Learn to Play “Can‘t Help But Smile,” Jim Beloff‘s Ukulele Festival Theme Song


In the early 2000s, thanks to a renewed interest in the ukulele, festivals dedicated to the instrument began to sprout up all across the United States. My wife, Liz, and I were invited to perform and teach at many of them. One of the biggest, the Southern California Ukulele Festival in Cerritos, attracted over 1,000 attendees, and in 2004 festival director Susan McCormick asked me to write a theme song for the event.

Check out more music to play here

It took a couple of versions before I settled on the song as it exists today. My first attempt sounded a bit too much like a jingle for a local car dealer (a “Come on down to Cerritos” sort of thing). Liz nixed that one. Then I thought about how often people would say, “You can’t help but smile when you see a ukulele.” 

That ultimately led to “Can’t Help But Smile.” The version that Susan adopted had the same chorus as the one featured here, but with verses that were specific to the fest. This was the original first verse:


In the city of Cerritos, California
We have a passion
We can’t deny
Ev’ry year we hold a festival to honor
The ukulele
And this is why

However, because the chorus had such a universal message, I thought a further rewrite of the verses could turn the song into a kind of ukulele anthem for Liz and me. That version of “Can’t Help But Smile” is the one we included in The Daily Ukulele songbook and essentially the one you’ll find here. Over the years, it’s also become a theme song for some ukulele clubs, including SSCUM (St. George and Sutherland Community of Ukulele Musicians), the first uke club established in Sydney, Australia. 

Here are some performance tips: For the first verse, I’m mostly using a tremolo strum with various dramatic stops, and the tempo is ad libbed to help build tension and set up the chorus. The chorus tempo and strum (down–down/up–down/up–down) continue on right through the second verse and chorus until the repeat of the last line, where I use a combination of stops and tremolo strums to bring the song to a rousing finish. 

On the video, you’ll notice I use a variety of techniques to add spice to the performance. These include chord slides where the G chord slides back one fret, to F# and then returns to G (feel free just to stick on a G chord if it feels more natural), roll strum stops, and fourth-finger extensions. In general, if that digit is available, I’ll often find a use for it somewhere to add color to a chord, such as in the D13 voicing here. 

You’ll also notice that I use the “pinky G” chord fingering (second, fourth, and third fingers on strings 3, 2, and 1, respectively) which happens to perfectly set up two chords that sometimes follow, E7 and G7. In addition, I form the Am chord with my second finger, which sets up the Hawaiian D7, allowing for an easy drop down back to the pinky G. Keep on singing, strumming, and smiling!