Mark 'Spanky' Gutierrez's Blog

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Archive for the category “Ukulele Stuff”

Christmas Music for Ukulele

Merry Christmas!! I’ve been working on a few new Christmas songs… for educational purposes only … of course! I also did a little organizing and put all the Christmas songs under one grouping.


Look Out Below!!!

Christmas Ukulele Song Link

Peace on Earth!

Mark Spanky Gutierrez


Homemade Music….

Is there anything sweeter than having somebody sing you a song? Did you ever have a child sing you a song, a song especially for you? What about a sweetheart? Did you ever have a sweet heart sing you a special song? Has anyone ever crafted a song with you in mind?

Being the recipient of a special song is one of the most wonderful experiences ever. I know many people find it awkward to be sung to, to be the focal point of somebody else’s full attention but if you can put the blush and awkwardness aside and see that somebody else on this planet is trying to reach you on a whole different level… well it’s just pretty amazing.

So, with this in mind my ukulele friends, learn or write a song for your sweetheart, family, or best friend and sing it to them. Let

He looks so smart when he writes music!

He looks so smart when he writes music!

them know you hold them is such high esteem that you would dedicate some hard work, thought and time to only that one person. That you are willing to be totally focused on them.

Give the gift of music …


Mark “Spanky” Gutierrez

Why all the Frets???

There are at least twelve frets on your ukulele but most people only use the first three or four! My good friend Byron Yasui says “you paid for all those frets you might as well use them!”, and who could disagree with logic like that.

This topic quickly gets us into the discussion of chord inversions or different chord shapes. Let’s take the C chord for example you could play it:

In the first position as 0003C-At-0

or the second position as 3345 C-At-3

or the third position as 9787C-At-7

But why, why would I play those chords up the neck? Well… If I was trying to match the melody the other chords might give me the melody note as the highest note in the chord. Any time that you bring out the melody line in your chord playing the song starts to peek through the chords. People will say your playing “Silent Night” not just a set of chords.

Lets examine the notes of the C major chord. The notes for the C chord are C E G.

In the first position as 0003 = G C E C

or the second position as 3345 = C E G C

or the third position as 9787 = E G C E

So there would be to opportunities to play the C chord with either a C as the highest note or the C chord with the E has the highest note in the chord. I am sure that we if worked at it hard enough we could even come up with a C chord with G as the highest note.

If the melody of the song calls for then notes C and then E but the chord doesn’t change, you could follow the melody by choosing either the first position C or second position and then when the melody gets to E play the C chord  in the third position.

The only trick here is we are following the melody with chord shapes that have the melody note as the highest note.

But there are times when you just can’t… Say a song has a range that just won’t fit. Well then transposing the song to another key is a good idea but there are songs that have more than an octave range. In which case it’s time for you to make some creative decisions. Maybe move in the direction of the melody. Meaning that if the melody goes down in pitch then we can go pick a lower pitched C chord.

This is the basis to creating chord melody transcriptions. I hope that this helps you to understand why all those shapes for the same chord are important and I really encourage you to try making your own arrangements.

Now let’s just make one technical music theory correction. I called these inversions and technically that is not right, just ask Dr, Bales. C E G is the first inversion, the second would be E G C, and the third G C E. Notice on the ukulele we are just taking the next set of C E G notes and calling it the next inversion. It’s actually just the next position in which C E G pops up as a playable form. It’s Just That Easy!

Good luck my friends!!


Mark “Spanky” Gutierrez


It’s been awhile since I was in Dallas. It was great to return with my wife and new daughter. We were only there for a short two days but were able to reconnect with some ukulele folks from the area. Mark and Kathy Levine, Noel Tardy, and in spirit Gina Volpe.

It was so nice to sit down in a relaxed atmosphere and just share what was going on in our lives. Normally there is some ukulele event that is going on and while that is always fun it usually puts us in a situation where we have to provide service or perform for others. We don’t normally just get to sit down and see how the other is doing. That made this visit special in that it was just us getting together to reconnect. What a great time.Dallas Crew

I had brought a little pineapple Kamaka and I think at one time or another we all grabbed it and gave it a strum. At one point a group walked up to the table and asked us to play a song on that thing. So we obliged and the guy was surprised that it sounded so nice and that it was an “American” instrument. Noel and Mark where quick to invite the guy to the Dallas Ukulele Headquarters. It was so interesting how it all came about and this is the part that keeps me so involved with the Ukulele community. We share, what ever knowledge we have, and what ever skills we have accumulated are all out there to share. We love it when a new person joins our ranks.

Heather Hooton, my dear friend once put it this way: “Ukulele players are so excited for the guy that just finished playing a Bach piece, but they are equally excited for the guy that just learned how to play his first chord!”

I love this community of music makers. Last night we had a Ukulele Christmas party in Papillion Nebraska. We have all heard Christmas music on the radio and in the stores but it is so different when your making the music yourself playing and singing your heart out. We had such a great time.

I know I am rambling here but I just wanted you to know that you too are invited. If you are interested in playing the ukulele or you already play and you want to join a group. Just go out to Google and do a search for groups in your area. I am sure you will find one and if you don’t then make one!

Peace and Happy Holidays!

Mark “Spanky” Gutierrez

Christmas time is here!!

Time’s fun when you’re having flies! Wow, I am amazed at how quickly time seems to pass. Life has been great for me and my family. We have a beautiful little addition this year and it makes Christmas feel so special. I love the fall, Thanks Giving and Christmas it seems to bring out the best in everybody.

In celebration of Christmas and the Holiday season, I decided to put up two new Christmas Ukulele Transcriptions. White Christmas and Christmas Island, are two great songs for the season. White Christmas is such a classic Christmas song and Christmas Island is just perfect on the ukulele. I hope that you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed putting them together.

White Christmas – White Christmas
Christmas Island – Christmas Island

Peace to all and to all a good night!
Mark “Spanky” Gutierrez

Music Meditation Session

I had a new experience yesterday, for the first time I led meditation. My instructor had asked that I play some ukulele for the class, which I agreed to do but something in the back of my mind told me it should be more than that. Over the last two years I have been meditating with my ukulele. I have used it as an expression of what ever is on my heart. Something guides me to a short melody then the chords come to harmonize with it and I just keep repeating it until something else comes. I was introduced to Amma last year and one of her Swami’s (lovingly called BIG Swamigi) Conducts a meditation based on MA and OM. I used his meditation to start with and after a five minutes the group had descended into a nice meditation. It was at this point that I started playing the ukulele. The melodies were simple and the first was based on the melodic minor scale the last song that I played was an old meditation that became the song Molokai Morning. Its a great melody that was given to me as the sun rose over the island of Molokai. This seems to have the effect of a sunrise slowly waking us up. It was a great experience and it seems that my friends enjoyed it too.

Happy Buddha

Happy Buddha!

2013 Lone Star Ukulele Festival

Another great festival! Noel Tardy put on a great festival once again. It’s always so nice to re-connect with old friends and connect with new friends. So, many cool things happened this weekend! Meeting the Barn Kickers was definitely one of them. Steve and Amanda are wonderful musicians and they are wonderful people! My only regret is that we did not have more time to jam together! The other magical moment was a dinner after the performance on Saturday night. Mark and Kathy Lavine hosted a little gathering that ended up being a little jam and great after party!

I taught an advanced finger picking class, a class on dressing up your songs, and a masters class. The masters class was definitely was my favorite. JD and Heather assisted with the class. This class gives people a chance to perform a song and then be given constructive criticism. The festival did not have an open mic this year so this gave those that wanted to perform a stage.

It’s always amazing how much talent is in the ukulele community. We heard songs in Hebrew, originals and a cover from Hall and Oats! They all were amazing and everyone brought great ideas on how to improve each others performance. The ukulele community is awesome about sharing. They will do anything to help a fellow ukester out.

If you were there, thanks so much for coming! and if you were not, please consider attending a ukulele festival soon. It’s a great way to meet other uke players, it’s always good time and it provides great instruction that you may not be able to find anywhere else.

I hope to see you soon!!

Mark Spanky Gutierrez

A Year Went By?

Well how did a year go by with out a post? It’s crazy CRAY ZEE!!

We (the 4 Strings of Swing) are headed down to Dallas for yet another great festival. It’s always an interesting time trying to prepare for these kind of events. We have band rehearsals, creating the documentation for classes, then we have meetings to review our lesson plans, and then packing, clothes and gear. Double checking the gear and batteries, OMG don’t forget spare FRESH batteries!

But… all in all its way worth it. I love going to these events. The ukulele players are the best group of folks you could ask to hang out with. Ukers are so excited to learn something new or to share what they know. They are equally excited with the person playing Bach as they are with the person that just learned their first C chord. It’s a wonderful environment.

If you are not a uker… come join the ranks! and if you are a uker … head out to a festival or two this year. You will love it!!


Mark ‘Spanky’ Gutierrez

Is it C6 or A minor 7?? and Who is on first base?

Lesson: C6 – A minor 7

So, C6 and A minor 7 … same shape different name. WHY? Context my friend it’s all about the context.

If you move from G7 to C6 it seems like its kind of final. There is a “resolution” about it. Try it, play C6 then G7 then go to C6 again. Play 4 counts each. Did you hear it? It’s like all is well with the world and you can go to sleep now.

C6 - A minor 7

Now for contrast play E minor and change to Amin7, B7 and then go back to E minor. Give each 4 counts each. Hear a difference? Now the Amin7 (or C6) sounds very minor and if you stop on Amin7 it doesn’t seem to be the end at all, not in a strong sense anyway or you might say less “resolution”.

In the first example we are playing squarely in the key of C. The connection between C6 and G7 is very strong. If you play those two chords and end on G7… some one is likely to scream “finish the damn song!”.

In the second example we are in the key of E minor. The A minor 7 is the “fourth” and its relationship is not as strong as the B7 and E minor connection but still has some “resolution” power.

So playing in context is very import to hear the intent of chord. Is it a minor chord? or is it major? If your lucky enough to play with a bass player, he or she will determine the intent of the chord. If they play A you will hear A minor, C then you will hear it as C major 6.

So, for this lesson please be ready to identify the chords by either name A minor 7 (red notes) or C6 (blue notes).

Follow the C7 Lesson instructions to get to the point that your ready to use this shape in any song.



2011 Ukulele Hoopla Review

The Ukulele Hoopla came and went like a crazy anxiety dream that had a story book ending. This was our real first go of it and I was so pleased with the results. I have so many people to thank.

We had participants from KC, Lincoln, Omaha, Missouri, and JAPAN. No, I am not kidding some folks came all the way from Japan to our Ukulele Hoopla in Omaha Ne. We had an ice breaker/jam the night before the hoopla. It was so nice to have the artists and some of the participants bust out the ukes and howl at the moon. I would have to say the folks from KC really went all out and made the night. It was a great way to start off the evening.

The day of the Hoopla got started pretty early for the staff and artists. We were all on site by 08:00 AM and as Pop’s said, thats no time for a musician to be up! The sign in table ran like clock work and we were pleasantly surprised by the attendance numbers.

The artists all gave classes during the day and from the feedback we got most of them were very well received. We also had one section of the day set aside for a question and answer session. I think that might have been my favorite. Great questions and very helpful answers. That was really a lot of fun.

The concert was awesome and way TOO long. After such an action packed day a 2.5 hour concert was way too much but to be honest I loved every minute of it. I had invited so many of my dear friends to come perform. It was like a dream come true to see everybody on stage, right here in my home town. Everybody sounded great, the top moments for me were:

Rebecca Lowry, busts out with a full band and melts a room full of hearts with those silly little love songs

Kimo Hussey, just lets that uke ring out arrangement after arrangement that all say “aloha my dear friends”

Pop’s pulls a ballad out that he wrote about the civil war. I nearly cried, great song writing and really great delivery

Brook Adams, has this crazy little shark song that just had me in stitches.

Then I finally got to take the stage, with my band mates Heather, JD and Mike. It seemed so strange to be on the UNO stage with my buds. I remember looking back over my shoulder at Mike our drummer, he had his jam face on and when our eyes locked for a just a second, he blew me a kiss. I damn near dropped my uke. I just had to laugh.

The night was over and we packed it all up in 30 minutes and it was over. Months of planning, months of talking about it and then it was just over. I had that feeling of shock for about a month after the event but now, when I think about it, I get that little grin and a  desire to do it all again.

Some special “mahalo” goes out to the Omaha Creative Institute. They were with me every step of the way. We did all of our planning and then they executed with amazing accuracy. Susan and Leigh from OCI are the best team I could have asked for. The artists that came out really did a fine job. Thanks so much to Kimo, Pops, Brook, Rebecca and my dear friends JD, Heather and Mike. If I ever get to share a stage again, I hope you are all on the same bill. What would it be without the participants? You all were great, thanks for showing up and making it just a wonderful time.

We will do it next year? Stay tuned… and keep a little time on your September 2012 calendar free!



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