually is. On his Larry O’Gaff & Swallowtail Medley with James Hill for example.

4. Dynamics are more than just quiet verse/loud chorus.

Take a listen to what he does with Chopsticks. Without a great deal of light and shade in the dynamics, it would be a very boring piece.

5. Every bit of information I trust about ukulele history.

A lot of the ukulele history out there tends to be either dull and superficial or romanticised. But everything John wrote had obviously been thoroughly researched and carefully disected. Whether it’s a quick overview of the uke’s history for a museum exhibition or a post on the development of plastic ukuleles.

6. I’m not the only one who thinks the ukulele is difficult to play.

I might have caused a bit of a kerfuffle with last week’s post, but if John King was on my side I was probably right.

Some people may tell you the ‘ukulele is easy to play, but don’t you believe them… anytime someone tells you something is easy to learn, it’s probably because they want to sell you lessons.

7. Concentrate on your playing by thinking about boobs.

Finally, an aspect of playing in which I can call myself a master.

8. Anyone who tells you they know the origin of the word ukulele is lying.

I love his article debunking one of the ukulele naming myth: taking in discussions of political wranglings, the pestilent nature of fleas, racist stereotypes and whether Edward Purvis got the nickname ukulele by being an asshat.

His conclusion on the real origin of the word ukulele:

Final answer? Your guess is as good as mine.

9. I should be more pro-active with my emailings.

10. Always end on a joke.

At the ‘Ukulele Guild of Hawai‘i Exhibition and Conference in Waikiki last November, someone was interested in buying one of my collections of uke music, but after attending my workshop she was worried it might be too difficult for her. “No, no, you should try it,” I assured her. “It’s easy.”

Death Cab for Cutie – Talking Bird (Demo) (Chords)

Death Cab for Cutie – Talking Bird (Ukulele Version)(Chords)

Death Cab for Cutie’s new odds-and-ends EP, The Open Door, includes the original ukulele filled version of Talking Bird (you can listen to it on Stereogum). It is, naturally, far superior to the full band version (for which Zakulele has already written up the chords).

Stereogum were, unusually for them, very musically astute to mention Beirut in that post. The song contains a lot of Beirut like touches: it’s in waltz time, the C chord is played up the neck, there are Fadd9 chords all over the place.

I’ve written the chords up in a slightly simplified way (just make sure you pay attention to the C chord – the A string is played at the 7th fret rather than the 3rd). The do occasionally add in passing chords. This sort of thing:

talking bird ukulele tab

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