By Jacqui Grennan

BachUkeBook-175The Bach Uke Book is a surprisingly pleasing book for aficionados of classical music who also play the ukulele. The clean sounds of the Bach pieces arranged in fingerpicking style with some two, three, and four note chords mixed into the melody are at times reminiscent of the sounds of a harpsichord.

While the ukulele is mostly known for its origins as a Hawaiian folk instrument, and prior to that, as a Portuguese folk instrument, the classical pieces in this book will help any musician to become familiar with the whole instrument and to work on tempos and variations within the music.

The pieces range from easy to challenging but are not placed in the book in the order of difficulty nor is their any notation on the piece to indicate the level of difficulty of the piece. It is up to the musician to determine the level of difficulty for themselves. The more challenging pieces, such as Minuet in F, Polonaise in Gm, and Sheep May Safely Graze, include triplets, sixteenth and thirty-second notes and intricate phrasing.

The tabs are written in such a way that the left hand flows from string to string and gives a smoothness to the phrasing of the piece. In addition, the tabs allow for the efficient use of the whole neck, at times up to the 14th fret. There is no strumming for any of the pieces in this book.

Each piece in this compilation of 20 pieces by Bach and those close to Bach, as explained within the first few pages of the book, are arranged as duets for standard GCEA strung ukuleles with baritone DGBE strung ukuleles. The two parts are not identical but rather provide harmony and counterpoint to the other instrument. This review is only for the standard GCEA strung ukulele arrangements. The arrangements include both the musical notation and the numbered tabs for each string, however, not all of the tabs indicate the value of the note as to how long it should be held so the musician will need to refer to the musical notation to derive an accurate reading of the value of the note.

There is an audio CD provided with the book with all of the pieces played as a duet. The beautiful arrangements on the CD can help with phrasing and tempo, especially for the musician with minimal knowledge of music theory. However, I found that the fast tempo of the pieces on the CD made it ineffective as a practice tool for playing along with the CD.

All in all, I enjoyed playing through the pieces in this book and particularly the pieces I am familiar with such as Minuet in G, Minuet in Gm, and Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring but all of the pieces are worth playing through as they produce a nice sound on the ukulele. I would recommend this book to fellow ukulele musicians from beginners to advanced. The easier pieces are approachable for a person new to tablature and there is much room for growth as the musician progresses through to more challenging pieces. However, at least some knowledge of how to read musical notation, such as time signature and how to determine a note’s value are helpful to anyone using this book since this information is not provided within the book itself.

Jacqui Grennan is a ukulele musician, instructor, and enthusiast as well as a dance caller in the Los Angeles area.