Ukulele Holiday 2017



holiday blog shotLights and feasts and family and song- It’s that time of year! We all want to share something meaningful with those we love. This year, why not make it musical? Here are four ways to give gifts to self, gifts to the universe and gifts for all ages on your list this holiday season.

First- why not bring a song to your celebration? How about learning the uke just in time for the season of song? Here are our class listings for December at McCabes:


Learn the basics of playing ukulele to your favorite holiday tunes! Pick up strumming, plucking, and chording a ukulele while singing along to Christmas, Hanukkah, and secular seasonal songs from many cultures.
Heidi Swedberg 10:30 – 11:30 AM Saturday, Dec 9 (1 session) $40


Follow up Heidi’s one-day ukulele class with this more challenging course. Learn fun tunes that consist of few chords and simple arrangements. You’ll leave with plenty of songs to share with your family and friends this holiday season.
Heidi Swedberg 10:30 – 11:30 AM Saturday, Dec 16 (1 session) $40


Learn a collection of warm-ups and short songs that help develop your tone and dexterity (and sense of rhythm), all while producing beautiful, meditative music. These arpeggio “loop” exercises can help beginning and advanced players develop more expressive playing. Practicing doesn’t have to be a chore. With these tools, you can relax with your ukulele and get better everyday!
Daniel Ward 12:00 – 1:00 PM Saturdays, Dec 9 – Dec 16 (2 sessions) $70

Second, BOOKS!


Death by G-String C.C. Harrison, a uke pal from Arizona has published a grand ukulele murder mystery. I LOVED the galleys, you’ll LOVE the book

Arpeggio Meditations for Ukulele  Daniel’s long-awaited book is out and hot. Already entering it’s second printing, the book is a unique take on the ukulele, offering musical studies which are meditative and beautiful while being educational. (Right now he is offering a special holiday offer- FREE shipping when you buy any 2 or more items, including all our CDs, his book, and Color-Along Ukulele)

arpeggio book cover

Color-Along Ukulele Want to learn ukulele? Like to color? Why not do both at the same time! Download the FREE companion recordings so you can listen and learn. Learn your first twelve chords, play great songs- even one in Hawaiian, and do that doodle that you do so well. FUN FOR ALL AGES.

Ukulele Magazine Daniel and I have been enjoying contributing articles and lessons to Uke Mag, and I think you might like to have it delivered to your mailbox! You could get a digital only subscription, but there is something mighty fine about the definite article and with their Holiday Subscription special it is really affordable! (We are giving more than a few of these to those on our list)


Mim’s Ukes Her motto is “Every uke deserves a great set-up!” And when you order a uke from Mim, that is just what you will get!

Ordinarily I tell people to go to their local store, but with big chains eating up local merchants there are few cities lucky enough to have an honest music store with high-end and student models and a luthier willing to stake their reputation on the set-up of every model walking out their door.  Many internet retailers know nothing about ukuleles besides their profit margins, and would never take the time to work on the action of an inexpensive instrument, or guide you to what level ax you should buy.

But then there is Mim. She ushers you into her living room, whether you walk in to her shop through the barn door in Meadows of Dan, VA or the World Wide Web. I have never met anyone so passionate and dedicated as Mim. Whether your needs lead you the most or least expensive instrument in her stock, she will be sure you are well-matched, and your instrument is the best it can be.

Terry Merry CU

TERRY HARRIS If you want a hand built instrument, Terry is your man. Now that he has fully retired from ranching, the instruments he is building are more beautiful than ever- and the sound is… wow.  We visited him at his Kernville, CA ranch over Thanksgiving weekend where he strung up his latest build for us to try out. It blew us away! He has a few more wood sets just like this, and if you are fast and smart, one of them could be yours.

Terry Harris uke 2

Cedar top. Indian rosewood sides and back. Koa binding. Pure gold.



Fourth and finally- SHARING

PICKLEBERRY PIE   This year, Pickleberry Pie, an organization that sponsors concerts for hospitalized children is raising operating funds. Daniel and I have loved going room-to-room at Cedars Sinai’s pediatric ward, visiting kids and their families, making them laugh or sing a baby to sleep.  The calm that music can give, the bond it creates is no small thing.  Help this organization continue it’s meaningful work.




All for uke and uke for ALL!

As you may know I am a BIG fan of music’s magical power to bring people together.  The songs we know connect us to people and places far and near.  Starting with the bond of lullaby and ending with the bagpipe’s requiem, music is with us all our lives.  I could go on and on… in fact, I do!

Family style!

Family style!  Photo by Jill Richards

I did just the other day to October Crifasi, who is writing an article for Ukulele Magazine about ukulele for kids (that’s the same magazine which had me on their cover last spring!).  We talked, among other things, about family music- how great it is to teach parents and kids together.  The bond it creates within the family, the service it does for both parent and child.  You can read about it in Ukulele Magazine’s next issue (unless they decide to not print it- you never know).

Or you can come and live the experience!  I have two series classes for families starting up:  A four-Saturday session starting February 28th at 10:30 am at Uspace– the new downtown LA ukulele shop-school-venue-cafe located in the Japanese American Cultural Center.  (I am also working on a week long kid’s ukulele summer camp there. More on that soon)

And a 3-Saturday 10:30 am series at McCabes in Santa Monica starting March 28th.

I am also hard at work on a book! If you have taken a class with me before you have probably taken home at least one of my handouts.  I have been illustrating my lessons, and when I teach an all-ages class I always have Art Stix  or crayons on hand to give the kids who get antsy mid lesson.  They can do some coloring while the adults keep playing.  They make their own songbooks, and by the end of a semester or session they have.. a bunch of sheets of paper that all get lost.

So- I decided it’s time to get it together!  Our current project is a ukulele method book with illustrations and companion recordings.  Copies will be available to pre-order through Kickstarter soon.  You will be hearing all about that once the campaign is launched!  The art by El Rey is FANTASTIC!  here is a sneak peek at the cover-

Uke Songbook Mockup Front Cover only for Kickstarter640 x 480

So much going on! So many festivals coming up, concerts for families… I have not had a chance to post photos from all the great things that have just happened- like the trip to Mexico…. AMAZING!  If I can get the time together to make it back to the computer I will be popping some pictures up here as well as updating our schedule for the spring.  So many great opportunities to share music!  How lucky are we?

Life Skills not Land Fill (Holiday shopping guide 2013)

Instead of giving a “thing” this year- how about giving…. permission!  To yourself, first, and then to those you love.

Permission not to follow the rules, to follow your heart.  To share the wealth of love rather than the poverty of obligation.  Or to give the most precious of gifts- your time and affection in a communal act of sharing a meal, a conversation or a song.  The giving of gifts is about connection.  And so is music.


This year Hanukkah came and went mighty early, but we are not slowing down on the Dreidel song.  It is my favorite Holiday party tune.  For one thing it only has 2 chords so even the newest player can join in.  And non- players can get in on the improvising of the verses.  We sing it as a rhyming game-  each “making” our dreidel out of what ever crazy thing we can think of- and then twisting a rhyme. “Dreidel, dreidel , dreidel, I made you out of…sugar! And now my pretty dreidel is a dried up little booger!”   (Highbrow!)

This year we made a dreidel for real. “Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, made from a CD!  I like to spin my dreidel- won’t you spin it with me!”

It’s a scratched disc turned upside down, the hebrew characters drawn on in sharpie.  We hot-glued a marble in the middle for the first one, but it fell out after repeated play.  In a moment of crafty inspiration we used an eye– the kind one would use when making a stuffed animal- and it works like a charm! (we do have some of the oddest odds ‘n’ ends around here.)

Our other favorite holiday song we are sharing this year is “I Saw Three Ships”.  Sung to the tune of “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush” it is instantly accessible.

“I saw three ships come sailing in, I saw three ships come sailing in, I saw three ships come sailing in on Christmas Day in the Morning” is the best known verse.  In the next verse we ask “What do you think was in those ships, what do you think was in those ships, what do you think was in those ships on Christmas Day in the morning?”

And then the fun part:  following the same form we sing  the answers.  Santa Claus, Christmas Trees, Toys and gifts, Silly kids….

Listen to a gorgeous version of this song (without the silly verses) on Elizabeth Mitchell and You are My Flower’s brand-new holiday album “The Sounding Joy”  .  This is an gorgeous collection of songs played and arranged with so much love you will want to have every one of them in your heart to share forever.  They are old songs with so much connection they resonate long and deep.  Your grandmother might know these songs.  Your children definitely should know them.  When people record music like this they are sharing a huge gift- teaching us the songs we need to know to make our lives better.

I look around at the pain and the troubles in life- my own small problems and those of others who facenfar more difficult circusmtances then I will ever know- sometimes I wonder- what is the point?  What is there to celebrate?  What can we do? What is it that makes it all worthwhile?  The answer always comes back the same: LOVE.  Joining others in song is bringing about peace.  Harmony is harmony.  Connecting to one another, finding and sharing love, making just one sparkling moment of music with one another- that’s all there really is.  And it’s worth it.

Share a song this year.  It is the most beautiful gift in the world.  Here’s a link to a song for you– It’s not a commercial recording- just a rehearsal track I made for the 5th grade girls at one of my schools who wanted a challenge.   I made the arrangement, Daniel recorded it in the bedroom and slapped on a bunch of church-y reverb.  I made it for practical reasons: so they could listen to it over and over and learn their parts.  Do I care whether it’s “good enough” to share?

No.  It is.  It’s good enough because it is full of love.

Now- give yourself permission to share a song, whether or not it is “ready” or “good”.  Give it with love.  You will be giving the greatest gift in the world!  (and if you do- please- write and tell me about it- that will be a gift to me!)

Holiday Ukulele Gift Guide

I am often asked to recommend ukuleles for purchase.  Here is my list for 2012, from the cheapest to the finest and lots inbetween plus the most neccesary accessories.

 very ukulele christmas!

But, let me begin by urging you consider  spending more.

When I turned a certian age I bought myself  what I referred to as my “mid-life crisis present”.  A Kamaka Ota San.  It was waaaay more money then I had.   My teacher, the beloved John Zhender, was dying.  I had been playing the Kamaka weekly, pulling it off the wall at McCabes for several months when I came for my  lesson.  It was made for a low G, (which was how John liked to play), it was beautiful in every way, made of koa with rope binding and a creamy tone.  Fancy.  I wanted it, but I thought I wasn’t a good enough player to warrant such an extravagance.  John encouraged me and in a moment of weakness I put it on lay away.  (and a serious hardshell case for it to travel in!)

Best thing I ever did.  I got it on my birthday, took it to John’s house for a visit when he was in hospice.  Two days later he passed away.  I Played it at his memorial service. Since then I have played it almost every day, and I believe I have grown into it.  I am still not a great player, but it has become my voice.  I don’t know if my journey would have been the same without the inspiration which a beautiful instrument gave me.  Not that you have to go all the way on your first instrument, or on a present for a child.  But if you listen to an instrument, find one with a beautiful voice, you may want to hear that voice all the more often.

The Ohana and the Kamaka at Austin City Limits Festival

The Ohana and the Kamaka at Austin City Limits Festival

So….Let’s start at the middle, and with a full disclosure.  Ohana has been very generous to the Sukey Jump Band this year and even took Daniel and myself to China (see the last few posts).  However,  I played an Ohana for several years before any of this came to pass.  (pause for another personal story)

I wanted a good instrument with a pick up to plug in for stage shows.  I sure didnt want to drill a hole in my Kamaka, so I went with my very small purse to McCabes.  They set me up with an instrument that had been damaged and repaired, putting it in my very meager price range.  I loved it, and have treasured it since, cracks and all.

For mid-range instruments, even starter mid-range I recommend Ohana.  This is not just an endorsement talking,  I really do like their stuff.  I also love their company.  Small and sweet, a more decent crew you never met.  The owner, Louis Wu, personally rolls his sleves up to do set up on even the least expensive models.  That’s him in our Owl and the Pussycat video shot in the warehouse.

Of the starter soprano models I like the pineapple uke, pk-10s.  This shape is not usually my first choice, but it’s got a great sound, a little fuller then the standard shape. I use their concert model ck 10 as my “kit”, and if you have borrowed an instrument from me in the last year that would be it.  They do well with a Low G, which, as you may know, is the way I roll.  Even beginners deserve a good instrument.  Trust me, it is well worth a little extra to have a pleasant tone and good action.

My main axe is a CK 50G.  It rocks.  In this video Daniel plays the tenor version and I play my concert at radio station KDHX in St Louis durring spin around the  Musical Merry Go Round with  Grandpa Paul Stark.  I also like their willow-sided ones and I really like the Martin-inspired soprano I noodled around with in China.  (but I don’t know the stock number)

If you want better you gotta go handmade.  BIG price jump.

Elevator up…..

All the way to Michael DaSilva.

Michael making something beautiful

Michael making something beautiful

Really, go all the way.  Go meet him, hang in his shop. Once you do you will never want a factory instrument again.  You will pine for the hand made beauty of his instruments.  I LOVED the one he made for James hill.  It has the sexiest cutaway I have ever caressed.  His shop is a beautiful home for the heart of a musician and he is the dearest man you will ever meet.  Not that Michael’s are the most expensive instruments out there.  He is probably overly modest in his pricing.  I do think they are among the sweetest.  They are alive.  They sing.  It is a joy to hold them in your arms.

The James hill model.   Tasty.

The James hill model. Tasty.

Elevator down….

The best of the bottom.

Buying something for a 2 year old?  Want something to keep in the back of your car?  Take to the beach?  First timer wanting to try it out, no risk?  Want to buy 20 ukes to give as gifts to all you know?   Diamond head.  Get it on Amazon.  CHEEP.  Like around 30 bucks.Oddly, I have foundthe shiny painted ones to have a better sound then the “natural” wood.  Remember, you get what you pay for,but this time around you get a playable instrument, cheerful and fun.  These used to be my “kit” before I upgraded to Ohana concert ukes.  Change the strings and they are better then most instruments costing twice that. Here is a video of a young man playing one to great effect.  (and I am poud to say, covering one of my songs!)

at $30 bucks nobody gets hurt

at $30 bucks nobody gets hurt


Tuner    the Snark.

chord book        The Alfred Handy Guide

instructional CDs   Jim deVille  or Fred Sokolow

and of course, I would be remiss not to indulge in a moment of SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION not to recommend my CD PLAY, which is comprised of many of the simple songs I  use to teach ukulele to all ages.  The included booklet has all the chords and lyrics, and it’s a good time for the youngest of kids and even grandparents.  It has a wacky edge and adults dig it too.  At least the cool ones.

The ultimate gift for any ukulele player is lessons!

I still take lessons whenever I can, either with Fred Sokolow or Daniel Ward.  He taught traditional sevillanas for ukulele at a recent workshop at McCabes, and I really dug being introduced to that!  Lots of teachers, like Jim, Daniel and myself are available to teach via skype, so you are never too far away.  And you don’t have to smell us!

More affordable are workshops and group lessons.  Great music shops, like McCabes in Santa Monica often host them.  I will be leading one there on February 2nd, the lovely Jim Beloff has one there in January.  Check in with your local ukulele club and see if they know what’s going on in your area.

A fun way to give a gift without spending a dime is to share your songs on    I will be making my friends and family some charts for lullabies and putting them up as a Holiday gift, and then sending them home-recorded MP3s.  Ain’t technology wonderful?

So, what are you doing sitting around reading this?  Go buy a uke and download a chart (maybe buy my CD) and MAKE SOME MUSIC!