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


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.


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


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:


And here it is on 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.


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.


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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