View Full Version : Was John King's "Classical Ukulele" arranged with a certain Uke scale in mind?

04-18-2011, 10:36 AM
I am asking, because when I tried to look over one of the songs, I noticed a 2nd to 8th fret stretch at one point. Looking down at the fretboard of my baritone, I saw that this was not to be. Not now, maybe not ever.

Now, I am the happy owner of an Anuenue papa I Long neck. Experimenting with my 9 year old son's Soprano, I could almost make that stretch, and see it as a possibility. Also, many of the other positions were much easier. ( read, at least theoretically possible for me someday.) hence, the purchase of the long neck soprano, since some of the music requires more than 12 fets. I find the strings easier to play on the soprano as opposed to the tenor, and the baritone also when it is tuned gCEA. Might that be because of greater tension on the longer scales? I really noticed it when I took my baritone back up to try the gCEA tuning again. It seemed like the strings felt harder than when I had it dGBE.

Do folks take into account the fretboard dimensions when arranging music? It seems like an obvious question, but I wonder if Mr. King took advantage of the smaller dimensions of the Uke to make music that otherwise would not have been possible. Or, am I just a stubby fingered lazy man? I was somewhat alarmed that I might be hindered by my instrument itself, in my desire to play this music.

I any case, I am more interested in playing music than achieving great feats of finger stretching. Although i am willing to work on that too.

The happy result is that I have a nice new uke, and playing the music from this fine book will likely happen sooner with the long neck than with my baritone.

take care,


04-18-2011, 10:48 AM
I believe John King played mostly soprano sized ukuleles. I find that I need several different sizes to accommodate different fingering requirements (that's my story and I'm sticking to it). If the fingering is tight on the higher frets, I like the concert or tenor size better. For those long stretches, I go for the soprano, especially if it has more than 12 frets. Practice will help your hand stretch further, so keep at it!

04-18-2011, 11:12 AM
I don;t think John King played baritones, though he may have on occasion. I know he played several sopranos and that he also had a concert Stradelele. But more than that, his hands were used to making those stretches. Many people can train their hands to gradually make greater stretches.

I have a friend who plays a lot early music with long stretches on a full size guitar which he capos at the 2nd fret. That ends up being a scale quite a bit longer than a baritone uke! He makes those long stretches just fine. I have a book of early guitar music (Keith Calmes) and he suggests using a capo on several pieces becasue of the long stretches.

Anyway, try playhing the pieces with a shorter scale uke if you're interested in playing some of John King's arrangements. Note that he also preferred re-entrant tuning for most of his arrangements, and wrote an article about why he prefers that tuning.

04-18-2011, 02:35 PM
I play music out of that book on a tenor, and when his crazy stretches show up, I find that note on a different string, closer to where I want it to be. That generally solves the problem!

04-18-2011, 02:56 PM
I can manage a 2nd to 8th fret stretch on a tenor, although it's not real comfortable. Like austin1, though, I'll often change the note to a different string that makes it easier to play.

04-18-2011, 03:12 PM
I can manage a 2nd to 8th fret stretch on a tenor, although it's not real comfortable.

Impressive! My hands are probably about the size of a 10 year old's, and I can *just barely* do the 2nd to 7th on a concert. Using a strap makes it possible.

04-18-2011, 03:23 PM
In addition to his concert Stradelele, he also played a soprano Santo reproduction that Mike DaSilva gave him.

I'm not sure what song you're trying, but if you watch John King's many YouTube performances you'll notice he constantly changes his hand position rather than stretch to hit one or two notes. If fact, he describes his campenena technique as purposely playing each note on a different string to keep the uke ringing and playing small groups of measures on different parts of the fretboad to keep the song moving.

04-18-2011, 04:32 PM
Thanks for the great discussion!

I am referring to the Chopin "Prelude". Measures 7 and 11 require the 8th fret on the first string, and the 2nd fret on strings 3 and 4. The notes are to be struck simultaneously. I suppose if one did a quick arpeggio, you could partially avoid the full stretch, but then the campanella sound wouldn't come out. Given the slow tempo, it might work though.

I see in some songs where he plays similar passages with different fingerings on different strings. I'll evaluate those as i really dig into those songs.

Take care,


Jim T.
04-18-2011, 07:17 PM
John only played soprano 'ukulele. He believed the real technical challenge was to play the instrument in its original form. He applied the same rigorous standards to his playing that he applied to his historical research. Jim T.

04-18-2011, 07:25 PM
I see it, the 22X8. I would suggest you bar the 2nd fret with your index finger and reach over with your pinky to the 8th fret. Because the 2nd string is not played, you can press it down without harm. With the right hand, pluck the 4, 3 and 1 strings simultaneously. It's very doable on a concert. A baritone might be a challenge.

With GCEA tuning, the chord you're forming is a root Dm (ADxF) except the F is an octave higher (D1-A1-F2). You could try an open Dm or perhaps some painful like X258.

04-18-2011, 09:50 PM
If you play the bass you'll be able to make those stretches without a problem :P

04-18-2011, 11:21 PM
For that book he played everything on a concert fluke. He wanted to demonstrate that you didn't need a high end instrument to produce beautiful music. I know it's hard that 2nd and 8th fret one but keep trying. it is possible. I have managed it on a tenor. At first i thought there's no way but keep at it your fingers will, well...may get there. : )

04-19-2011, 01:07 AM
I'd also love to see a video of John King playing this! I got a similar problem with the Lyle Ritz book. At the end of Lulu there's a 10-7-6-11 chord that is called Ab13. No idea how to tackle this :confused:

04-19-2011, 03:33 AM
Reason #23 not to play tenor.


04-19-2011, 06:44 AM
John King did an excellent job arranging these pieces in a way that emphasizes the difference between ukulele and guitar. The huge stretches are a LOT easier on a smaller instrument, and I can see why some would even find the 2-to-8 stretch tricky on a concert or tenor. But it's nearly impossible on a guitar unless you fret the lower note with your thumb! A lot of his arrangements also really take advantage of the high G (like the crazy triplet runs up the scale in "Chopsticks"). There are easier ways to play these pieces, but I feel like I'm getting the most out of the book when I play them as they're tabbed, and learning all the strange new finger patterns that separate the uke from all other instruments. If nothing else, this is a good excuse to buy another, smaller uke!

04-19-2011, 08:45 AM
While a different genre, and not taking away anything from John King's great playing, Jake makes a 2nd-9th fret stretch on his tenor when playing Hallelujah.


04-19-2011, 09:00 AM
...A lot of his arrangements also really take advantage of the high G (like the crazy triplet runs up the scale in "Chopsticks"). There are easier ways to play these pieces, but I feel like I'm getting the most out of the book when I play them as they're tabbed, and learning all the strange new finger patterns that separate the uke from all other instruments...

Yes! Those triplets are ferocious. And, of course, they only sound good if they're really smooth. One of the trickiest things I've tried on the ukulele.

04-19-2011, 10:52 AM
Thanks for all the additional good info. I am trying to bar the second fret, and use the pinky on the 8th. I almost make it. The tip about making use of thesilent 2nd string may help me put more pressure on that 8th fret.

I too want to play these as written. I am a fan of the re entrant tuning, so I am glad to see that Mr. King made special use of it in his arrangements. i am looking for those unique features while playing the uke. My only humble original piece is designed for re entrant tuning, although i haven't checked if it could be played on linear tuning or not. I'm guessing it could, but the campanella sound would likely not be possible, except on the re entrant tuning.

This has been super interesting stuff! Thanks again!


ps those triplets are one of my goals in that book!