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How to play ukulele like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

How to play ukulele like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
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Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, also known as Iz, was a Hawaiian musician who became famous for his ukulele playing, particularly for his medley of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World.” His unique and soulful approach to the ukulele has inspired many aspiring musicians to learn how to play like him.

The ukulele is a small, guitar-like instrument that originated in the 19th century in Hawaii. It gained popularity in the early 20th century and has since become synonymous with Hawaiian music and culture. Today, the ukulele has experienced a resurgence in popularity, with many musicians, including Iz, incorporating its sweet, melodic tones into their music.

To play ukulele like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, one must first familiarize themselves with the instrument. Iz was known for his effortless playing style and smooth, flowing chords. Learning the basics of playing the ukulele, such as finger placement and strumming techniques, is essential for aspiring musicians who want to emulate his sound.

According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Music Merchants, ukulele sales have skyrocketed in recent years, with a 54% increase in sales from 2019 to 2020. This surge in popularity can be attributed to the instrument’s ease of learning and its appeal to musicians of all levels.

In addition to mastering the technical aspects of playing the ukulele, aspiring musicians can study Iz’s music to understand his unique style. By listening to his recordings and watching videos of his performances, musicians can gain insight into his finger-picking patterns, chord progressions, and overall approach to playing the instrument. Emulating his style can help musicians develop their own signature sound while paying homage to Iz’s musical legacy.

How can I play ukulele like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole?

Learning how to play ukulele like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole involves understanding his unique strumming style, mastering his iconic songs, and developing a deep connection to the history and culture of Hawaii. By studying his techniques and incorporating them into your playing, you can begin to capture the soulful sound that made Kamakawiwo’ole a legendary ukulele player. Keep reading to discover the step-by-step guide on how to play ukulele like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.

Learn to Strum like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, also known as Iz, was a legendary Hawaiian musician known for his soulful voice and unique ukulele playing style. To play ukulele like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, you’ll need to master his signature strumming technique. Iz often used a relaxed and fluid strumming pattern that complemented his soothing vocals. To emulate his style, focus on keeping your strumming hand loose and gentle, allowing the music to flow naturally.

Embrace Slack-Key Tuning

One of the defining characteristics of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s ukulele playing was his use of slack-key tuning. This technique involves detuning the strings of the ukulele to create an open, resonant sound. Iz favored a G-C-E-G tuning, which allowed him to produce rich, full-bodied chords that echoed the spirit of traditional Hawaiian music. Experiment with slack-key tuning to capture the essence of Iz’s iconic sound.

Incorporate Melodic Picking

In addition to his strumming and slack-key tuning, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole was known for his melodic picking style. He often weaved intricate melodies into his playing, adding depth and emotion to his performances. To play ukulele like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, work on incorporating melodic picking into your own playing. Experiment with fingerpicking patterns and explore the fretboard to create soulful melodies that mirror Iz’s distinctive sound.

Cultivate a Laid-Back Spirit

Above all, to truly play ukulele like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, it’s important to cultivate a laid-back, easygoing spirit. Iz’s music embodied the spirit of aloha, radiating warmth, positivity, and a deep connection to the natural world. Approach your ukulele playing with a similar sense of joy and tranquility, allowing the music to unfold organically and from the heart.

By mastering Iz’s signature strumming technique, embracing slack-key tuning, incorporating melodic picking, and cultivating a laid-back spirit, you can begin to capture the essence of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s iconic ukulele playing style.

Statistic: According to the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), ukulele sales have increased by 54% in the United States over the past five years.

Can I learn to play ukulele like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole even if I’m a beginner?

Yes, with dedication and practice, anyone can learn to play ukulele like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, even if you are a beginner. It may take time, but with consistent effort, you can improve your skills.

What kind of ukulele did Israel Kamakawiwo’ole play?

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole played a tenor ukulele, which is slightly larger than a concert or soprano ukulele and has a deeper sound. If you want to emulate his style, a tenor ukulele may be a good choice for you.

What are some signature techniques used by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole?

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole was known for his use of fingerpicking, strumming, and unique chord progressions. He also incorporated his own style of rhythmic playing, creating a signature sound that is distinctively his own.

How can I improve my fingerpicking skills on the ukulele?

To improve your fingerpicking skills, practice scales, finger exercises, and learn fingerpicking patterns from Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s songs. Additionally, watching instructional videos and seeking guidance from experienced players can also help improve your technique.

Are there any specific songs by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole I should learn to enhance my ukulele skills?

Yes, learning songs like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” can help enhance your ukulele skills, as these songs showcase Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s unique style and technique.

What resources are available for learning to play ukulele like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole?

There are numerous online resources, including tutorials, sheet music, and instructional videos that can help you learn to play ukulele like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. Additionally, seeking out a local instructor or joining a ukulele group can provide valuable guidance and support.

How important is practicing to improve my ukulele skills?

Practice is essential to improving your ukulele skills. Dedicate time each day to practicing, focusing on fingerpicking, strumming, chord progressions, and rhythm to develop a well-rounded skill set.

What kind of ukulele should I use to achieve the Israel Kamakawiwo’ole sound?

To achieve a sound similar to Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s, a tenor ukulele is a good choice due to its larger size and deeper tone. Experimenting with different types of strings and tunings can also help you achieve the desired sound.

Are there any specific techniques to emulate Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s strumming style?

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s strumming style involved a combination of traditional strumming and rhythmic techniques. To emulate his style, practice incorporating percussive elements into your strumming, as well as varying your strumming patterns to create a dynamic sound.

How can I develop my own unique style while learning to play ukulele like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole?

While learning to play like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, don’t be afraid to experiment with different techniques and incorporate your own musical influences. Over time, you will develop your own unique style while still honoring the legacy of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.


In conclusion, playing the ukulele like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole requires a combination of technical skill, musical understanding, and a deep connection to the soul of the music. By studying his unique strumming and picking patterns, as well as his use of open tunings and chords, aspiring ukulele players can begin to emulate his iconic sound. Additionally, understanding the cultural and historical context from which Kamakawiwo’ole drew his inspiration can further enhance one’s ability to capture the authentic essence of his music.

Furthermore, paying attention to the emotional depth and expression that Kamakawiwo’ole brought to his performances is crucial for those wanting to play the ukulele like him. This can involve not only mastering the technical aspects of his playing but also channeling the feeling and passion behind the music. By honing these skills and incorporating them into their own playing, ukulele enthusiasts can strive to embody the spirit and musicality of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, keeping his legacy alive through their own performances. Ultimately, playing the ukulele like him is not just about replicating his notes and chords—it’s about capturing the heartfelt emotion and cultural significance that made his music so timeless and revered.