Kauai Music Touches the Heart

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Whether I am sitting on a gorgeous white sand beach at home on Kauai or visiting Los Angeles, New York or India, the sweet, melodious sounds of smooth Hawaiian voices, guitars and ukuleles fills me with joy. Instantly I feel happy, relaxed and connected through time with ancient Hawaiian traditions.

Kauai legendary slack key guitarist and teacher, Hal Kinnaman, playing ukulele.

Kauai legendary slack key guitarist and teacher, Hal Kinnaman, playing ukulele.

Legendary Kauai guitar player Hal Kinnaman felt the same way when he first heard Hawaiian slack key guitar being played on a California beach. “I had just gotten out of the water after surfing and a Hawaiian man started playing it. I didn’t know what it was but I just loved it.”

Already an accomplished player and teacher of classical guitar, Kinnaman knew he had to learn how to play this intricate and soothing music of the islands in which one guitar sounds like many, with the thumb playing the bass line and the rest of the fingers playing the melody.

Kinnaman learned some techniques from the Hawaiian man whom he met on the beach that day and with whom he became friends, also teaching himself until he was skilled enough to share the art with students.

“Slack key doesn’t have to be intricate when you first start. It has to be puuwai, from your heart, tell a story,” Kinnaman says. “When my students do these things, it comes out beautifully.

“I love teaching for the joy of sharing and seeing people play when they didn’t think they could do it. I had one student who was so shy, she couldn’t even look up at me when she first started her lessons,” Kinnaman says. “Now she comes in and says, ‘Hi,’ sings and plays slack key.

“I play a lot of different musical styles and I always go to slack key to unwind. It makes you pono (right) in your life. It evens out the stress and helps you get back in balance,” Kinnaman says. “You’ve got to have music. And it’s got to be shared.”

For more Kauai stories, visit www.kauaistories.net for the book “Kauai Stories: Life on the Garden Island told by Kauai’s People.” To watch Hal Kinnaman play Flamenco on ukulele, click the Voices page.