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The pulelehua is the King Kamehameha butterfly, one of two species of butterfly indigenous to the Hawaiian islands. This etude is based on imagery: flitting, light, a small, singular form rising and falling on the breeze.

Not just the first etude, but the first piece of music I composed on the ukulele. It stays on the first 3 strings for all the fingerpicking, which was a way out of dealing with the re-entrant 4th string. From a performance perspective, what I was really doing was getting used to the small body, as well as the tighter fret and string spacings. It is, in a very real sense, guitarist-friendly.

In retrospect, this etude was a fulfilling of my expectations of what a ukulele should sound like when fingerpicked. It's all bells and tinkling and notes cascading over each other.


The vast majority of this piece can be played once a single technique has been mastered. Place your middle finger on the 1st string, index finger on the 2nd, and thumb on the 3rd. The goal is for the picking to be smooth and even. Try to play a triplet figure. All the notes should be of equal length. 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, etc. It is most important to make sure that there is no extra pause between the 3 and 1.

Before I started writing any ukulele etude, I sat on the sofa and practised this simple technique for about 2 hours. When I started, I could do it at a medium tempo. 2 hours later, it became a smooth flow of notes. This was a reminder of an old performing lesson: focus and time. Practice properly. Try to get rid of distractions as much as possible. Focus on the sound of each note. Start off slowly enough to do it properly. Only when you feel you're playing smoothly should you speed up. Start off too fast, and you'll just set bad habits in stone.