Learn to play "Henehene Kou ʻAka" by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole on Ukulele

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Hey UUers!

This time on Uke Lessons, it's a full breakdown on the traditional Hawaiian song, "Henehene Kou ʻAka" as done by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole! IZ played this song on his iconic "Facing Future" album from 1993, which featured the first recording of his now quite famous version of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow / What a Wonderful World."

In IZ's version of "Henehene Kou ʻAka," he plays around with some simple chords in the Key of C making it great for beginners. For the intermediate players, there are quick chord changes and some interesting inversions. And for the advanced ukulele players, the multiple ukulele parts playing in tandem offer the challenge of adding flair while syncing with another ukulele player. This breakdown is truly a choose-your-own-adventure, so check out the instruction below and go as deep as you want, depending on your skill and thirst for ukulele knowledge!

Try jumping right in by playing along with the "Henehene Kou ʻAka" Ukulele Play-Along video above, or start with any of the steps below if you need help learning this song:

STEP 1 - Beginner Chords

Here are the beginner chords you'll need in to start playing this song on your ukulele:

Beginner Chords: C, F7, G7, D7, Bb, B, C
C(0003), F7(2310), G7(0212), D7(2223), Bb(3211), B(4322), C(5433)

Memorize the names and how to hold each chord, then try switching between all of them. For more info on holding and switching between these chords, check out the video below:

The main challenge for absolute beginners will be holding the Bb chord and sliding it up one fret at a time to B and C, and doing it quickly. When moving from your regular C(0003) chord to the Bb, be sure to move your thumb to the back of the neck, pointing slightly towards the headstock. This will help you to secure that pointer finger bar over the E and A strings.

If these chords are easy for you, feel free to check out Step 2 - Intermediate and Advanced Chords. Otherwise, practice these beginner chords, then head to STEP 3 - Beginner Rhythm, below.

STEP 2 - Intermediate and Advanced Chords

Next, if you want to really get the song to sound the way IZ played it, you'll need a few more advanced versions of these chords.

Intermediate Chords:
Intermediate Chords: C, Am, G7, G#7, F7, F#7, G7
C(5433), Am(5453), G7(4535), G#7(5646), F7(2310), F#7(342X), G7(453X)

In the video below, Aldrine shows how to use these intermediate chords in the context of the song:

Advanced Chords:
Advanced Chords: C, C with added G note, F7, F7, D7, G7, Bb, B

Aldrine shows you how to use the advanced chord versions that you can use to play the second ukulele part:

Practice these chord inversions and when you have them down, try them out by playing along with the "Henehene Kou ʻAka" Ukulele Play-Along at the top of the page

STEP 3 - Beginner Rhythm

For a simple beginner strumming that you can do to get you started, check out the video below:

Simply work on getting a steady rhythm down while switching chords at the right times. This may take some practice, but be sure to listen to the song, and take it one step at a time. You can even start with a single strum on each chord, just focusing on getting the fingering right, and switching to the right chords at the right times. Take it slow and you'll have this down in no time. Play Along with the "Henehene Kou ʻAka" Ukulele Play-Along at the top of the page to practice.

To get a little closer to the rhythm needed to play this song like Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, check out STEP 4.

STEP 4 - Intermediate and Advanced Rhythm

After learning the basic beginner rhythm, try adding a bit more syncopation and groove to make this song pop:

Intermediate Rhythm
Here Aldrine introduces the concept of changing chords on an UP beat. Later he moves on to some advanced techniques you can use:

These are just the basic concepts so try them out and see what works for you! Play along with the Play-Along at the top of the page and get a feel for the different rhythm components of "Henehene Kou ʻAka."

STEP 5 - Riffs

Finally, if you would like to add a little more flair, try out some riffs to make this song complete.
Intro Riff
In the beginning of the song, IZ does a simple strumming intro riff. Using the Intermediate and Advanced Chords (STEP 2) as a basis, Aldrine shows you how to recreate the riff using your ukulele:

Advanced Middle Riff
There's also a "picking" part in the middle of the song, which is really just a strumming riff, using the chords you already know. It's relatively simple, you just need to feel out and try to replicate the rhythm to the best of your ability. Use the practice video at 100%, 75%, and 60% speeds to practice:

Great job! This one has something for every player's skill level, so no matter where you are in your ukulele journey, enjoy what this song has in store for you. If you like this song, be sure to check out our lessons for "White Sandy Beach" and "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" also by Israel ("Braddah IZ") Kamakawiwoʻole. And if you have any questions with your playing or need help with a song, please contact us! Have a great one, UUers, strum on

-UU Staff


    1. Hey Rudy, thanks for the question! For the Intro and middle riffs, they’re not necessarily “picking” parts per se, because you’re not picking individual notes or even groups of notes at all. They’re essentially just the chords of the song, with a few flourishes that you strum to. We debated how useful a “Tab” of these would be for anyone trying to learn and decided against it (mostly because tabs aren’t the most elegant way to denote strumming and may confuse people, and because for this particular song there isn’t a set strumming rhythm to be denoted in standard musical notation). But if you would really like one, just let me know and I can start working on a kind of approximation, just let me know – Hope you’re doing great, keep strummin’

      1. Hey Aaron, I see what you are saying. It more about feeling the rhythm, then playing notes. Sometimes I just like to see it written down, but I think you are right. Its been just to start off slow and speed up. Its a tricky song, but its so much fun! And thanks, we’re doing well over here. Hope to see you guys in the future. Take care Aaron!

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