Pressed For Time – Gordon Duncan

This tune, written by the Scottish bagpiper Gordon Duncan is interesting in that is has some guitar-style licks in it, not at all what you’d expect from bagpipes! I listened to the Irish group Flook playing this and the guitarist used a simple backing of G, D and A (it’s in the key of D). The way he played them reminded me of early AC/DC songs like “Live Wire”, so I decided to add electric guitar to my arrangement. The 16th notes which are played for ornamentation are done by ‘chicken picking’ the same string (so not campanella) -thumb, middle, thumb. I’ve written out the tab so you can try for yourself if you wish.

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the Road to Ballinamuck

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My tribute to Maggie Boyle who died last year at the young age of 57.
A lovely person who I had the privilege to meet a couple of times on the UK folk scene. If you think you’ve never heard of her, you might remember the theme tune to Patriot Games with Harrison Ford ( ), and also Legends of the Fall, both scores written by James Horner, a big Celtic music fan.
This simple tune is actually quite tricky to play in the campanella style – the repetition of E’s and F’s in the first part need to played alternately on the third and second strings. The original had Maggie on flute and tin whistle and Steve Tilston on guitar.
Listen to it here:

Thanks to Baton Rouge Ukuleles for my new instrument, the V6 C Venus

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Campanella Pentatonic Scale

I made this improvisation to demonstrate how playing a simple pentatonic scale can produce very relaxing sounds which are great for meditating or just chilling out. I’m not the kind of person that finds it easy to meditate properly, but I do find it incredibly relaxing to take my guitar or uke and play these scales. Pentatonic scales are common all around the world and might remind you here of what we imagine oriental music to sound like.

Here is one way to play the D minor scale:

Going up the neck a bit higher:


In the video I also use harmonics to go higher – natural harmonics on the first and fourth strings 12th fret and artificial harmonics on the C – first string third fret (touch the string on the fifteenth fret to produce the harmonic); C – second string first fret (13th fret for the harmonic) and D third string second fret (14th fret for the harmonic).

If you like this and want to use it for chilling out, you can download the MP3 (for free or for a donation if you feel like it) here: here at

Campanella or Bust

I must admit that I hated, I mean really hated ukuleles until quite recently. Guitars were my life. A total obsession. Not that I was ever a great guitarist, I’m an average player I guess but perhaps with an above-average passion. Guitars, guitars, guitars, that’s practically all I’ve been interested in since I was a nerdy teenager. How I wished I could have been Angus Young or Pete Townsend wielding my ax in front of a stadium full of adoring fans. Alas, I would never be that good, but guitars for me were still the coolest things ever invented.

Ukuleles, on the other hand, are not cool. They look like toy guitars and they only have four strings. You can only play plinky-plonky strummy chords on them. The only time they look good is in the hands of some cute, grass-skirted Hawaiian girl. Simply put, they are not rock ‘n’ roll. Not a symbol of rebellion. No-one ever smashed a ukulele on stage (would all be over too quickly). My dad used to sing George Formby songs and that was enough for me dismiss the instrument for life.

A little glimmer of curiosity was aroused however a few years ago when we stayed a few days with some friends and I was asked to tune the little ‘guitar’ that they had bought for their son of about six. My diagnosis was rapid, it certainly wasn’t a guitar but a wretched ukulele – guitars have six strings, not four. Then I noticed the bottom string wasn’t bottom – it was thinner than the two middle strings. Huh, they didn’t even put the strings in the right order, what cretin sold you this? – I thought privately, not out loud. I searched for ‘how to tune a ukulele’ and found that there was no mistake, the ‘bottom’ string should be high G (so not bottom either in position or pitch, I’ll call it fourth string from now on). So I get it tuned up to what I later discover is called re-entrant tuning. Interesting. I take a piece of paper and a pencil and start writing out chord shapes of easy chords so I can play a few songs. But the fingerstylist in me can’t resist picking those strings instead of strumming, and I find that the high g sounds nice. I shouldn’t have been surprised, I have a Bolivian charango where the course in the middle is tuned at octaves, so I knew that not all guitar-like instruments are tuned in ascending order.

Moving on to a couple of years ago, and I think to myself that it’s a pity that when we take the car to go away on holiday or for a weekend there’s never enough room for my guitar, what with the kids, the luggage and often, the dog. So walking around Bordeaux centre one day I buy a ukulele. I explain to my wife, yes, yes, I know, I’ve always hated ukuleles, but hey, it’s just a small guitar, and it might be easier for our son to get started with music on a uke rather than on my big steel-stringed guitar. And it takes up virtually no space in the car!

I didn’t have the scribbled chord diagrams from before, so the easiest thing to do is print some off the internet. And that’s when I discovered by chance a site called by Tim Keough. Tim arranges tunes in campanella – a word that I guessed had something to do with bells (campanology is the proper word for church bell-ringing, and a campanile is an independent bell tower). This blew me away. Obviously it was a big advantage for me to have played finger-style guitar (often in open tunings) for many years so these arpeggios were some of the first things I learned on the uke:

thanks to this man, my opinion of ukuleles went from ‘toy guitar for nerds’ to ‘amazingly versatile instrument with cool sound’.

So what exactly is campanella? It actually means “little bell” and that’s the effect we’re trying to get – when you hear church bells, one doesn’t stop ringing before the next one starts – they all ring at the same time. The same for a harp. A harp doesn’t have a neck where you can put your fingers to change the pitch of a string, so one string, one note. On the ukulele (and other fretted instruments, notably the baroque guitar), campanella picking means avoiding playing two notes on the same string whenever possible, taking advantage of the re-entrant tuning (where two strings are only one tone apart). Using open strings as much as you can and alternating between strings rather than playing successive notes on the same string really does make the uke sound like a little harp.

Arranging tunes in campanella is challenging, but ukulele re-entrant tuning (high G) makes it possible. Most of the tunes I’ve uploaded were first learned on other instruments (guitar, mandolin, whistle) so the first thing I do is figure out the tune on the uke anywhere (i.e. not campanella), then when I’m happy that the tune is accurate, I try to look for different ways to play it avoiding playing two notes on the same string.

Watch me playing some campanella scales and download the tabs over here