Ukulele Music

Instrumental ukulele music is getting to be just as popular as ukulele songs. With Jake Shimabukuro becoming increasingly well known, people are starting to recognise that the ukulele is capable of making great music by itself. So, it’s only fitting that I make a list of the most played pieces of instrumental ukulele music to go along side the list of ukulele songs.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Written by: George Harrison in 1968
Definitive Version: Jake Shimabukuro on Midnight Ukulele Disco

After Jake recorded his version of the song for MUD, the video inevitably made its way onto YouTube. It became a viral hit with various videos of Jake playing it clocking in at over 2 million views, which must make it the most listened to piece of instrumental ukulele music in history.

Playing a note-for-note rendition of the tune has become a rite of passage for all aspiring ukulele soloists. You’ll see plenty of mini-bukuros ripping through the tune; none better than Ryan Imamura.

Dominator did a great tab of the tune but was asked to take it down by Jake (*cough*torrent*cough*). But you can find Edmund Whitehead’s tab of While My Guitar Gently Weeps here. Or, if you want to come up with your own arrangement, I have the ‘bare bones’ here.

Stars and Stripes Forever
Written by: John Philip Sousa in 1897.
Definitive Version: Jesse Kalima listen to a clip on eMusic.

Jesse Kalima was a huge part of the development of solo ukulele playing. His version of Stars and Stripes Forever won him the Hawaii Amateur Ukulele Championship in 1935 and it has been a ukulele standard ever since.

It’s been done to great advantage by Jake Shimabukuro, Roy Smeck (here’s Krouk performing the Smeck arrangement) and Bill Tapia.

Stars and Stripes Forever isn’t the only Sousa march to make its way onto the ukulele. Take a listen to John King’s take on The Washington Post March and Brian Hefferan’s arrangement of Semper Fidelis.

Dominator has a tab of his version of Stars and Stripes Forever.

Crazy G
Definitive Version: Jake Shimabukuro (watch the video)

Crazy G is a bit of a ukulele speed test. The idea is to repeat the final section faster and faster until either you’re playing faster than anyone has in history or your arm falls off. Obviously, Jake Shimabukuro wins at ukulele. He’s even faster than a hand fan, although his dancing needs a fair bit of work.

Dominator has a tab based on Jake’s live version of the tune.

12th Street Rag
Written by: Euday L. Bowman in 1914

Another rip roaring tune for ukulelists to show off their strumming. And why not show off when you’ve got the Formby style split stroke and fan strums down like Steven Sproat has? Also plenty of top-class strumming from The Winin’ Boys on this tune.

Dominator’s tab of the Fleastomper version, I have a ‘bare bones version here‘ and a full arrangement in my How to Play Ragtime Ukulele ebook.

Guava Jam
Written by: Peter Moon.
Definitive Version: Ka’au Crater Boys (listen on IMEEM)

Troy Fernandez is credited with pretty much single-handedly resurrecting the ukulele in Hawaii in the 1990s with his mixture of modern styles and fluid lead-ukulele playing. Guava Jam became a must play for aspiring solo ukulelists. Here are Aldrine Guerrero and Abe Lagrimas, Jr. displaying their chops on the tune.

Dominator, as ever, has the tab.

Super Mario Bros (Level 1)
Written by: Koji Kondo
Definitive Version: James Hill (watch it on YouTube)

There seems to be a natural affinity between the ukulele and game themes. I’ve arranged a couple of them myself (Tetris, Final Fantasy). James Hill’s arrangement of the Super Mario theme is absolutely fantastic and tricky to play. But that doesn’t stop people trying.

You’ll never guess who has tabbed this. Yes, it’s Dominator again.

William Tell Overture
Written by: Gioachino Rossini
Definitive Version: Andy Eastwood (watch the video)

Classical music might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the ukulele, but this tune works fantastically well on the uke. The frenetic pace of it make it particularly well suited to the banjolele and Peter Moss‘s arrangement is a ukulele music classic. It’s a real show stopper, so it’s no surprise it gets picked up for other versions like those by Andy Eastwood and James Ward. William Tell is also a regular part of the repertoire of the legendary Langley Ukulele Ensemble.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
Written by: Ennio Morricone in 1966
Definitive Version: The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (watch the video)

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, although not the world’s first ukulele group, have certainly been the ones to popularize the idea that if one ukulele sounds a whole bunch of them would sound even better. Since they started in 1985, the idea of ukulele groups has been taken up everywhere from New York to New Zealand, amateur ukulele groups can be found all over the globe and there has been much debate over the correct collective noun for ukulelists.

You don’t have to have a gang of ukulelists to take on this tune. I have a solo tab of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly here.

If I’ve missed one out, contact me and tell me about your favourite piece of ukulele music.