Learn to Play an Israel Kamakawiwo’ole Classic, ‘Ka Pua U‘I’


On his version of Bina Mossman’s classic “Ka Pua U`I” (“The Beautiful Flower”) Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole dresses up a simple chord progression with some jazz strums and fills, in an arrangement that’s as infectious as his wildly popular medley of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World.” “Ka Pua U‘I” was recorded on ukuleles with low-G strings, but this arrangement’s standard notation is written for re-entrant tuning. It sounds just as good in either tuning.

Check out more music to play here

Begin learning the piece by making yourself familiar with the eight chord frames shown at the beginning of the arrangement (below). Then, pick one of these chords and work on strumming it in a swing feel. Alternate down and up strums in a steady stream of eighth notes. To nail that lilting and relaxed effect, play those eighths not equally, but long-short, at an approximate ratio of 2:1. You can use a basic swung eighth-note pattern for most of the song, but try the triplet-based strum, shown here in bars 3 and 4 of the intro, to signal the end of each verse.

Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, Facing Future, 1993.

The piece begins with the all-time classic strummed Hawaiian intro. Check out bars 2–4 of the notated intro to learn the lead line that ends this section and appears in expanded form in the outro. Start it in third position, grabbing the high E with your fourth finger, then move down to first position on beat 3 of bar 3. Remember to play those eighth notes long-short, and listen to Iz’s recording on Facing Future to get a sense of the subtle improvised variations you might use on this figure. (Iz previously played the song with the Makaha Sons of Ni‘ihau.)


In the fifth bar of each verse, there’s an Am-to-F progression. You can navigate the Am chord by simply playing the open A-minor grip, but if you’d like to match the recording exactly, use the embellishments shown in the alternate pattern here. Keep your second finger held in place, and fret the third- and second-fret notes with your fourth and third fingers, respectively.

At the end of each verse, a simple fill has complex harmonic implications. On the G7 chord, the notes Eb and Ab are the flatted 13th and flatted ninth, respectively—altered chord extensions used often in jazz, to add tension. Try playing these notes as E and A natural, to best appreciate how they sound when altered.

“Ka Pua U‘I,” wraps up with an instrumental section, played by a pair of ukuleles in approximate unison. There’s no strumming in this section; the chord progression is implied by what the bass plays. But if you’d like to create your own accompaniment part here, just refer to the chord symbols.

Uke Lesson Tab Chords Iz Ka Pua Ui Lesson Video Ukulele

“Ka Pua U’I” words and music by Bina Mossman. ©1955 (renewed) Criterion Music Corp. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. Reprinted by permission of Hal Leonard LLC.