It is no secret that the Hawaiians fell in love with the ‘ukulele the first time they heard it. In 1879, Manuel Nunes, Jose do Espirito Santo and Augusto Dias sailed from Madeira to Honolulu aboard the SS Ravenscrag. Upon disembarking in Honolulu, they began playing their sweet little Portuguese four-stringed guitars, much to the delight of the local citizens.
The Hawaiians called this new instrument ukulele–”the leaping flea”–though exactly why is lost in the mists of time. Perhaps it was named after William Purvis, an officer in King Kalakaua’s court known for his small stature and nervous manner. Perhaps the name came from the flying hand movements of an accomplished player.
Within just a few short years Hawaiian musicians took the world by storm. No trade exposition, Vaudeville review or whistle stop concert tour was complete without a bevy of exotic hula maidens swaying to the tropical sounds of the steel guitar and ‘ukulele. Why, Hawaiian music without an ‘ukulele is almost unthinkable!
For an instrument that’s only been around since the 1880s, the ‘ukulele has developed a number of forms and tunings. On the mainland, most people play in one of two tunings: G-C-E-A (starting on the fourth string) or the slightly higher “East Coast tuning”: A-D-F#-B.
In Hawaii, where the G-C-E-A tuning is standard, you’ll often find six- and eight-stringed instruments, which are wonderful for chording and create a nice tinkling sound when picked. Many Island players use a low G string to extend the range – handy when playing melodies and leads.
Drawing from his many years performing and teaching, Mark has written multiple best-selling methods for the ukulele: “Learn to Play Fingerstyle Solos for Ukulele“, “Favorite Fingerstyle Solos for Ukulele“, “Fingerstyle Duets For Ukulele”, “Favorite Old Time American Songs for Ukulele”, and “Mastering Chord Inversions for Ukulele” (Mel Bay Publications.)
In 2010 Mark released a CD and instructional method featuring classic Hawaiian melodies arranged for solo ‘ukulele, slack key style. What’s that? Slack key is a melodic, finger-picked guitar style created by Hawaiian paniolo in the mid-19th Century. The call it “Hawaiian soul music,” so dear is it to the hearts of the Island born. It is only natural that some ‘ukulele players in Hawai‘i would re-tune their instruments and play in that style. A revised and updated edition of the book, “Learn to Play Slack Key Ukulele,” is now available from Mel Bay Publications.
Mark’s first all-ukulele CD–”Funtime Uke-A-Rama“–showcases music from all over: calypso, swing, country, Hawaiian, Braziliian foro–even the surf music Mark played in his first band all those years ago.
Inspired by the music played in early 20th Century juke joints, rent parties and road house dives, the CD and instructional book “Juke’n The Uke” is an outstanding collection of classic blues, rags, jug-band songs and hokum artfully arranged for fingerstyle ‘ukulele.
Mark has taught ukulele workshops at festivals and camps throughout the west. He is firmly of the belief that everyone ought to play this most happy instrument.
After all, like they say in the Islands, “Four strings, four fingers…no problem!”