Tips for Playing Sons of Hawaii‘s “Mauna Alani“ on Ukulele


Like many, I first heard this lovely song on the classic and highly influential 1971 Sons of Hawaii record The Folk Music of Hawaii—also known as “The Five Faces” album after the portraits of the five members of the group depicted on the cover: guitarist Gabby Pahinui, ukulele players Eddie Kamae and Moe Keale, bassist Joe Marshall, and steel player David “Feet” Rogers. As much as any other album, this record helped usher in a true renaissance for traditional Hawaiian music.

“Mauna Alani” is a traditional Hawaiian song, suggested by Kamae, with lyric additions by Pilahi Paki (1910–1985), a beloved native Hawaiian poet, philosopher, linguist, educator, spiritual guide, songwriter, and author. The album’s notes say the song was inspired by “the first golden glow of the rising sun from Haleakala [Maui’s famous volcano] upon the mountain peak at Kahakuloa.” Israel Kamakawiwo’ole is among those who have covered the song, turning in a haunting version as part of his “Maui Medley” on his 1995 E Ala E album.

This is a fun solo arrangement, attempting to capture some of the wonderful vibe and bounce of the five-piece group and catch the call-and-response vocals in a solo setting. The intro is a V–I vamp (D7–G) typical in Hawaiian music—kind of like a reverse blues turnaround. I begin with a fingerpicked figure on the D7 chord and end with a downward strum on the G, leading in to the vocals.


Throughout the verse, there is a fingerpicked pattern with the thumb alternating between strings 4 and 3 and the fingers adding a syncopated melody above. I switch to a simple down-down-up strum pattern on the chorus.

On the album version, steel guitarist David Rogers shows the power, beauty, and simplicity of the song’s melody by quoting it in his solo, and I follow this framework on the 16-bar interlude. The trick here is to keep the groove going by hitting the strum right after the third melody note. After this instrumental section, there’s a return to the chorus, ending with a V–I vamp similar to the intro.

Happy picking and singing!

Due to copyright restrictions, we are unable to post notation or tablature for this musical work. If you have a digital or physical copy of the Summer 2023 issue of Ukulele magazine you will find the music on page 43.