Classical Ukulele: Learn Campanella Technique with a Fernando Sor Etude


In recent years it has become increasingly popular to arrange classical guitar repertoire for the ukulele. Despite the move from six strings to four, many pieces by guitar masters such as Fernando Sor and Ferdinando Carulli translate wonderfully well onto our beloved ukulele.

Books such as Tony Mizen’s The Romantic Ukulele, Paul Mansell’s Classical Gems, and my own 22 Pieces from Renaissance to Late Classical (from which this piece is excerpted) are helping broaden and deepen the repertoire of the ukulele, while enabling players to hone their musical and technical skills using the tried and tested repertoire of a kindred instrument. 

Fernando Sor (1778–1839) was a Spanish composer, virtuoso guitarist, and teacher who became widely known throughout Europe. One of his most famous pieces is the highly virtuosic Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart, Op. 9. Sor also wrote a method for the guitar and many didactic pieces of various levels. 


This etude, or study, by Sor is from his 25 Progressive Studies, Op. 60 for guitar. If you just balked at the word “study” because it sounds like homework, then take a couple of minutes to watch the video. I hope you come back inspired by the realization that this little etude is a beautiful piece of music. And just between you and me, I think it sounds even better on the ukulele than on the guitar! 

So, what’s the secret to this arrangement? The one-word answer is campanella. Anyone who has come across the work of classical ukulele pioneer John King will already be familiar with campanella style. King arranged an entire CD’s worth of music by J.S. Bach using campanella technique. If you haven’t come across campanella before, you’re in for a real treat. 

What do we mean by campanella style? Take a few moments to cast your eyes over the tab and notice how the notes are constantly moving across the strings. By placing the notes on alternating strings, each note is free to ring on and over the previous notes, thus creating a bell-like effect. Hence the name campanella, which is Italian for “little bell.” Note also how the tab makes the positions of the notes on the fingerboard very clear and avoids the need for a lot of fingering indications. 

Campanella was first used by Baroque guitarists in the 17th century. The Baroque guitar, like the ukulele, used reentrant tuning. Composers such as Gaspar Sanz realized that melodic notes could be played on the fourth—or in the case of the Baroque guitar—fifth strings to create interesting over-ringing effects. An example of this can be heard on the second and third beats of measure 2 of the etude. The open E, or second string, is followed by F on the fifth fret of the third string and then an open G, or fourth string. The over-ringing notes create subtle dissonances. The E to F, which is a minor second, clashes, while the open G sounds a minor third with the open E and a major second with the F. It sounds complicated, but have a listen and let your ears be the judge. Campanella is like a musical watercolor, with subtle harmonic shadings rather than clearly defined melodic lines. 

On the ukulele, campanella is one of the most advanced techniques, as it requires careful placement of both the picking-hand fingers and stopping-hand fingers. King took campanella to a new level by arranging entire pieces in this style rather than specific passages. My arrangement of this etude by Sor contains some campanella passages and is a good introduction to playing in this style. Apart from the penultimate bar, all the notes are single. A single line of music might appear easy but, as we dive into the music in the tutorial video, you will see how there is actually a lot going on. I would therefore invite you to watch the video first, as I explain the positioning of the notes and offer fingerings to help you navigate the piece. One advantage of playing this etude is that you will learn how to play notes in different positions and how to move up the fingerboard with more fluency. With a little time and effort, you will have a beautiful classical piece to add to your repertoire. Whatever your level of experience, I’m excited to be taking you on this campanella journey!

Campanella Technique with a Fernando Sor Etude for ukulele music notation