Ukulele & Languages

Different countries,
Different cultures
one common language... the ukulele.

Rob MacKillop, fingerstyle ukulelist from Scotland

13 2009

The very first fingerpicking e-book that I purchased was Rob MacKillop‘s 20 Celtic Fingerstyle Uke Tunes which I enjoy greatly. Even though I bought the e-book in April, I’m far from finished with it as there are a few challenging pieces that I haven’t even tried to play yet.

In order to find out a bit more about Rob MacKillop, I have asked him a few questions. But first things first, let’s hear him play in this flamencolele, a flamenco improvisation played on a Koloa UK-600 :

U&L : I read on your website that you actually started to play the ukulele at the age of eight then went over to the guitar before coming back to the uke : did your playing the ukulele influence the way you played guitar or did the guitar way take over and influence the way you play the uke now ?

Rob MacKillop : Although I have studied the uke and guitar for years, the main influence not just on my technique but on my relationship with music is the lute. It is rare to use the right-hand ring finger in lute technique, usually just thumb, index and middle fingers. Secondly, there was in the old days a real sense of improvisation and creativity which is lacking in todays classical guitar education. But Ive also studied jazz and blues, which has given me confidence to try new things on the uke. Now I would say I play the uke and the guitar like a lute

U&L : How long have you been teaching the ukulele ? What is in your view the most important thing a ukulele beginner should learn ?

Rob MacKillop : I have been teaching uke for a couple of years, and have been inundated with students in recent months. I teach what the student is initially interested in, but eventually they get interested in my fingerstyle technique and repertoire.

The best thing to learn is the hardest thing to teach : listening. It’s amazing how many musicians dont actually hear what they are doing. They hear what they imagine they are doing. Learning to listen to the nuances of your own performance could be the hardest thing you ever do.

U&L : Do you think one has to learn music theory in order to become a good fingerstyle ukulele player ?

Rob MacKillop : It is hard for me to separate theory from expression; the two are fused together. Of course they can be forced apart, and often are, but shouldnt be. Theory is as important as technique and expression. In fact, they are all the same thing, inseparable. How they are taught is very important.

U&L : You have written 4 ebooks of arrangements for fingerstyle uke. Could you rank them by level of difficulty ? Which one would you recommend to complete beginners?

Rob MacKillop : My books are not for complete beginners, but anyone who has been playing for a few months could manage a few pieces in each book. There are three tune books and one book of studies. Some of the pieces are very advanced, so there is a real cross-section in each book.

U&L : Do you have any recommendation for left-hand placement for fingerstyle uke ? Right-hand placement is quite well documented already but there is little information on fingerings for the left hand.

Rob MacKillop : Regarding left-hand placement, I have not indicated fingerings because these pieces could be played on any uke from a sopranino up to a baritone, and the player might have small or large hands. Any written fingering might force inexperienced players into uncomfortable positions. But generally, you should do whatever fingering allows you to keep the notes ringing as long as possible or necessary.

Friend of the blog Acilius and I have been trying to find out why it seemed so easy for guitar players to switch from guitar to ukulele as illustrated in this post. Hence my last question to Rob :

U&L : What is your view on the statement : the ukulele is easier to play than the guitar ?

Rob MacKillop : No instrument is easy to play well.

Rob is playing in many different styles of music, as you will discover in the videos below. You can subscribe to his YouTube channel here.

1. Spanish Baroque Musique in Passacalle by Gaspar Sanz, played on a Stradelele made by Earnest Uncommon Musical Instruments.

2. Celtic in Carney Jig, Circus Jig and Camptown Hornpipe

3. I Afreeka

4. The Blue Uke


  1. Acilius on the 14th of November 2009 @ 20:37

    Fascinating interview, Armelle! And thanks for the mention.

  2. Armelle Europe on the 14th of November 2009 @ 23:07

    Acilius : You’re welcome. Glad you’ve enjoyed the interview.

  3. orlando on the 29th of December 2010 @ 09:42

    I’d like to buy the 20 baroque pieces by gaspar !sanz for ukulele.but how to do?I find no adress to order…
    H!appy new tear!

  4. Armelle Europe on the 29th of December 2010 @ 10:01

    Orlando: all the books by Rob MacKillop are no longer available on his website as they are going to be prepared and printed by Mel Bay.

    I will ask Rob if he can let us know when the books are expected to come out. I’ll let you know.
    I suppose the books will be available on Amazon when they come out.

  5. orlando on the 29th of December 2010 @ 16:29

    Thank you…
    Ukulele is a great help for people in sad situation…I teach ukulele in the local jail and the prisoners are very helped by this low-cost instrument… Sometimes, when i go out I feel the real taste of freedom…
    Think of them for this period of the year is very very hard for those who are “inside”…

  6. Armelle Europe on the 29th of December 2010 @ 17:14

    Orlando: I’ve just heard from Rob MacKillop that he still has no definite date for the books to be published by Mel Bay. I will update this page as soon as I know more.

    Teaching the ukulele to prisoners is a very good idea. The ukulele can bring a lot of joy indeed.

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