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 Slack Key Instruction
 Mark Nelson: Fingerstyle Solos for `Ukulele
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1526 Posts

Posted - 10/02/2006 :  09:16:54 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote

[I abbreviated Mark's full name and the book's full title because of subject line limitations -RK]

Mark Kailana Nelson: Learn to Play Fingerstyle Solos for `Ukulele
Mel Bay Publications

I am kind of surprised that this book hasn’t already been reviewed by a `uke player, so here goes. First, you have to know where I am coming from so you can judge what I am about to write. I am a slack key hack with permanently injured thumbs and wrists. I can play a guitar for a little bit some days. So, I figured that a `ukulele would be a substitute that would allow me to play slack key with less pain and for a longer time. That’s true, especially since the thumb just needs to make a single downstroke and the nylon strings are close together and soft. But, my goal is to play fingerstyle slack key and the instrument only has 4 strings and 2 octaves with a low G. What do I do with my thumb? Where do I get the harmonies? I can figure out by myself how to play the upper melody, but lots of slack key pieces use the guitar bass strings as part of that melody. Mark’s book gives me the answer to that, as well as questions I should have asked but didn’t.

Mark’s stated goal is to get intermediate players “up to speed playing fingerstyle solos”. He includes something for everyone. The first section contains an invaluable collection of scales and chords in the 3 primary keys for the `uke: C, F and G (and a collection of chord inversions in an appendix). The bulk of the book consists of arrangements of 27 pieces that come from almost every genre you can think of. Each is in tab and standard notation. Yes, there are important Hawaiian songs, such as Pua Sadinia, E Ku`u Morning Dew, Kaulana Na Pua, and some others, but there are pieces from Bach, The Chieftains, Tin Pan Alley, the famous Anonymous and Traditional, Mark himself, and lots of different continents. In addition to each piece, there are performance notes to help you out. A CD of of the songs comes with the book.

Most of the arrangements are for reentrant (high G) tuning, but 13 can be played with a low G, as well, which is what I have and want. In addition to the 3 important keys above, there are songs in A and D, so be prepared to learn new fingerings. In fact, be prepared to learn a lot of things. Mostly, be prepared to use all 4 fretting fingers. That’s a bit of a challenge for a guy like me who is used to standard slack key practice. But that is also how you get the interesting usage of the 4th string and make thumb action work into the melody as the other 3 right hand fingers are accustomed to doing.

If you think this book is just a collection of nice new songs to add to your `uke repertoire, you are only partially correct. This book requires, and repays, study and thought. I have gone through it about 3 time already (which does not mean I can, or even want to, play all the songs) and I have gained new understanding each time. This is an enjoyable tutorial and reference work. I admit to doing some funny things like retuning my `uke to GCEG and transposing Mark’s keys so that I can use Taropatch fingering (when it makes sense), but keeping the instrument in C6 (essentially “standard tuning” capoed at the 5th fret) is an exercise in character building for me. I am sure I am a better person for it.

If I had commissioned Mark to create this book just for me, all the songs would be for low G strung `ukes, all the songs would be Hawaiian, and there would be far fewer songs in F. (About the last: Pat Cockett told an Aloha Music Camp `uke class that, if you wanted to piss off the guitarists you were playing with, play in F.) But this book is about solos, and, as I have already mentioned, intended for a much wider audience which it deserves.

One last note: the lovely `ukulele on the cover was created for Mark by our friend Dennis Lake and is the best fingerstyle `ukulele I have ever encountered. Imagine being able to play up to the 22nd fret on the 1st string and producing a musical tone. I am getting one – to go with Mark’s book, of course.


Edited by - Reid on 10/03/2006 01:35:20 AM


United Kingdom
14 Posts

Posted - 02/17/2008 :  12:43:25 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
You know this is the book that first taught me that slack key existed!
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361 Posts

Posted - 07/16/2009 :  7:34:18 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I jus wen get dis book in da mail today. Mahaloz Mark fo anodda great book! I love your slack key arrangements, and these ukulele ones live up to da same standard. This is exactly da style I've been wanting to learn eva since I wen pick up da ukulele (again) a couple years ago. I love da reference in da back fo chord inversions. You really give us all da tools we need fo start working on our own arrangements.

Too bad I wen bang up my wrist last month, and da ting still soa, bumbai I would keep on playing some mo tonight! Great work! My wife loves da CD too. She tinks it's real relaxing.

If can, can. If no can, no can.
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1 Posts

Posted - 02/17/2013 :  12:12:34 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I travel a lot for work, and the only two things that constantly is in my carryon is my Ukulele and this book.
Other Ukulele books I bring some times and some times I don't. But this book has so many great songs, and is very instructive.
Mahalo Mark, for taking the time to write this book.
That reminds me that I have to order the other ukulele book he wrote as well.

How come there are no palm trees on the island where I live?
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