Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Where do you live?
  2. How did you get started with the ukulele?
  3. I'm just starting out; can you recommend a good beginner ukulele?
  4. Can you recommend a uke teacher in my area?
  5. I've been playing for a little while and want to get a better uke. Any suggestions?
  6. Who are your favourite ukulele performers?
  7. Where can I find your first and second CDs?
  8. What tuning(s) do you use?
  9. What kind of strings do you use?
  10. Do you give lessons?
  11. Have you written any instructional ukulele books?
  12. What about a book for teachers?

Where do you live?

I live in beautiful Nova Scotia, Canada, about an hour's drive from Halifax.

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How did you get started on the ukulele?

Since the 1960s, many schools across Canada have used the ukulele to teach music at the elementary level. Click here to read more about J. Chalmers Doane, the founder of the Canadian ukulele program.

I grew up in Langley, British Columbia where I attended Belmont Elementary School from kindergarten to grade 7. In grade 4, I started ukulele along with everyone else; the inimitable Jamie Thomas, a pupil of Mr. Doane's, was our teacher. Jamie still teaches ukulele at Belmont school.

Langley is a special place when it comes to ukulele. For over 30 years, the Langley Ukulele Association (LUA) has supported extra-curricular uke groups which allow interested students to continue with ukulele well beyond the requisite two years of classroom instruction. Click here to learn more about the LUA and it's top performing group, the Langley Ukulele Ensemble.

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I'm just starting out - can you recommend a good beginner ukulele?

For beginners, I recommend the Empire Music "Classic" ukuleles - they're inexpensive (around $50) but not "cheap" if you know what I mean. The Classics are very playable and have a nice, warm sound. There's a soprano model (also available with machine heads), and a concert model (also available with machine heads). Just tell them if you want a high 4th string or a low 4th string and they'll set it up for you. Nice folks.

Other suitable instruments for beginners include the Flea and Fluke ukuleles made in the USA by the Magic Fluke Company. These are popular ukes that come in many colours, sound good and are very durable.  Other good-quality, affordable brands are Kala Ukuleles and Ohana Ukuleles (just don't get the really cheap colourful ones... they'll cost you more in the long run!).

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Can you recommend a uke teacher in my area?

If you're a member of The Ukulele Way, you can search the community for teachers, including JHUI Certified Teachers, in your area.  It doesn't cost anything to access The Ukulele Way Community, a Free membership is all you need to get started.

You might also check the Flea Market Music Player Directory. Find your location, check if there are other players in your area and contact those people to ask about teachers. There's nothing like local knowledge!

If that doesn't work, I would suggest posting your request on either the Flea Market Music Bulletin Board or the Ukulele Underground Bulletin Board.

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I've been playing for a little while and want to get a better uke. Any suggestions?

When you're ready to upgrade to a hand-made instrument, I highly recommend Mya-Moe Ukuleles. Their ukes sound as beautiful as they look and their service is second-to-none.

Other fine uke makers to check out include: DaSilva Ukulele Co., Ko'olau Ukulele & Guitar Co., Collings Guitar co., Kamaka Ukulele, KoAloha Ukulele, Talsma String Instruments, and Tony Graziano Ukuleles. Links here.

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Who are your favourite ukulele performers?

Over the years my biggest ukulele influences have been Troy Fernandez, Ohta-San, J. Chalmers Doane, John King and Kimo Hussey.

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Where can I find your first and second CDs?

My first two albums Playing it like it isn't... and On the Other Hand are are both completely out of print (at least for the time being). That said, used copies sometimes turn up on the Flea Market Music Marketplace or eBay.

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What tuning(s) do you use?

This used to be an easy question to answer. I grew up playing in D6 tuning (a, d, f#, b) with a low A string like all students of the Doane ukulele method. It wasn't until my late-teens that I started to fool around with other tunings. Nowadays I travel with up to four ukes: two DaSilva tenors (one with a high 4th string and another with a low 4th string), my Mya-Moe slide ukulele which I tune either a, d, g, b or g, c, f, a depending on the song, and my Mya-Moe banjo ukulele which I always have in high 4th tuning.  A number of tunes on The Old Silo were written on one of two baritone ukuleles: a Mya-Moe acoustic tuned d, g, b, e (with a high D string) and a Ko'olau solid-body tuned b, e, b, e (with a high b string).  The latter is a tuning I stumbled across and fell in love with during pre-production for The Old Silo.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both low 4th string tuning (a.k.a. "linear" tuning) and high 4th string tuning (a.k.a. "re-entrant" tuning); otherwise I'd just travel with one ukulele and forget about it. Re-entrant tuning is great for vocal accompaniment, jazz chording, and campanella-style playing (à la John King). Linear tuning is better for ensemble melody picking, classroom instruction, lead picking and solo arrangements that involve moving bass lines. Different tools, same tool kit.

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What kind of strings do you use?

I use a custom set of strings put together by Mike DaSilva. I've also used (and recommend) Hilo strings which are made in Hawaii by the Pegasus Guitar Company. I use Aquila strings on my banjo ukes and Martin steel strings on my Mya-Moe slide ukulele. For my ukes that use the "linear" (i.e. low-4th) tuning, I use a D'Addario 0.040 gauge (or higher) nylon string for the 4th string.

I'm not sponsored by any of these companies, I just like their strings.

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Do you give lessons?

Not exactly. A busy touring schedule means that I'm not home regularly enough to give local private lessons and when I'm on the road I have very little free time to spare. Maybe one day! In the meantime, I often give workshops when I travel. Check my calendar to see if there's a workshop coming up in your area.

There's also The Ukulele Way, a series of books, CDs and videos on the art and science of the 'solo' ukulele style (i.e. playing melody, harmony and rhythm simultaneously).  In addition to a catalog of on-demand video lessons with yours truly, The Ukulele Way also features a built-in social network that allows students to connect with one another, find teachers in their area and get answers to their ukulele questions.  Check it out at www.theukuleleway.com.

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Have you written any instructional ukulele books?

Yes. Chalmers Doane and I co-authored the Ukulele in the Classroom series of method books. The idea is simple: music literacy via ukulele. Basically, it's fun and it works. If you're interested visit the website: www.ukuleleintheclassroom.com.

For individual learners there's The Ukulele Way, described above.  Join in the fun at www.theukuleleway.com!

Also, there's the Doane Ukulele Method which has been a cornerstone of the Canadian ukulele program for 40 years. It includes three books for students (currently available in D6 tuning only):

  1. Classroom Ukulele Method (J. C. Doane): Dozens of practical lessons and songs.
  2. A Music Reading Program for Ukulele (M. Shields): A methodical, sequential approach to note reading.
  3. Ukulele Encore (J. C. Doane): A book of repertoire including both vocal and instrumental selections.

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What about a book for teachers?

In my view, Chalmers Doane's best book is his Teacher's Guide to Classroom Ukulele. First published in 1977, it's organized into two sections:

  1. A lesson-by-lesson guide for teachers using Classroom Ukulele Method.
  2. A priceless collection of practical tips for making your ukulele program a success.

Also, each volume of the the Ukulele in the Classroom series includes a Teacher Edition. In the Teacher Editions each lesson features key teaching strategies, suggested arrangements, answer keys, follow-up questions and activities, additional comments from the authors, suggestions for extension and enrichment, learning outcomes and more. Click here for more information.

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The Ukulele Way is James' online ukulele learning program.  It features digital sheet music arranged by James, videos lessons by James and access to an active community of ukulele players! Take a free tour!