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Sandwich Islands Jig

When Captain Cook came upon the Hawaiian islands at the end of the 18th century, he was the first European to do so. He named them the Sandwich Islands after his benefactor, the Earl of Sandwich. When I was constructing etudes based on a Hawaiian theme, it became clear that my musical interests and the somewhat narrow confines of Hawaii were going to diverge, and I used Hawaiian history as an avenue for pursuing other styles.

As many players arrive at the ukulele from other stringed instruments - guitar, mandolin, banjo, it is no surprise that folk music has become a popular genre on the instrument. James Hill, particularly, has translated some old Canadian traditional tunes onto the ukulele. This jig was certainly inspired by some of his work.


Unlike other etudes, where the goal is primarily technical, the main thing the player has to keep in mind when playing this jig is fun. The piece has to bounce, to maintain that light, fast bah-duh-dah, bah-duh-dah feel. Even 300 years ago, Baroque composers understood that jigs were fun, and used them to traditionally end dance suites on a high.

For the sake of technical practice, the first time through each section can be played carefully, making every effort to play the correct note at the correct time. It can be played with just the thumb for a more resonant tone. I tend to play with thumb and index finger for the picked notes, and a rasgueado on the chords for some rhythmic lift. For the repeat, I heartily recommend just going for it. I often play it just strumming, muting notes where necessary to avoid dissonance. You'll develop a sense of what works, and particularly when open strings add some nice resonance.

Remember, it's a dance. If your foot's not tapping, you're not doing it right.