Video Lesson: James Hill Teaches ‘Freight Train’ in this Exclusive Excerpt from His New Book, ‘Duets for One’


Since 2000, the publishing company I founded with my wife Liz has released six books in our Ukulele Masters series. Ukulele-jazz legend Lyle Ritz arranged three of these books, one was arranged by Hawaiian virtuoso Herb “Ohta-san” Ohta, and one by the brilliant classical ukulele player and historian John King. All three arrangers easily met the definition of a “ukulele master,” and we’re grateful to have played a part in bringing their artistry to the ukulele world.

While in the current wave of ukulele enthusiasm there are many fine players blazing their own unique paths, only a select few have reached the bar set by our past masters. Without a doubt, James Hill is one of those arrangers—and he is the author of our newest Masters book.

According to James, the Duets For One concept was developed and perfected over many years of trial and error. Much like Lyle, Herb, and John before him, James succeeds in pushing the boundaries of the ukulele while keeping his work accessible to intermediate and advanced players. The ingenious solo arrangements in Duets For One go beyond conventional chord-melody (in which melody and accompaniment have more or less the same rhythm), creating instead the illusion of two independent parts playing in counterpoint on a single ukulele. When heard on the downloadable audio tracks that accompany the book, the effect is remarkable. Experienced live, it may prompt the listener to think that trickery is involved.

That’s the fun of it. As the global ukulele player universe evolves, it constantly seeks out new approaches to the instrument. Perhaps you’ll find something in the following “Freight Train” arrangement that will expand your idea of what can be done on four strings. Enjoy!

James’ Tips for Mastering the  Duets For One Style



The idea behind Duets For One is simple: play two parts at once. What makes it tricky is that the parts don’t have the same rhythm. Instead, the accompaniment part has a steady rhythm while the melody part is syncopated. The challenge (and fun) lies in creating the illusion that these two parts are being played by two people when, in fact, they’re not. The following arrangement of “Freight Train” is an example. Here are a few pointers to help you master the Duets For One sound.

Dynamic Duet: Dynamics can help you to differentiate between the melody and accompaniment parts. Try giving the melody a little extra volume and backing way off on the volume of the accompaniment chords. Seriously, you only need a “feather touch” on the accompaniment chords.

May the Melody Be Unbroken: Practice the melody until you can play it without unwanted gaps between the notes. When you add the chords, ask yourself, “is the melody still smooth and gap-free?” If not, you might need a better fingering to ensure that the melody line stays unbroken.

Re-entrant: This arrangement and all the others in the book are written specifically for re-entrant tuning. Although they could be adapted for low-G tuning, there are several arrangements in the book that rely heavily on the high-G string to achieve certain musical effects.

Your Turn: Once you get the hang of the Duets For One style, try applying it to other songs you know.

To view the sheet music, please see the print version of the Spring 2018 issue or pick up a copy of James’ book.