Mark 'Spanky' Gutierrez's Blog

It's Me.. Honest Its Me!!

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!


Spanky Does the Harlem Shake !?!?!?

It’s always crazy at my house. We just shot a silly video of us doing the Harlem Shake.

No, I am not kidding! and NO I it won’t ever get posted!!

But this leads into a great point, its important to let it all hang out!!

So, apply this to your playing. You know let the HAM out!! It needs to see the light of day from time to time. This kind of activity can release the performer in you in such a way that it not only is fun for you but its also entertaining for your audience.

Let a little ham out at home, by yourself and either record or better yet film yourself. This will allow you to temper the performance or it will give you the okay to let MORE OUT. When you are mostly comfortable with what you have come up with, then spring it on a live audience. I would suggest that it NOT be family. It might be way too much for people that are that close to you to make that leap with you. If you break it out at the next open mic then you are going to get responses from folks that are not biased. Chances are that if you like the performance many many others will too!



Mark Spanky Gutierrez

Do it all!!

Do you ever lay down at the end of the day and feel completely exhausted? If so congratulations! The last half a year has been that way for me about every day. Life is so full and I want to do it all so… you just keep going. I have been trying to practice every day, spend quality time with the family, workout, and make great food AT HOME. It’s like getting out a giant shoe horn and getting everything you can into every day. I think if there is one thing thing that can make this all happen is love. Love that is shared, respects and supports each others desires.

I have often thought that if there were only more hours in the day, that it would all be better. Guess What? I found more hours in the day! NO TV!! Yeah, no TV, we stopped cable years ago and then moved to HULU and slowly I just moved away from TV all together. I am not saying that TV is bad I am just saying that it represents a choice that many of us don’t realize is there. Drop the TV go work out, practice, cook great food, love, or go do that thing that you would do if you had more time.

It feels so good to lie down at the end of the day and thank God for a fully lived day. Don’t spend another day waiting, go do that thing that you always wanted to do, go reconnect with people in your life tha

Mark -n- Sudhha

t may have drifted away, spend the time to keep your family connections clear and pure.

This is opening my mind to all the possibilities that God has to offer. Make room for your dreams to be exercised and more dreams will come. Bigger and greater dreams.

Like the song says

“So dream when the day is through

Dream, and they might come true

Things never are as bad as they seem

So dream, dream, dream”.

So, to you and your’s sweet dreams


Mark Spanky Gutierrez

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!



Ukulele C7 lesson:

C7 multiple positions

C7 Multiple Positions

The picture to the left shows C7 in 4 positions up the neck. Each position is identified by a box encompassing the appropriate notes.
Play 4 beats on the first position
Then move to the next position and play another 4 beats
Up the neck and yes, DOWN the neck.
Strive for 80BPM if you do not own a metronome…
Try this online version:
See how fast you can get! but please be careful… Don’t increase the speed too soon in your practice. If you can’t play it slow.. you can’t play it fast. It’s critical that you stay in time. Let me rephrase that, its more IMPORTANT to play “in time” than to play fast with mistakes.
If you are striving to do more… 
Can you see all the dominant 7 shapes? You should recognize them from all the first position dominant 7 chords. Can you transpose this to other keys? A very big clue is that the notes that are in the blue circles are the root note. So, if you move that shape up or down two frets you have “transposed” the chord by one full step. IE.. Move it closer to the body of the ukulele by 2 frets and C7 becomes D7.

Transposing C7 to D7

BEWARE: the major scale has two places that have natural half steps. Between B,C and E,F are half steps. So if you move down two frets from C7 you would get Bb7 (or its other name A#7). Likewise if you move up two frets from E7 you would get F#7. Two tricky places to be aware of.
1/2 step = 1 fret
1 full step = 2 frets
Between B,C and E,F are half steps (one fret)
Move on thru the cycle of fifths but counter clock wise (in fourths)…
Like a so…
C7 up and down the neck
F7 up and down the neck
Bb7 “”
Eb7 “”
Ab7 “”
Db7 “”
Gb7 “”
B7 “”
E7 “”
A7 “”
D7 “”
G7 “”
If this seems too daunting stick with the keys C G D then add some when you feel mo’ bettah go back and add a few more.
Breath, relax, and like Kimo say’s “play without angst!”
You’re body will tell you when your doing this wrong. If your back, neck, wrist, thumb, or elbow hurt after your practice be sure to check your posture and wrists. Sit up straight, fight the natural desire to lean forward out front of the ukulele and try not to twist your back towards the headstock. Wrists, keep them pretty flat. There should not be a bump or a “V” at the wrist. This is true for both left and right hands. Play a tune or two in front of the mirror. That will help you identify an ergonomic problem.
Peace my friend!

Scale Lesson

Scale lesson:
Playing scales on a ukulele is like being introduced to your best friend’s girl friend’s best friend that has a “great” personality.
Why? Well because you can so rarely pull off all 8 tones from lowest to highest. You can always find all eight tones but you can rarely play them all from root to root in a ascending or descending pattern IN ONE HAND POSITION (Think Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do).
Whats a hand position? It’s usually a section of the neck that you can get your hand on and stretch your fingers out comfortably. I usually shoot for a max of 5 frets. So, on a 12 fret instrument we only really have about 3 hand positions maybe four with a cut away, maybe 5 with a cut away long scale baritone!
I have attached my Scale work chart to this lesson. It will be important for you be able to play all of the scales listed on this page. No ANGST.. take a close look Spanky is being real good to you! I am sure you will figure out why I think this is easy.
Okay real important steps about practicing scales.
1 Practice the scales at first in one position at a time. They are marked by a red or blue box
2 Be sure that you know where the root of the scale is. Marked by a blue dot with the letter in the middle. You should actually start with this note.
3 Practice in TIME… Use a metronome .. Tick Tock
4 Practice with good form, be ergonomicaly responsible. Keep straight wrists, and good posture
When have you mastered it?
When you can easily see where the positions connect and you can navigate thru the positions with out getting lost. No… I am not kidding!
Here is a link to the a few scales written in C major and A minor:
Wanna do more?
Practice two or more positions at the same time. Go up thru the two positions one way then work yourself back down another way.
Each scale can be transposed by moving the hand position or pattern up or down frets. Move it up two and C becomes D move it down two and C becomes Bb.
Maybe its a good time for you to be able to identify where all the notes are on the ukulele. It sounds daunting doesn’t it? but its not! Here is a cool trick that got me thru it. First know the note names of the open strings. Then just move up the neck and label each fret with the next possible name. Skip the flats and sharps at first.
So if your on the G string two frets up and you have A, another two frets and you have B another two frets and you have…. C SHARP!
Oh dude classic blunder! You have to remember that between B and C and E and F there is only one fret (half step) not two frets (hole step) but knowing this little rule and you’re set. You can start with the open string (be sure to count the nut as your first fret) and rock right up the fret board.
Here is a little check for yourself.
Open    G  C  E  A
Fret 2    A  D  F#  B
Fret 5    C F A D
Fret 7    D  G      B E
Fret 12  G C E A
Other than Fret 5 do recognize those collections of notes?
Fret 2 is the D tuning for the ukulele,
Fret 7 is Barri tuning,
Fret 12 is the octave (so C tuning)
Cool huh.. Easy sha..meeeeazy…
Here is blank fret board paper for GCEA tuning:
Here is some blank fret board paper for DGBE tuning:
Peace, Love and the sound of the Ukulele!!

Uke Hoopla … HERE WE COME!!

There is so much going on… My head is in a spin. There’s plane tickets to bring folks in, hotel reservations, registrations, workshop notes, vendor tables, lunches for everybody, venue, venue insurance, social media, old fashion media, but you know what?? ITS ALL COMING TOGETHER, JUST LOVELY!!

Ya, the Uke Hoopla is right around the corner 9/24/2011 please click here for more information.

I am so excited for the Uke Hoopla, we are just headed down the right road to have a wonderful time with some of the best folks that the Ukulele world has to offer. Kimo, Pops, Brook, Rebecca, JD and Heather are all wonderful teachers and performers. I am so pleased to have them on board this year. We are bound to have a great time. 

I hope if your reading this you will find your way to Omaha on 9/24/2011. If your a uke player, your going to love the workshops during the day. If your a music lover, the show will nock your socks off. Rebecca’s heart felt songs, Pops wit, Kimo’s smooth playing, Brooks arrangements, and the Jazz from the 4 strings of swing will not disappoint.

Somebody asked me the other day why I would put on such an event. My answer: The following people put me on a path Byron Yasui, Benny Chong, Brian Tolentino, Asa Young, Mike DaSilva, James Hill, John King, Pops Bayless, Kimo Hussey, Brook Adams, Lil Rev, and so many more and that path has given me great joy. Kimo’s motto is “the music is meant to be shared”, I just want to live up to and share the kindness and great instruction that has been given to me. 

Life is meant to be lived. Lead with your heart my friends. The ukulele is a humble instrument but within a very short time you will find that it will liberate the music in your soul. Don’t believe me.. come give it a try at the Ukulele Hoopla.


Mark ‘Spanky’ Gutierrez



















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