Chapter 2: Campanella playing

Lesson 6: Introduction to campanella playing

The campanella technique originated somewhere in the renaissance and baroque guitar music. Back then, there existed an instrument that looked very similar to an ukulele. The so-called 4-course renaissance guitar was usually played with re-entrant tuning, and even the “modern” ukulele tuning (G4 C4 E4 A4) was used by some players of this period. This means that some of the old renaissance guitar tablatures can be played directly with a modern ukulele exactly as they are.

Re-entrant tunings are helpful when playing with the campanella technique: Whenever possible, subsequent notes are played on different strings. This works pretty well with re-entrant ukulele tuning, however there are other instruments as well that are well suited for this technique, for example the charango.

Using the campanella technique, the ukulele can yield an amazingly rich sound, that you perhaps wouldn’t expect from such a tiny instrument. The overlapping tones build up harmonies that can make playing even simple melodies an amazing sound experience. Therefore, it is possible to make relatively easy, yet good sounding arrangements in campanella technique, that are manageable even for a beginner. The fingerings are rather spaced out and not too difficult to execute. Nevertheless, there are some challenges for the left and the right hand. Here you have to learn to hit the right strings and frets in new positions.

My approach to the campanella technique is to pay attention which notes ring out. I don’t insist on letting all notes ring out on different strings as a matter of principle. Instead, I try to make sure that playability doesn’t suffer too much, and that the overlapping notes result in a pleasing sonic image.

A master of the campanella technique on the ukulele was John King.

Piece 11: Menuett (Minuet) by Johann Krieger

I adapted this wonderful minuet slightly in order to make it easily playable in the campanella technique. Make sure not to lift the fingers of the left hand earlier than absolutely necessary in order to allow the notes to ring out and overlap. In the bars 6-8 and 10-11 the 2nd finger can stay on the 3rd string, just slide it up and down accordingly.

Watch out for the fingering in the 14th and 15th bar: The little numbers above the notation staff tell which finger of the left hand should be used for the corresponding note.

When fretting, try not to touch other strings than intended, so that no strings are muted.

The markup “D.C. al Fine” means that the piece should be repeated from the beginning and played again up to the markup “Fine”.

Lesson 7: Repeating notes and changing left hand positions

Piece 12: Hejo, spann’ den Wagen an

This song is about repeating notes. We have two possibilities to play them:

  1. Play the same note repeatedly on the same string
  2. Play the same note alternatingly on different strings

Both choices can be reasonable. In this piece we’re playing the repeating note G only on the G string — that is, with alternate stroke technique, using index and middle finger of the right hand.

Also watch out for your left hand: The fingering is again indicated by little numbers above the notation staff.

We don’t lift the index finger after playing the note F in bar 1. We also don’t lift the middle finger after playing the note D in the 2nd bar. In bar 4, we have three fingers fretting, because middle and index fingers were not lifted in order to let the notes F and D ring out as long as possible!

We also don’t lift the ring finger after bar 4. Instead now we finally lift the index and middle finger, while using the ring finger on the 4th string as a guide finger, gliding up into the 7th fret. Try to feel the number of frets while gliding upwards!

Now, in bar 5, we’re repeating the note D5, by playing it alternatingly on strings 4 and 1. Don’t lift the fingers earlier than absolutely necessary! While playing the ascending last notes of bar 6, both the index and ring finger can stay on their strings. Use the pinky and the middle finger on string 2 as indicated by the fingering markup. Only for the very last note of bar 6, the index finger has to be lifted.

This song is a canon: The second voice can be started in bar 3, the 3rd voice can be started in bar 5. Usually you repeat this song several times without breaking the beat, so be sure after playing bar 6 to continue with bar 1 without any delay. The ascending sequence of notes beginning in bar 6 should seamlessly connect with the first note of bar 1, with an even timing between all notes.

For trying to play this tune as a canon, try to play along with your own recording. Start playing the tune at bar 1 when in the reording bar 3 starts.

If you want to carry it to extremes: This canon can even be played even with a whopping 6 voices, starting a new voice every bar!

Piece 13: Viva la Musica

This tune is about campanella fingering in the 5th fretboard position. Please obey the fingering markup in the notation staff. Within the first two bars, will find fingerings for all four fingers (index, middle, ring and pinky) for a given fretboard position. Try to place these four fingers all at once at the given positions. The result should be as follows:

  • index finger: string 4, fret 5
  • middle finger: string 1, fret 5
  • ring finger: string 3, fret 6
  • pinky: string 2, fret 7

Try to get this fingering as comfortable as possible by carefully checking your left hand posture.

While playing this tune, you don’t have to move your fingers away from this basic shape, all you have to do is to lift some of the fingers a bit sometimes. At the end of bar 1, the strings 1 and 4 are played open, so you have to lift the index and middle finger, but you don’t move them away — in bar 3 you can lower them again to fret the notes C5 and D5. Only in bar 6, the position of the hand has to be changed. Here you should use the ring finger to fret the note D4. When repeating the piece, you can use the ring finger as a guide, sliding up to the 6th fret in order to quickly reach the positions for all four fingers again. You don’t need to change the shape of your left hand while doing all those things, it’s just shifting the whole hand up and down the fretboard and lifting or lowering some individual fingers a bit in order to fret or release strings.

(You may note that I didn’t do it exactly as described in the video: In bar 6, I didn’t use the ring finger and I also didn’t use it as a guide finger. Sorry about that!)

Note that this piece is a canon as well!

Lesson 8: Campanella in F Major

In the last lesson, we learned for “Viva la Musica” an useful shape for the left hand for campanella playing. This piece is in the key of G major, and the shape you learned is especially useful for playing campanella in this key.

G major is a very important and often used key for solo ukulele arrangements, but F major is equally important. So now we’re learning the shape for F major, which is going to be used within the next two pieces, which were arranged in this key. The shape is as follows:

  • middle finger: string 4, fret 5
  • ring finger: string 3, fret 5
  • pinky: string 2, fret 6

This could be fretted as well with index, middle and ring finger instead, but transitions will work better with the proposed fingering. Besides it’s always good to give the pinky some workout. :)

Piece 14: Jetzt fängt das schöne Frühjahr an

Watch out: This piece has a changing metre (like you learned in lesson 2)!

The fingering is no problem until we come to bar 4. Here use exactly the fingering as explained for the F major campanella shape. In the last bar, we leave that shape and fret the note F4 with the index finger. It’s not too hard since the index finger wasn’t used for the campanella shape.

Please also take a look at the fingering markups, which basically don’t do anything but showing which fingers to use for the campanella shape in a compact form.

Piece 15: Auf einem Baum ein Kuckuck

You know this piece already from lesson 2! However it can be played very nicely as a campanella arrangement, too. You surely remember that this piece has a changing metre, as well.

We’re using the campanella shape here right from the beginning.  But in bar 3 we want the play the repetition of the note on two different strings in order to get a full sound.

For the transition from the campanella shape into bar 3, slide down the ring finger on the 3rd string from fret 5 down to fret 4. This allows to precisely place the pinky on fret 5.

At the end of bar 4, transition back into the campanella shape.

In order to make this piece more interesting when performing it, you can change between arpeggiated chord solo and campanella playing somewhere between two verses.

It helps a lot to play pieces from “old” lessons again from time to time, so you (and your fingers) don’t forget what you learned. I recommend warming up before practice by playing easier, already well-known pieces.

Lesson 9: Fingering exercise

In this lesson you are going to put to use what you have learned in the previous lessons about left hand fingering.

Piece 16: Die güldene Sonne

Maybe you know this piece already — it was the last practice piece of Chapter 1. Now we’re playing the same piece again, however not as an arpeggiated chord solo, but as a campanella piece.

There are no fingering markups in this arrangement. This is intentional. Your task for this lesson is to find an effective fingering in order to play this piece well in the campanella style.

When doing so, you should consider the following questions:

  • Where should position changes happen?
  • Have we already learned any left hand shape that should work with this piece?
  • How can we make the position changes easier? Can a guide finger be used? What does this suggest for the fingering in the low position (the easier part)?

Hint: In bar 10, it’s OK to NOT overlap the notes.

Lesson 10: Silent fingering

In this lesson we’re going to learn a campanella arrangement of the wellknown Valse Israélienne, thus again illustrating several techniques.

Piece 17: Valse Israélienne

For the first part of this piece we’ll use a technique I call “silent fingering”. Right at the beginning we fret the following shape:

  • index finger: string 2, fret 1
  • middle finger: string 3, fret 2
  • ring finger: string 4, fret 3

You perhaps remember that this is a shape that was used already in piece 12. Now we begin with that shape, even though the fretted notes are not played right at the beginning. We only change the shape whenever necessary, for example in bar 3 we need to lift the ring finger so that the note G4 can be played on the 4th string. The middle finger stays on the 3rd string for the whole 1st part of the piece, although this string isn’t played until bar 8. So this is a “silent” fingering, it doesn’t directly produce a sound, however it enhances the resonance of the 3rd string in order to match the played notes better, and besides it serves as a pivot point for the other fingers.

Note that there is a repeat sign at the end of the 1st part, so we play it twice.

In the 2nd part of this piece, there are some position changes:

  • In the transition between bar 9 and 10, we slide the middle finger up to fret 8, so that the index finger can conveniently fret the 4th string in fret 7.
  • Between bar 12 and 13. we slide the index finger (that still should be silently on the 7th fret of the 4th string) down to the 5th fret.
  • In bar 15, the index finger has to find the 1st fret of the 2nd string “on the fly”, without help of a guide finger.

At the end of the piece we have a repeat with different endings. The first ending is indicated by a bracket with the number 1, it spans over bars 15 and 16. The second ending is indicated by a bracket with the number 2, it spans over bars 17 and 18.

This means that we play part 2 two times, the first time with the first ending, and the second time with the second ending.

Silent fingerings can significantly improve the sound of a performance. Unfortunately they are usually not visible in notation or tablature. Here it’s up to the player to recognize opportunities for this technique and use it whenever appropriate.

Piece 18: What shall we do with the drunken sailor

This piece is just meant as a bonus piece that you can practice whenever your like.

Here arpeggiated chords and campanella technique are combined in order to achieve a full sound.