• Pro Tip: Perfect Practice by Daniel Ho

    WHETHER you’re strumming along to your favourite ABBA songs at the weekly kanikapila (jam session) or sitting at home working out a Bach Invention, good ukulele technique will increase your enjoyment, minimise frustration and prevent repetitive stress injuries. There is no right or wrong when it comes to technique. Hands and ukes come in different sizes and shapes, so the best gauge is if it feels comfortable to you. Here are a few suggestions to consider:

    Holding the ukulele

    Try to hold the ukulele in such a way that your hands are completely free to play the instrument. 

    The classical playing position supports the ukulele best when sitting. The ukulele is placed between the legs with the waist of the instrument resting on the left leg. Four points of contact – the right leg, left leg, chest and right forearm. Keep the instrument stable and allow the left hand to move freely around the neck.

    When standing, I always use a strap. This relieves your hands of the responsibility to hold up the instrument. Bach Inventions are even harder to play when you’re squeezing the body of the ukulele between your right forearm and chest and cradling the neck in your left hand!

    Left-hand Technique

    Use the tips of your fingers to depress the strings. The fingernails on your left hand should be as short as possible, preferably no longer than your fingertips.

    Unless you are barring a chord, make sure your fingers are always curved. They have more strength and leverage this way.

    Keep your fingers as close to the fretboard as possible. Pay careful attention to your pinky, as it is difficult to control.

    To minimise excessive wrist movement, keep your fingers generally parallel to the frets. An exception to this rule would be a G7 chord, which is more comfortable to play by slightly angling your fingers.

    Your thumb should press against the back of the neck, not to the side or over the top. It should function as a counter-pressure to your fingers playing the strings.

    The neck should not be sitting in your left hand between your thumb and index fingers. This limits your fingers’ access to the fretboard, particularly the first string (‘A’ string). 

    Right-hand Technique


    Classical-guitar technique is ideal for the ukulele because it uses the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers to pluck the strings – four fingers for four strings – perfect!

    The left sides of the fingernails should glance the strings at a slight diagonal – the index, middle, and ring fingers pluck up towards the right forearm, and the thumb plucks down towards the right. Picking this way generates a smooth, full attack and a warm tone.

    To produce a clear and balanced tone, pluck the strings over or around the sound hole. 


    There is no specific way to strum. Use whichever fingers feel natural to you and remember to keep your right hand relaxed. Most of the movement should be in your wrist and fingers, not your forearm. 

    Similar to fingerstyle playing, the strings are strummed over or near the sound hole. Down strokes sound heavier and are often played on the downbeats. Up strokes are lighter and used to accent syncopations and upbeats.

    I hope these suggestions help you to enjoy the ukulele even more and allow you access to a broader repertoire of music. If you start to feel pain while playing, try to identify the cause and modify your technique accordingly. If it continues, you may be playing too much and should probably rest your hands. Too much of a good thing is wonderful…but it can hurt.

    Daniel’s instructional books are available at danielho.com

  • Hall of Fame: Arthur Godfrey

    HE MAY not appear on anyone’s list of great ukulele players, but Arthur Godfrey certainly deserves his place in the KAMUKE Hall of Fame. 

    Born in 1903 in New York City, the ginger-haired entertainer got his start in show business as ‘Red Godfrey, the Warbling Banjoist’ on a radio program in Baltimore in 1929. Over the next two decades, Godfrey built up a loyal national audience, thanks largely to his laidback personality and an easygoing broadcasting style that was in stark contrast to that of his prim and proper contemporaries. 

    In 1948, Godfrey made his television debut and went on to become the most popular and powerful American media personality of the 1950s. Throughout his stellar career, there was one constant: the ukulele. Godfrey learnt to play while serving in the navy and would often sing and strum on his daily radio program and two weekly TV shows. He even hosted televised uke lessons in 1950. 

    Part-time actor Godfrey duetting with Doris Day in the 1966 film The Glass Bottom Boat

    Affectionately known as ‘The Old Redhead’, Godfrey was one of the first masters of on-air advertising and preferred to spruik products he actually used. When he promoted Mario Macaferri’s new plastic Islander ukulele, literally millions were sold, sparking the Second Wave of Uke. And, although it can’t be verified, Godfrey may well be the father of the baritone ukulele. There is no record of the largest uke size until the late 1940s, when Godfrey asked Eddie Connors to design one for him. 

    (L-R) Bing Crosby, Perry Como and Godfrey

    The one product ‘The Old Redhead’ regretted endorsing was Chesterfield cigarettes. He developed lung cancer in the late 50s and died of emphysema on March 16, 1983. 

    This article originally appeared in Issue 4 of KAMUKE Ukulele Magazine, which is available in the Store

  • Review: FIFTY/50 By Christopher Davis-Shannon & Jacques Pellarin

    Honestly, I didn’t realise I needed a ukulele/accordion album until I heard FIFTY/50 in all its glory.

    I’ve been a fan of Philadelphia-based uker Christopher Davis-Shannon for a few years now, so I was intrigued when I heard he was teaming up with French accordionist Jacques Pellarin. The result is something quite extraordinary and delightfully surprising.

    The two instruments combine beautifully and neither is more dominant than the other. From the pre-war frivolity of Summer 1925 to the more introspective Media Luna and classic-sounding Lady Josephine, there’s plenty to enjoy here. The only non-instrumental track, Willow, features lovely vocals from Charlotte Pelgen, herself an excellent uke player from Germany.

    Davis-Shannon displays an impeccable sense of rhythm throughout and throws in a few flashy strokes where required, as well as some nifty picking. I don’t know a whole lot about accordion music, but it’s clear Pellarin is a master of his craft.

    Jacques and Christopher: serious musicians

    I think what I like most about this album is its authenticity. It reminds me of the stuff people were doing with the ukulele back in the ’90s and early 2000s, before the instrument was universally popular and social media algorithms were part of the consciousness. In short, it’s a little weird, in the best possible way.

    FIFTY/50 is available at Bandcamp

  • Ukulele Stories: Miss Elm

    Erin Harrington, aka Miss Elm, is a singer-songwriter and music educator from Brisbane, Australia. We met at a festival a few years ago and I was immediately impressed with her passion and enthusiasm for the ukulele and its potential.

    Erin and I had a great conversation about her musical journey and ambitions and I’m sure you’ll also enjoy it!






  • Uke-In-Focus: Tiny Tim’s Martin Soprano

    Renowned music publisher and uke collector Jim Beloff (above, with Tiny Tim) puts the spotlight on one of his prized instruments

    SOON after finding a Martin tenor ukulele at the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena, California in 1991, I was struck with ukulele acquisition syndrome or UAS. I don’t believe this particular disorder had a name in those early pre-Third Wave days but, nonetheless, I had it bad. 

    Suddenly, my heart would race if I happened to come upon any vintage uke or uke ephemera. In fact, anything seen from a distance that looked uke-ish at a flea market was likely to send me sprinting, even if it turned out to be a salad bowl or wall barometer. I was literally seeing ukuleles everywhere, even where they weren’t.

    By 1993, my wife Liz and I had published our first Jumpin’ Jim’s ukulele songbook and my collection of vintage ukes was growing. In addition to area flea markets, Liz and I began to frequent antique malls as well. 

    It was at the Santa Monica Antique Market that we walked by a glass case with a weird-looking Martin soprano in it. At first, it was hard to make sense of the paint on it, but when I read the description, I began to get excited. The story was that the dealer, Wes Parker, a former Los Angeles Dodger, was given the uke in 1970 by Tiny Tim after a game and in exchange for a baseball bat (Tiny was a huge baseball fan, especially of the Dodgers). 

    The uke had splotches of paint on the soundboard, the words ‘Miss Vicki’ finger-painted on the sides and a koala bear sticker on the bottom. The price was US$295, which was less than a vintage Martin soprano without a celebrity connection. I had to buy it, but realised I wouldn’t be absolutely convinced of the provenance until Tiny Tim himself confirmed the story.

    Later in 1993, I learnt that Tiny would be performing in a small Los Angeles club. Here was my chance to know with certainty that the uke had belonged to him. After the show, he stayed to greet fans and sign merchandise. When my turn came, I pulled the uke from its case and recounted the story. He looked the uke over and said the story was just as I said. Then he signed it.

    By the way, it sounds great.

    Jim’s excellent new book, UKEtopia! Adventures in the Ukulele World, is available now at Flea Market Music: fleamarketmusic.com

  • Ukulele Stories: Brittni Paiva

    As it says on her website, Brittni and her ukulele are a brilliant match: Both are humble in nature, small in size, and very powerful with proper delivery.

    We first met in Hawaii in the mid-2000s and I was blown away by her passion and creativity. A multi award-winning instrumentalist, she’s always pushing the envelope musically and is on the verge of releasing her sixth album.

    Brittni and I had a really fun chat and I hope you enjoy it!



  • Hall Of Fame: Tessie O’Shea

    WHEN people see or hear a ukulele-banjo (or banjo-uke or banjolele), they almost invariably think of George Formby, the English comedian with the naughty songs and the dynamite right hand. But there was another British entertainer treading the boards and strumming up a storm during the same period as George – the magnificent Tessie O’Shea.

    Born in Cardiff, Wales on March 13, 1913, Tessie was something of a child prodigy. She reportedly started working at the age of six and was booked for a solo appearance at the Bristol Hippodrome in England when she was 12. At 15, while starring in a revue in Blackpool, she first performed the song Two-Ton Tessie From Tennessee, which quickly became her signature tune.

    By the mid-1940s, Tessie was topping the bill at the London Palladium, a bona fide music hall star. Movie roles and hit records followed and, in 1963, Noël Coward created a part specifically for her in his Broadway musical The Girl Who Came To Supper. Tessie’s turn as Cockney fish’n’chips seller Ada Cockle garnered her a Tony Award and an American audience. She was a guest on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1963 and proved so popular that she was invited back the following year to share the stage with The Beatles.

    “Tessie was a powerful player,” says Chris Jameson, the owner of O’Shea’s Gibson UB5 uke-banjo. “You probably wouldn’t have lent her your favourite ukulele, if not because of her enthusiastic fan stroke, then maybe for her habit of throwing her uke in the air at the end of a song and not always catching it.”

    As Tessie’s career wound down, she moved to Florida, USA, where she lived with her friend Ernest Wampola, a well-known pianist and composer she had met during World War II, when they were both entertaining the troops. Ernest became Tessie’s musical director and manager and welcomed her into his family.

    In 1995, Tessie died of congestive heart failure at the age of 82. A fantastic player with an infectious lust for life, she deserves to be remembered as a ukulele legend.

    By Cameron Murray

    This article originally appeared in Issue 9 of KAMUKE Ukulele Magazine, which is available in the Store

  • Cinematic Strumming: The Jerk

    THE JERK (1979)

    Director: Carl Reiner

    Stars: Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, Catlin Adams

    WIDELY regarded as one of the funniest films of all time, The Jerk tells the sorry story of Navin R. Johnson (Martin), the adopted son of a poor black family from Mississippi who decides to strike out on his own. 

    The only trouble is Navin is incredibly naïve and the laughs come thick and fast as he stumbles from one ridiculous situation to the next, until one day he learns that an outlandish invention has made him a millionaire, albeit temporarily.

    Along the way, Navin falls in love with a beautiful woman named Marie (Peters) and they do a sweet duet of the 1926 classic Tonight You Belong To Me, with Navin supposedly strumming a soprano ukulele. In reality, the tune was recorded by jazz uke legend Lyle Ritz and overdubbed. 

    On the excellent ‘26th Anniversary Edition’ DVD of the movie, Californian ukulele chanteuse Janet Klein (billed as ‘Ukulele Gal’) teaches a simplified version of the song, while a more complex Ritz arrangement can be found in the songbook Jumpin’ Jim’s Ukulele Masters: Lyle Ritz – Jazz (2000).

    As a result of the success of The Jerk, Tonight You Belong To Me has become synonymous with the ukulele and has been covered by a number of artists, including Amy Nelson and Cathy Guthrie (daughters of Willie Nelson and Arlo Guthrie, respectively) on 2005’s Folk Uke and Eddie Vedder and Cat Power on Vedder’s 2011 album Ukulele Songs.

    This article originally appeared in Issue 5 of KAMUKE Ukulele Magazine, which is available in the STORE


    American singer-songwriter Tom Freund is a fairly recent convert to the uke, but he’s making up for lost time. As soon as I heard his single Happy Uke, I thought it’d be fun to have a chat with him about it, and I was right!

    Over the years, Tom has collaborated with Ben Harper, Jackson Browne, Elvis Costello, KT Tunstall, Dave Matthews, Diana Krall and many others. He’s also done a lot of work on TV shows such as One Tree Hill, Dawson’s Creek, Parenthood, Las Vegas and Pete The Cat, and he performed with Graham Parker in the 2012 Judd Apatow comedy This Is 40.

    Happy listening!



  • Dhani Harrison: Ukulele Tuner

    Being Beatle George’s son has its advantages, but also great responsibilities as a ukulele custodian. Interview by Michael Dwyer

    Dhani Harrison is on a mission. Yes, he’s here to promote his new Fender signature ukulele: a sleek, ovangkol tenor that comes in two shades of blue with inbuilt tuner/pick-up and mystical fretboard inlays. But he’s more concerned about the billion other ukuleles languishing out there in lesser states of repair.

    “Whenever I see a uke in a room, I always tune it,” he says. “I went in a house the other day and I saw there was a ukulele on the side. And I picked it up and I strummed the strings, and it was in tune perfectly, which is rare… I was like, ‘That person actually plays the ukulele’.

    “You can tell a lot about a person by how they leave their uke.”

    It’s fair to guess that Dhani Harrison had to leave home to find his first neglected uke. His father George, as the whole world knows, was a flag-flying devotee of the instrument in his post-Beatles years. “It used to make him happy. I think it reminded him of his childhood,” his son says.

    “I think it started as kind of a childhood obsession with George Formby and wartime music, and how it was a happy thing. And then he started trying to be able to master all the stuff that Formby could do. And he got it. And he then became a legit, really good ukulele player.”

    Young Dhani’s first instrument was a Wendell Hall Ludwig banjolele with a white whalebone headstock. He remembers learning a lot of Formby songs — Auntie Maggie’s Remedy, Hitting the High Spots Now, Home Guard Blues — “because that’s all you can play on those things”.

    “I wasn’t approaching it from a Hawaiian mellow perspective. It was from a very rack and raucous, sort of vaudeville perspective.”

    The Hawaiian connection came later, as the Harrison family increasingly spent time in Maui in the 1980s and ’90s. As a teenager, Dhani fell for Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, Gabby Pahinui and Bennie Nawahi, and so began his own journey as a musician.

    Dhani’s Fender Artist Signature ukes

    As well as family friends Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne, he’s since collaborated with artists as diverse as Wu-Tang Clan, UNKLE and Pearl Jam — a connection his father helped facilitate back in 1993, backstage at a massive Bob Dylan tribute at Madison Square Garden.

    “Dad had to go and rehearse with Booker T and the MGs and he left me with Pearl Jam for the afternoon, with Mike McCready and Eddie Vedder,” he remembers. “They were super nice and my dad thought that was funny because he knew how much I loved them.”

    Years later, Dhani was touring Seattle with Fistful of Mercy, his trio with Ben Harper and Joseph Arthur, and decided to visit Vedder — by now one of the rock world’s foremost ukulele aficionados and ambassadors. He wound up playing with Pearl Jam at the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, and at their 20th anniversary shows in Wisconsin.

    “I think the only time we’ve ever played ukes together was [when Vedder] was playing a solo show at Brixton Academy. I came on and we covered Should I Stay Or Should I Go by The Clash on steel-string ukuleles. I remember really cutting my fingers on the strings because I always play with my fingers. 

    “He has some kind of metal ukuleles with metal strings and all kinds of fun stuff. He’s in his own ukulele world, I’m in my own ukulele world, but our mutual love for Hawaii, surfing and ukuleles is kind of the heart of our lives.”

    So far, the uke has been a modest presence on Dhani’s Harrison’s records. Check out his soundtrack to the 2013 movie Beautiful Creatures, and the occasional track by his band, thenewno2. But “I’m sitting in the middle of tons of them right now,” he says. “So the chances of them ending up on a piece of music is pretty high.”

    Meanwhile, his advice to uke players — and not coincidentally, one of Fender’s obvious strengths — begins with good machine heads. The old tuning pegs are charming enough if they hold, but too many new players are put off by the fact that they won’t stay in tune. “If you’ve got crap ones, it’s no fun to play whatsoever.”

    And after the hardware is sorted?   

    “It’s really in the right hand where you can soar in ukulele, you know what I mean? When you lock it in the right hand, and you know you’ve got some tricks, like scissors and all that kind of stuff… [then] it’s just practice, all the time. Play as much as you can. Take one with you, wherever you go, then you play it everywhere… And if you take two, then you can play with someone else.”

    Funny. His dad used to say much the same thing. Maybe the evangelistic fervour is a tiny bit contagious. 

    “Absolutely,” he says. “It brings smiles, joy, heals, unites. They’re powerful little things. In the right hands they’re also very disarming. I think that’s why they help unite, because people tend to be disarmed by them. You can’t hate on a ukulele. Simple as that.”

    Dhani Harrison’s signature Fender ukulele retails in Australia for $549.

    Michael Dwyer is a Melbourne journalist and tenor ukulele player with The Thin White Ukes, who launch their second album, A Better Future, at Brunswick Ballroom on Sunday, August 29.