Learn to Play ‘Glass Ball Slack Key’ from Led Kaapana

From the Winter 2017 issue of Ukulele | BY ADAM PERLMUTTER

Ledward Kaapana’s prodigious ukulele chops are in full force on “Glass Ball Slack Key,” a spirited showstopper that he sometimes calls “Chicken in the Straw.”

The music here depicts a note-for-note transcription from Kaapana’s 1994 Dancing Cat album Led Live—Solo and is a workout for both the picking and fretting hands. Before you tackle “Glass Ball Slack Key,” resist the temptation to lower your first string to G. The title is misleading; it’s actually played in standard re-entrant tuning.

If you glance through the music, you might find it pretty dense, but here’s the good news: it’s also highly repetitive. The piece has a fairly straightforward A–B structure, with each section eight measures (save for the last A, which is abbreviated).

The A section etches out a I–IV (C–F) progression, and once you’ve learned the first two bars you’ll know practically the whole section. Use whatever fingerings feel most comfortable for the dyads (two-note chords)—and go with them consistently. If you’d like, play this section with palm muting—remember, lightly rest your palm on the strings as you pick, producing a muffled sound. Kaapana picks with two fingers, using a thumbpick and a fingerpick on his index finger.


Astute listeners will notice that the B section has the same harmonic structure as “I Got Rhythm”—the Gershwin song that serves as the base for countless jazz numbers. Ditch the palm muting here for textural contrast. In terms of your fretting fingers, maintain a third-fret barre for measures 14 and 15, shifting up to a fifth-fret barre on the last eighth note (F) of bar 15. Keep that barre anchored until the second half of bar 19.

If you listen closely to the recording, you’ll hear that Kaapana adds lots of subtle improvised variations on the repeats. Be sure to do the same once you’ve got this awesome ukulele solo under your fingers.

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