Chuck Berry’s Major and Minor Pentatonic Trick

Chuck Berry’s intro to Johnny B Goode has to be the most famous piece of guitar playing in the universe. Not only did he influence an entire generation of rock and roll guitarists, you can hear elements of his playing in all the great rock guitarists since.

The lick combines major and minor elements to make for an ambiguous, interesting run. If you already know your major pentatonic and minor pentatonic scales you’re ready to start using this trick in your own licks and improvising.

Here’s the opening lick slightly adapted for ukulele:

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The Scales

Pentatonic scales are made up of just five notes. Because they’re so simple they suit a huge range of music. You’ll hear them all over blues, rock, country and folk songs.

If you want a full dive into the minor pentatonic scale I go into it in my Blues Ukulele ebook. But for this example I’m just using the C major and minor pentatonic.

C Major Pentatonic

1st position

Here’s the open position of the C major pentatonic scale. It always makes me think of the My Girl riff.

2nd position

This scale shape uses exactly the same notes but slightly higher up the fretboard. Compare this scale to the lick and we’ve already got most of the notes. All we’re missing is the C-string, 3rd fret (i.e. minor third) and E-string, 6th fret (minor 7th).

C Minor Pentatonic

1st position

The minor pentatonic is all over blues and rock playing. If you’re only going to learn one scale to improvise with this would be the one.

2nd position

Moving the scale up to the second position you get this. And there are the C-string, 3rd fret and E-string, 6th fret we need for the lick.

Combined Pentatonic

Knock the two scales together and you have a scale with plenty of options. You can just got at it with this scale. But my preference is to primarily use either major or minor pentatonic then introduce notes from the other to add some colour.

1st position

2nd position

Some Examples

Descending Lick

Here’s a Chuck Berry style descending lick that uses the same ideas.

Aerosmith Style

You can hear this combination of major and minor pentatonic playing by all the rock gods (Hendrix, Clapton and Page used it regularly). Here’s a lick cribbed from Joe Perry’s solo in Walk This Way.

Combining Blues Scale and Major Pentatonic

If that isn’t enough notes you can add in a note from the blues scale. In C the only difference between the minor pentatonic and the blues scale is an F# (E-string, 2nd fret). With that you can play this BB King style lick.

Rebecca Sugar – What’s the Use of Feeling (Blue)? (Chords and Tab)

What’s the Use of Feeling (Blue)? (Chords)

The trend of increasingly complex Steven Universe songs continues with What’s the Use of Feeling (Blue)?. If it gets more complicated than this one I’m going to assume she’s doing it to troll me personally.

As she often does, Sugar posted her ukulele demo on Tumblr and it’s that version I worked from.

The chord changes come fast and furious so I’ve slowed it down a little in the video. I highly recommend practicing it very slowly before gradually speeding it up when you’ve built up the muscle memory.

There’s plenty of great chord work going on in this song with jazzy chords you might not be familiar with including maj7, dim7 and aug7 chords (which all appear on my best chords list). Even better is the way chords transition into each other. I love the parts of the progression that have notes ringing through the changes. For example, the Dm7 – G7sus4 – G7 move. In the Dm7 to G7sus4 change only the note on the g-string changes. Then from G7sus4 to G7 only the note on the A-string moves.

What’s the Use of Feeling (Blue)? (Tab)

If the chords alone aren’t tricky enough for you, here’s a tab including all the little nuances.


Steven Universe on Cartoon Network
Rebecca Sugar on Tumblr
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Flea Bitten Dawgs, The O’Pears: UkeTube

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Friday Links: New Ukes, Humidity and Pasties

The Ukulele Site has an extensive post on ukuleles and humidity.

Ukulele rapper has a pasty named after him.


– Lichty document making a steel-string baritone for Richie Williams of the UOGB.
Newfangled uke by Murray Kuun.
G-string Custom Sun Inlay.
Hive ukulele and amp.

Playing ukulele for the first time.
The Joker fondles a priceless ukulele while Batman practices.

Beach Boys – Sloop John B (Tab)

Sloop John B (Tab)

Edit: Dangit! I published this a day early

Following on from Good Vibrations, another Pet Sound with bass from Lyle Ritz. Sloop John B is a traditional Bahamian song. The earliest version was recorded in Nassau in 1935 under the title Histe Up the John B Sails. There are many lyrical variations. My favourite being the the verse in Blind Blake’s version (the Bahamian one rather than the American blues guy) about having to go home because his pants burst.

This arrangement starts off with that shimmering guitar riff from the Beach Boy’s version. And I keep interlacing this riff with the melody throughout. Be sure to play this softer than the melody so the two don’t get confused.

The verse is all fingerpicked with the melody mostly on the E- and A-strings with some lower notes on the C-string to keep the rhythm going. To give the chorus a bump I play the melody with strums. That means you have to switch between strumming and picking. Which can be tricky. If you need a bit more time to switch you can miss out a note or two of the backing without losing anything important.


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Irish Ukulele Tabs and Chords

It’s St. Patrick’s Day on Friday. Plenty of time to work up a Irish tune or two.

If you want to go all out there’s also Jonathan Lewis’s ebook Irish Tunes for Campanella Ukulele that has 35 fantastic, challenging arrangements of Irish tunes.


The Dubliners and The Pogues – The Irish Rover
Imelda May/Blondie – Dreaming
The Pogues – Fairytale of New York
The Pogues – Fiesta
The Pogues – If I Should Fall from Grace with God
The Pogues – Irish Rover
The Pogues – Sally MacLennane
The Pogues – Streams of Whiskey
The Undertones – Teenage Kicks
Van Morrison – Keep It Simple


Damien Rice – 9 Crimes
Father Ted Theme
Lisa Hannigan – Knots
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova – Falling Slowly
The Irish Washerwoman
John King – Larry O’Gaff
John King – Swallowtail (Tab)
Thin Lizzy – Boys are Back in Town (Riff)
Turlough O’Carolan/Jonathan Lewis – Loftus Jones
U2 – Sunday Bloody Sunday (Riff) (Tab)
Whiskey in the Jar/Kilgary Mountain

The Beach Boys – Good Vibrations (Chords)

Beach Boys – Good Vibrations (Chords)

Very sad news last week that Lyle Ritz died at the age of 87. Ritz was a pioneer of jazz ukulele in the 50s, a member of the Ukulele Hall of Fame and, perhaps most famously, played the ukulele part for Tonight You Belong to Me in The Jerk.

Just as impressive is the other half of his career as a session bassist as part of the Wrecking Crew. He played on a string of massive hits most providing bass and ukulele on one of the greatest albums of all time: The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. (At least he’s credited with ukulele on the album if you can hear it you’ve got better ears than me.)

If you’re interested in finding out more about them I recommend watching The Wrecking Crew documentary (it’s on Netflix and all good streaming services). Here’s a clip of Ritz talking about working with Brian Wilson.

I’ve written up two versions of Good Vibrations. Below is an easy version using just straightforward chords. And up top is a more difficult version with a bunch of trimmings.

Beach Boys – Good Vibrations (Easy Chords)

Suggested Strumming

I like to do soft down strums for the verses and other quiet bits (e.g. the “Gotta keep those…” section). Then use this pattern for everything else:

d – d – d u d u

In the tricky version of the chorus the strum is divided up. So on the F it’s:

G and A have an extra chord and go like this:

Here’s all that put together:

Twiddly Bits

Good Vibrations (Bass Tab)

Here’s a low-G tuned uke version of the bass part in the verse.


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UkeTube: Zoe Bestel, Krasnogorsk

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Friday Links: Looping Ukulele, Dogs and Rihanna


– Manitoba Hal has some tips for using a looping pedal with your ukulele.
– Rachel Manke tests out Ohana’s Martin Style 3 copies.
– Lorraine Bow of Learn to Uke chats with James Hill and Anne Janelle. And her group recently Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
– Ukulelia spots some ukuleles at the South Pole.
Which ukulele offcuts do dogs prefer?

Pessimists Archive is a great podcast about past moral panics over new technology. They recently did an episode about the recorded music scare and fears it would put musicians out of a job. The Musician’s Union reacted by banning it’s members from performing on radio recordings. As luck would have it, they didn’t regard the ukulele as a real instrument so it was all over radio hits such as Jo Stafford & Gordon MacRae’s Say Something Sweet To Your Sweetheart.

Woman awarded €18,500 after injury hurts ukulele hobby.

Teacher mods a ukulele for a student with a partially formed left arm.

LP discusses writing Rihanna’s Cheers (Drink to That) on ukulele.

KoAloha’s Black Label Customs.

Bon Iver – 00000 Million (Tab)

Bon Iver – 00000 Million (Tab)

A new Bon Iver album means a new Bon Iver post. It’s another great record. This time with very strange song titles. 00000 Million immediately struck me as being great for ukeing with its strong melody and simple chords. And it does transfer well. It even works out nicely in the original key.

It wouldn’t be Bon Iver without a bit of weirdness. And this song’s weirdness is changes in the time signature. Bar two switches to 5/4 time (i.e. there’s an extra note in that bar). And there’s a bar of 2/4 leading into the Fionn Regan sample. But these fit so naturally into the song that if you know the melody well you won’t have any problems with timing.

The brackets around some of the notes indicate they are played softly (they’re backing notes rather than part of the melody).


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