From the Winter 2016 issue of Ukulele | BY ADAM PERLMUTTER
I didn’t necessarily want to like “Chocolate Banana Pie,” by the young Japanese uke master Ryo Natoyama. But as I prepared it in notation, I grew fonder of this cheery and wildly popular piece from his latest album, Made in Japan, To the World.
For his single version of “Chocolate Banana Pie,” Natoyama played the song in the studio with a full rock band. But on his Instagram page (@ry0ukulele), he plays a short and sweet unaccompanied version, apparently filmed impromptu. Since the solo rendition offers more for you to dig into, we wanted to use it as the basis for the arrangement shown here.
While Natoyama rendered the melody on the studio version in single notes, double-stops, and octaves, he plays the main theme in a fluid chord-melody style in the 45-second Instagram video. This advanced approach will take a bit of practice to master. Begin by making sure you’re familiar with the melody by listening to both the album version and the live version a few times.
Once you have the tune in your head, work on the first 16 bars, and take them slowly. Come up with fingerings that allow you to move between chords in the smoothest possible way; play the music fingerstyle, with your thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers assigned, respectively, to strings four, three, two, and one. Add a little emphasis to the melody notes—falling mostly on the first and second strings—and really try to make those notes sing.
If solo uke isn’t really your thing, learn to strum the chords marked above the music and sing the main theme, as notated in bars 17–30. Don’t worry too much about playing the strums exactly as written—try a basic “down-up” eighth-note pattern, muting the chords by periodically chocking the strings.
The tune’s rockin’ breakdown is depicted in the final eight bars of the notation (bars 31–38). Natoyama plays it pretty much the same in the video as he does on the recording, but you can hear what he’s doing much more clearly in this stripped-down version. This section makes good use of power chords—chords containing just roots and fifths. But more important than those chords are the rhythms, so be sure to nail those cool syncopations by counting carefully—and feeling them.
The original version!