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Beginners warm to free ukulele lessons

Allison Schaefers
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Bruce Shimabukuro, brother of ukulele great Jake Shimabukuro, gives a free ukulele lesson to Hawaii visitors at the Pacific Beach Hotel.

While celebrated ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro entertains tourists in Japan, his 29-year-old younger brother, Bruce, has found a new calling teaching them to strum a few notes during their Hawaii vacations.

During free ukulele lessons at the Pacific Beach Hotel on Tuesday, Kotaro and Yasuyo Mitsuhashi of Tokyo learned how to play "It’s a Small World" while finding out that it truly is. The couple, who are on a six-day Hawaii vacation, have been members of Jake Shimabukuro’s fan club for three years and had met Bruce while he was touring alongside his more famous brother.

"We heard Bruce play and took lessons from him when he was in Yokohama," Yasuyo Mitsuhashi said.

While Bruce Shimabukuro has not reached the level of fame that Jake has enjoyed, he’s a solid musician in his own right. In 2006, his debut CD, "Icognito," met with critical acclaim. The CD, which included several other musicians including Jake on guitar, spotlighted Shimabukuro’s technical prowess, rock ‘n’ roll style and strong voice. While Shimabukuro has since cut two more CDs, including one under the Sony label, teaching is his passion for now.


Bruce Shimabukuro offers free ukulele classes:

» Beginning classes: Sundays-Thursdays, 4-4:30 p.m.

» Workshop: July 26, Aug. 2, 9 and 16, 5-5:45 p.m. Bring your own ukulele.

» Where: Pacific Beach Hotel, Ukulele Puapua store

» Registration: ukuleleessence@gmail.com


"It’s easy for me to remember when I’m teaching a new strum pattern what it was like for me when I couldn’t hold the chord," said Shimabukuro, whose own ukulele teachers included his mother, Carol, Jake and Roy Sakuma.

Though Shimabukuro has been teaching ukulele for nearly a decade, mostly in small paid classes or private lessons, he recently went in a new direction when he also began offering free 30-minute introductory lessons. The free lessons came about as a result of his decision to take a job at the Ukulele Puapua store, which is owned by one of his former students, Ken Nishimoto.

"I was touring a lot with Jake, but after my 2-year-old son, Kylen, was born, I wanted to stay closer to home," Shimabukuro said. "For the past three years, Jake has been home only about three months out of every year."

Shimabukuro said he still has plans to do another album but for now is content to focus on teaching and connecting with his students. While most locals are familiar with the ukulele, many tourists are curious about the "small guitars" that they see in Ukulele Puapua, Shimabukuro said.

"They want to take one home, but they don’t know how to play it," he said.

Shimabukuro’s goal as an instructor is to create an enjoyable experience for his students.

"The lesson for the tourists should be very easy," he said. "It should be something that they enjoy doing so that when they go back home they can say that they enjoyed Hawaii and they even got to play the ukulele."

The Mitsuhashi couple, who were delighted to renew their ties with Shimabukuro in Hawaii, made time to fit five free ukulele lessons into their vacation schedule.

"Bruce teaches us very good," said Kotaro Mitsuhashi.


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