What a fun time we had last night!  Thank you every one for coming, with special thanks to Elaine H. and Mandalyn May for joining us and bringing it up a notch!  I, for one, celebrated last night’s success by having chocolate for breakfast this morning!

For those of you who are interested in learning more about Mandalyn and hearing some more of her music (“lyric-driven folk that pops”), you should pay a visit to her website. And, remember, your purchases and downloads help keep these promising young musicians afloat! (Note, for those of you whe weren’t there last night, the chocolate reference above was on behalf of one of the songs Mandalyn shared with us, “Chocolate for Breakfast.”)

Here, too, is a  link to the ukulele festival Mandalyn is organizing in Chico, Feb. 12:  We (Heart) Ukulele.   A “Uke Walk?”  How much fun is that going to be? Folks who want to carpool might try to organize that through the Flea Jumpers Yahoo Group.  You’ll have to join, if you haven’t already, but once you do you’ll be able to communicate with other Flea Jumpers more easily. 

Speaking of festivals,  the 42nd annual Ukulele Festival of Hawai’i, put on by Roy Sakuma, will be held July 22nd in Kapiolani Park in Honolulu.  So, if you’ve got a hankering to visit the islands this summer, you might want to plan your dates around this.  It  does showcase the best of the best, and it is absolutely free! I don’t know who’ll be there this year, but in the past Jake Shimabukuro and James Hill have graced the stage.  And, I’m pretty sure that Peter Luongo and the amazing Langley Ukulele Ensemble appear there every year as well as all the great ukulele talent in Hawaii.

On another note, some of you already know I was at the NAMM show in Anaheim last weekend where ‘ukuleles are clearly gaining momentum. In addition to exploring all the new ‘ukuleles on the market,  I found myself spending quite a bit of time at the huge Hal Leonard and Alfred Music Publishing booths, skimming through what has grown to be a massive array of song and instruction books for ukulele.  The ones I liked (and I didn’t like all of them) I ordered for Kani-Ka-Pila. But, while there, I realized what a bonus it was to actually be able to hold the book in my hands and really see what it had to offer before making a decision to buy. So, I am going to be reviewing each one in some depth before putting all these new ones up for sale on the website.  This is a work in progress, and I’ll be adding to it in the days and weeks to come.  So, if you’d like to stay updated on reviews as they are posted and new books as they become available, you should subscribe to the Kani-Ka-Pila blog. In the meantime, here is my take on Ukulele Fretboard Roadmaps: The Essential Patterns that all the Pros Know and Use, by Fred Sokolow and Jim Beloff. 

As a performer in the 1970s, Fred Sokolow played with the likes of John Herald, Frank Wakefield, and Jerry Garcia and opened for the Grateful Dead, the Doors, B.B. King, and Country Joe and the Fish. He has written more than one hundred  instructional books for guitar, dobro, banjo, mandolin, and ukulele. Today Fred lives in Santa Monica where he performs retro jazz guitar, often with the former British rock star, Ian Whitcomb (now known as America’s Foremost Tin Pan Alley Man), and the legendary folk singer Tom Paxton. He also continues to produce instructional books, including three for the ‘ukulele (Fretboard Roadmaps,  Blues Ukulele,  and Bluegrass Ukulele, and to teach. In fact, Fred is one of our featured instructors at the West Coast Ukulele Retreat.

In this, his first book for ukulele, Fred reveals a few tricks of the trade in a logical, easy-to-use manner, starting with a few strumming and picking patterns you’ll use throughout the book. Then he dives into the fretboard, uncharted territory for so many of us, yet with lots of important real estate we need to explore if we’re ever going to move ahead in our playing.  You don’t have to memorize every note on every string, but a few basic principles will help you figure it out, if you need to, and Fred offers them here.

The real meat in the book, however, are the chapters on movable chords, the ones that contain no open, or unfretted, strings.  Of course it’s a little challenging when the first chord he offers is an E (a tricky proposition for many of us) but it’s like doing the dishes or swimming laps.  “It has to be done.”  And the good news is, once you’ve mastered this, the fretboard is, essentially, yours.  By page 28 it all comes together—the closed chords and the finger-picking patterns—in the old folk song, Sloop John B (I’ll bet you thought the Beach Boys wrote that) in the key of Eb! And, because of the way the material is presented you can make it as challenging for yourself as you need to. In fact, that’s what I like about all of Fred’s books for ukulele: you can keep it simple, just playing the chords and strumming, or you can take it up a notch or two at your own speed and eventially a little light bulb will go on over your head and….you get it!

Fretboard Roadmaps is packed with good stuff, including a chapter on chord soloing, something we are always asked about, and ideas for improvisation…so you’ll have some notion about what to do the next time some nods at you and says “take it away.” The icing on the cake, however, is the tunes you’ll learn along the way with the skills you’ve just been taught.  And, if there’s any confusion as to what they’re supposed to sound like, the book comes with a CD so you can listen to (or try to play along with) Fred.

I would say that if you are serious about understanding your instrument and how it works, and you are committed to getting better at it in a focused, disciplined manner, this is the book for you. It could well be the best $15 you ever spent. You can order this and Fred’s other ukulele books online from Kani Ka Pila.com