Ukulele Book Review: How Hawaiian Music Changed the World, Jake Live Note for Note, Plus Star Wars and Peanuts Sheet Music


This roundup of ukulele in print covers a nonfiction history book (Kika Kila: How the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Changed the Sound of Modern Music), an impressive note-for-note transcription of Jake Shimabukuro’s Live in Japan album, and two collections of sheet music (collections from Star Wars and Peanuts).

Kika Kila

Kika Kila How the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Changed the Sound of Modern Music
Kika Kila: How the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Changed the Sound of Modern Music, John W. Troutman (UNC Press; $27.53)

As you may guess from the book’s title, Kika Kila is about steel guitar, but for Hawaiian music fans and ukulele historians alike, it may be the most important book to appear this year. Naturally, ukulele is mentioned frequently, but it’s tangential to Troutman’s deeply researched book describing how a style of playing from a small island group in the Pacific was created and exploded around the world, finding its way to Nashville’s characteristic pedal steel lines, bottleneck blues in the Mississippi Delta, and throughout Europe and Asia. Still, Kika Kila is essential for anyone who wants to know more about the tremendously fertile—and horribly imperialistic—world of 19th and early-20th century Hawaii, when new ideas poured in and amazing music poured out.


Jake Shimabukuro: Live in Japan

Jake Shimabukuro Live in Japan ukulele sheet music book
Jake Shimabukuro: Live in Japan(Hal Leonard, $22.99)

Transcribers Pete Billman and Bill LaFleur had their work cut out for them in these note-for-note transcriptions of Jake’s phenomenal playing from his 2016 live album. If you never develop Jake’s skills—or even learn one of these songs all of the way through—you will learn a lot just by trying to play a few of bars of these pieces. Live in Japan is stunning work transcribing some unparalleled playing. Like any good live record, expect to find several Jake favorites, such as “Dragon,” alongside several tracks from his last studio album Travels, and of course, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” 120 pages, $22.99.

Star Wars

star wars ukulele music notation book
Star Wars(Hal Leonard, $14.99)

Well, I didn’t know that I needed to learn how to play the iconic “Cantina Theme” or “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)” from Star Wars until this new Hal Leonard book of ukulele arrangements of John Williams’ music landed on my desk.

The arrangements use tab and notes to cover the famous themes from the popular films. Notes and tab of the melody lines, with chord accompaniment. 32 pages, $14.99.

The Charlie Brown Collection

charlie brown collection ukulele book
The Charlie Brown Collection(Hal Leonard, $14.99)

Based on Vince Guaraldi’s piano compositions and arranged for ukulele, these 17 favorites from the Peanuts cartoons, include the gorgeous, unhurried melody of “Christmas Time Is Here Again” and the must-learn “Linus and Lucy” theme. Notes and tab of the melody lines, with chord accompaniment. 48 pages, $14.99.