Mastering Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar

When Keola Beamer and I sat down to write “Learn to Play Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar” in 1997, few people outside of Hawai‘i knew what slack key was, let alone how to play it. So we decided to present a large number of short arrangements in a variety of styles and tunings. Our intention was to give the student a broad overview of the style and a good foundation for further study. In the twenty years since the publication of that book, thousands of guitarists have discovered the pleasures of ki? ho?‘alu.

But one thing remains: unless you grew up playing slack key, it’s hard to get from the material presented in most books and DVDs to a fluid, play-it-your-own-way style.

In this book I hope to offer some of the insights I have gleaned by playing with and learning from some true giants of the art. How do you go from a simple instrumental tune to a full-blown arrangement? What is the role of improvisation in slack key? How do two slack key guitarists play together? And what exactly does it mean when they say, “Jus’ press?”


Free Music!!

Need a diversion? Now you can download my long-playing short-selling album “Uke-a-Rama” for free on Bandcamp. Here’s your chance to hear all of your favorites from the Ukulele Happy Hour. Or check out some of my other recordings on Bandcamp, like “Waves of Light,” and the original LP version of “Southern Light,” and the immortal (?) “You Covered My Clam” by the legendary Tex Pistols.

Stay tuned!


I’ve Got Two New Books!!

Cover Image Hawaian and Polynesian Music for Appalachian Dulcimer

Hawaiian and Polynesian Music for Appalchian Dulcimer
Ke Kukima Polinahe

Put some aloha into your playing with Hawaiian & Polynesian Music for Appalachian Dulcimer!

Written in standard notation and tablature for the 3-course dulcimer with the 6+ or 6½ fret, these fingerstyle arrangements are for intermediate to advanced mountain dulcimer players who are looking for a challenge and want to try something new. These arrangements sound best played fingerstyle, and make use of polyphony, harmonics, hammer-ons and pull-offs, and the sweet chords beloved by Island musicians.

Includes access to online audio of all 22 examples and melodies in DAD, CGC and DGD tunings. To help the student master these arrangements, the author provides detailed performance notes for each tune. Includes access to online audio.

For this is a new edition I have added more songs and examples, corrected some errors, and recorded everything. 72 pages, softbound, also available as an e-book.

Available everywhere, or order direct from Mel Bay.

Cover imagae of Old Time Hawaiian Slack Key guitar book.

Old Time Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar

Written in tablature and standard musical notation, Old-Time Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar features 24 of the essential instrumentals every aspiring slack key player should know. These are the classic melodies–with a couple originals–played just as you’d hear them in a backyard party kani kapila–full of interesting twists and turns, sometimes richly complex, but always nahenahe–as natural and refreshing as an ocean breeze.

Includes: • Tablature and standard notation • Notes on tunings, reading music and tablature • Newly revised and correction transcriptions

Learn to play: Pua Lena/Kealoha/E Huli Ho’i Mai/Hula O Makee, Mauna Loa/Pauoa Liko Ka Lehua, Kowali, Paniolo Slack Key, Ku’u Lei Awapuhi Melemele (My Yellow Ginger Lei), Ahe Lau Makani, Nanea Kou Maka i ka Le’ale’a, Moloka’i Waltz, Moana Chimes, Old Timer’s Hula/Slack Key Hula, Hula Blues, Taro Patch Blues, Tiare Tahiti, Kaulana Na Pua, Playful Popoki, ‘Ulupalakua, Kanaka Waiwai, Kimo’s Slack Key, Papakolea

Suitable for intermediate guitarists. 80 pages, soft bound or e-book. Includes access to online audio.

Available everywhere, or purchase direct from Mel Bay.


“Learn to Play Slack Key Style Ukulele”

The newly-revised edition is now available!

No matter if you are a dedicated beginner wanting to expand your playing or an advanced uke-a-banger looking for a new challenge, you will find music to delight your fingers and stimulate your ear. Here is a collection of classic Hawaiian melodies arranged for solo `ukulele, “slack key” style. What’s that? Slack key is a melodic, finger picked musical style created by Hawaiian paniolo in the mid-19th Century. They call it “Hawaiian Soul Music.”

“Learn to Play Slack Key Ukulele” is both a course of study and a collection of great solo arrangements that start out easy and increase in difficulty. Ideal for advancing beginners and intermediate players who already know some chords and strums and are looking to expand their musical horizons. Sixteen classic songs, lessons, exercises, tips on tunings and more.

New Mel Bay edition features more instruction & new arrangements. New audio files with solo ukulele arrangements for all of the exercises and songs are available for download.

Purchase from
Mel Bay
Amazon Kindle
Click here to buy the original “Slack Key Ukulele” CD, with extended performances of many of the songs in the book. Enchanting!