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Mahalo Pokiki

The ukulele was not an inevitability. It was more or less an accident. When Madeirans left their homes to work the sugar plantations of Hawai'i, they brought with them their small, stringed instruments. The Hawaiians fell in love with this new sound, and some immigrant furniture makers started making an instrument which was a hodge-podge of some of the imports. The result was the ukulele. Pokiki was the name given the Portuguese immigrants who settled on Oahu in those early days.

Having tackled re-entrant tuning - at least in a small way - I felt free with the 3rd etude to explore. The result was an aesthetic and structural shift from the first 2 etudes, and the etude most resembling a short piece of self-contained music in its own right.

Flamenco sounds have become quite popular on the ukulele, particularly since Jake Shimabukuro's Let's Dance. Not a flamenco player by previous experience, I set about learning some of the basics, enough to give me the building blocks of an etude.


The main trick of this etude is a modified version of the tremolo. With guitar, it is most common to use the right, middle and index fingers all on a single string, while the thumb plays melodic figures and arpeggios on other strings. I kept this basic idea, but reduced the tremolo to just the middle and index fingers. This makes it a bit easier to play, but I think also suits the ukulele with a slightly lighter sound.

The second section of the etude, which is slower and more lyrical, is meant to conjure the sorts of sounds which were written by native Hawaiians in the dying days of the 19th century. I tend to play it exclusively with my thumb, for the simple reason that in my early days of playing, I watched a video of Herb Ohta, sr. playing Hawai'i and noticed that he only used his thumb. Regardless of motivation, it provides a more highly contrasting timbre.

The third section, which forms the middle of the etude, is a dance loosely based on an Argentine folk song I learned years ago. It shifts to 4/4 time, and gives a sudden rhythmic shift to the piece. It also offers a brief transition into major, and a much lighter tone. I think this is effective in giving a bit of a breath of fresh air before heading into the recapitulation.