Learn to Play Hawaiian Slack Key

Genre and Style Guitar Course from Mark Kailana Nelson

Hawaiian slack key is a beautiful style of guitar that originated in Hawaii. By blending relaxing melodies with intricate fingerstyle playing, this traditional genre of music is sure to please.

63 Lessons

Complete course with step-by-step lessons and practice examples.


Course filmed with 6 cameras for the perfect angles.

93% Appoval

164 of 170 of our members have given this their approval.

Tabs & Info

Download tabs, helpers, JamTracks and docs included with lessons.


Access this course, along with all other courses with Membership.

Full Course Breakdown

Mark Nelson teaches Hawaiian slack key guitar. He begins with basic concepts such as open tunings. Then, Mark explores the techniques and concepts essential to this beautiful style of music.


Intro to Slack Key

Mark Nelson introduces Hawaiian slack key guitar and welcomes you to his lesson series.

9:11 Runtime

0.5 Difficulty


Basic Slack Key

Mark delves into the world of slack key guitar. He discusses basic concepts such as open tunings and chords.

34:24 Runtime

1.5 Difficulty


Bradda John

In this lesson, Mark teaches a slack key arrangement of the classic song "Brother John."

14:12 Runtime

2.0 Difficulty


Old Style Slack

Mark Nelson teaches a beautiful Hawaiian piece that he calls "Old Style Slack."

30:00 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty


Vamps and Turnarounds

Turnarounds are very important to the slack key genre. Mark explains what they are and how they are used in this lesson.

22:00 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty



Mark Nelson teaches a beautiful Hawaiian slack key piece called "Salomila."

19:00 Runtime

3.0 Difficulty


Double Stops in Slack Key

Mark Nelson demonstrates how double stops are used in Hawaiian slack key guitar.

22:00 Runtime

3.0 Difficulty


Ki Ho'Alu Slide

Mark Nelson teaches a beautiful piece of music he calls "Ki Ho'Alu Slide."

15:00 Runtime

3.0 Difficulty


More Turnarounds

Mark Nelson teaches a few more turnarounds. He demonstrates how you can link two turnarounds together.

9:00 Runtime

3.0 Difficulty


Return to Salomila

Mark Nelson returns to the song "Salomila." Learn an altered version of this song that will put your slack key skills to the test.

14:30 Runtime

3.0 Difficulty


Building Blocks

Mark Nelson provides you with more slack key building blocks. He demonstrates some new turnarounds that involve playing double stops in sixths.

23:00 Runtime

3.0 Difficulty


Return to Old Style Slack

Mark Nelson returns to the song "Old Style Slack." In this lesson, he teaches a more advanced arrangement of the song.

23:00 Runtime

3.0 Difficulty


Double Stops and Chords

Mark demonstrates some additional double stops and discusses common slack key chords.

18:30 Runtime

3.0 Difficulty


Taropatch Blues

Mark Nelson teaches an original song called "Taropatch Blues." He also explains how improvisation is used in the slack key genre.

19:00 Runtime

3.0 Difficulty


Series Review

Mark Nelson reviews the lesson series up to this point and discusses its future.

16:00 Runtime

2.0 Difficulty


Aunty Style Slack

Mark Nelson introduces the G Wahine tuning, also known as double slack. He teaches a song in this tuning called "Aunty Style Slack."

21:10 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty


Clave Bass Studies

Mark introduces the concept of the clave rhythm. He explains what the clave is and provides some fun Hawaiian themed exercises to play.

15:56 Runtime

2.0 Difficulty



Mark Nelson will teaches a slack key piece called "Malasadas." This lesson applies the clave bass pattern from lesson 17.

14:17 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty


Double Stops and Chords

Mark expands your knowledge of double slack tuning. He introduces some common chords and double stops in this tuning.

13:57 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty


Playful Popoki

Mark Nelson teaches a beautiful Hawaiian slack key song entitled "Playful Popoki."

23:08 Runtime

3.0 Difficulty


Playful Popoki Part 2

Mark teaches another version of "Playful Popoki."

25:17 Runtime

3.0 Difficulty


C Wahine Tuning

Mark Nelson introduces C Wahine tuning.

10:54 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty


Expanding the Tuning

Mark Nelson expands on Drop C / C Wahine tuning. He explains how familiar chords and double stops can be played in this tuning.

15:31 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty



Mark Nelson teaches a classic Hawaiian slack key piece entitled "Hi`ilawe."

18:12 Runtime

3.0 Difficulty


C Wahine Chords

Mark "Kailana" Nelson covers the Drop C / C Wahine tuning again in this lesson. This time around he introduces more chords and variations.

10:54 Runtime

2.0 Difficulty


Molokai Waltz

Mark Nelson teaches a beautiful piece entitled "Molokai Waltz" in this lesson. This song demonstrates how you can play melody out of chord shapes.

13:30 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty



Mark Nelson teaches a Hawaiian slack key piece entitled "Kowali" in this lesson.

13:42 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty


Kowali Modulation

Mark Nelson returns to the song "Kowali" and introduces the concept of modulation in this lesson.

11:30 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty



Mark Nelson returns to the world of Hawaiian slack key with a beautiful piece entitled "Sanoe."

17:36 Runtime

3.0 Difficulty


Sanoe Modulation

Mark revisits the beautiful song "Sanoe." He explains how the song modulates in this lesson.

11:31 Runtime

3.0 Difficulty


Catching up & Moving on

Mark Nelson returns with more slack key! Find out what Mark plans to teach in upcoming lessons and learn his approach to fingerpicking technique.

14:00 Runtime

1.0 Difficulty


F Wahine Tuning

Mark Nelson explores the wonders of the beautiful F Wahine tuning.

29:37 Runtime

2.0 Difficulty


My Yellow Ginger Lei

Mark Nelson shares his rendition of the beautiful slack key song "My Yellow Ginger Lei."

14:55 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty


Mauna Loa Part 1

Mark Nelson teaches a basic version of the song "Mauna Loa."

10:26 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty


Mauna Loa Part 2

Mark teaches a more elaborate version of "Mauna Loa."

12:00 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty



Mark Nelson teaches a song called "Kawohikukapulani" and discusses the history behind it.

9:19 Runtime

0.5 Difficulty


My Yellow Ginger Lei Variations

Mark Nelson talks about discovering your own style as he plays and improvises "My Yellow Ginger Lei" in F Wahine tuning.

27:00 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty


He Aloha No'o Honolulu

Mark Nelson shares his rendition of the song "He Aloha No'o Honolulu" in F Wahine tuning.

11:25 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty


He Aloha No'o Honolulu Part 2

Mark Nelson covers an extended version of "He Aloha No'o Honolulu" and continues to touch on the subject of creating your own style.

20:17 Runtime

3.5 Difficulty


Makee Ailana

Mark Nelson shares his beautiful rendition of the song "Makee Ailana" in this lesson.

22:00 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty


Tiare Tahiti

Mark Nelson shares his rendition of "Tiare Tahiti," a lovely song named after the sweet Tahitian Tiare flower.

20:22 Runtime

0.5 Difficulty


Tiare Tahiti Part 2

Mark continues his discussion on the song "Tiare Tahiti" in this lesson.

17:00 Runtime

3.0 Difficulty


Series Wrap-up Part 1

Mark Nelson begins his series wrap-up with a lesson about the similarities and differences between tunings. The song "Sanoe" is used as an example.

12:27 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty


Series Wrap-up Part 2

Mark continues his series wrap-up with another great lesson filled with information on tunings.

21:23 Runtime

3.0 Difficulty


Series Wrap-up Part 3

Mark Nelson concludes his series wrap-up with a lesson on "My Yellow Ginger Lei" in Taropatch tuning. He also shares tips and advice to continue on your own until he returns to JamPlay with more lessons.

19:51 Runtime

3.0 Difficulty


Bring Back the Slack!

Mark Kailana Nelson is back by popular demand with more amazing slack key guitar! In this series reintroduction, he talks about what he will be teaching in his new set of lessons.

10:27 Runtime

1.0 Difficulty


Nanea Kou Maka i ka Le‘ale‘a

Mark Nelson continues his Slack Key series with another song called "Nanea Kou Maka i ka Le‘ale‘a." Mark lays out the basics of the song and talks a little about making it your own.

24:38 Runtime

2.0 Difficulty


Intros and Outros

Mark Nelson talks about intros and outros using the tune, "Nanea Kou Maka i ka Le‘ale‘a" as an example to work from.

19:34 Runtime

2.0 Difficulty


'Ulupalakua Part 1

Mark Nelson introduces "'Ulupalakua," a song he will be using to teach different skills and techniques. In this lesson, he explains the tune and asks that you get it under your belt before moving on.

6:42 Runtime

2.0 Difficulty

View this Lesson

'Ulupalakua Part 2: Singing

Mark Nelson touches on singing and backing up a singer in this lesson. He uses the song "'Ulupalakua" as an example and explains the lyrics.

25:02 Runtime

2.0 Difficulty


'Ulupalakua Part 3: Variations

Mark Nelson demonstrates some fun variations to spice up your playing using the song "Ulupalakua" as an example.

29:23 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty


'Ulupalakua Part 4: Three Songs

Mark Nelson wraps up this tune by demonstrating two similar songs you may play now that you have "Ulupalakua" under your belt.

8:01 Runtime

2.0 Difficulty


Hula Blues Part 1

Mark Nelson introduces the catchy "Hula Blues" in this lesson. He asks that you get the song under your belt before moving on to the lessons to follow.

20:22 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty


Hula Blues Part 2: Variations

Mark Nelson continues his instruction on the catchy tune "Hula Blues" with some fun variations.

23:33 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty


Hula Blues Part 3: Singing

Mark Nelson continues the "Hula Blues" with a lesson on lyrics and singing. Mark demonstrates some useful tips and tricks to get you going.

15:53 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty


‘Opihi Mo‘emo‘e Part 1

Mark Nelson introduces a new slack key tune called "‘Opihi Mo‘emo‘e" in this lesson. As usual, Mark starts off by going over each section of the song and asks that you to get it down before moving on.

23:41 Runtime

3.0 Difficulty


‘Opihi Mo‘emo‘e Part 2

Mark Nelson shows off some fun variations for the catchy slack key tune "‘Opihi Mo‘emo‘e." His primary goal for this lesson is to help make this song unique to your personal style.

13:36 Runtime

3.0 Difficulty


‘Opihi Mo‘emo‘e Part 3

Mark Nelson wraps up the tune "Opihi Mo‘emo‘e" in this lesson, providing full tab and discussing song structure.

11:50 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty


Mark's Slack Key Blues

In this short miniseries wrap-up, Mark Nelson slides into his own version of the blues, slack key style.

5:00 Runtime

0.0 Difficulty


B Flat Tuning Part 1

Mark Nelson introduces and explains an open Bb major tuning in this miniseries introduction.

14:09 Runtime

1.0 Difficulty


B Flat Tuning Part 2: Green Rose Hula

Mark Nelson goes over a tune called "Green Rose Hula" in the beautiful B flat tuning.

12:25 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty


B Flat Tuning Part 3: Pua Lilia

In this lesson, Mark Nelson takes a look at more complex harmonies while teaching the beautiful song "Pua Lilia".

12:57 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty


B Flat Tuning Part 4: ‘Ulupalakua

Mark Nelson wraps up his open Bb tuning miniseries with a look at a song you might recognize from previous lessons, "‘Ulupalakua".

10:28 Runtime

2.5 Difficulty

Let's Start. Together.

Setup your account and explore our courses, teaching tools and resources.

Get Started
  • Applegate Valley, Oregon
  • Playing since 2001
  • 63 lessons at JamPlay
Ki Ho `alu, or slack key guitar, is a uniquely Hawaiian music. Legend has it that Spanish cowboys hired to teach cattle handling in the 1830's brought the first guitars the Polynesians had seen. Until very recently, slack key was almost unknown outside of the Islands.

Mark's lifelong interest in slack key led him to write "Learn to Play Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar" (Mel Bay Publications), with legendary Hawaiian musician Keola Beamer" the first widely available instruction method for this gentle art. Keola and Mark co-host the Aloha Music Camp" an immersion into the music and culture of Hawaii held each summer in the Hawaiian Islands.

Mark's 2004 CD, "The Water is Wide," brings together the nahenahe sounds of slack key guitar with the sweet sounds of the dulcimer. In 2006 he released "Old Time Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar," nineteen classic Hawaiian songs recorded live in the studio. A book of note-for-note transcriptions in Tab and standard notation facilitates learning the songs.. His most recent book and CD set, "Ke Kukima Polinahe," is the first-ever recording of traditional slack key music arranged for the dulcimer.

Mark began playing guitar and bass professionally at the not-so-tender age of 12. Over the years he's added a number of instruments, including mandolin, `ukulele, bodhran and the Appalachian dulcimer and its European kin.

In the early 1970's Mark was one of a handful of free-spirited musicians who created a whole new vocabulary for the Appalachian dulcimer and guitar. He created a driving flatpicking dulcimer style, playing the instrument with a force and passion seldom heard before. A first place win at the National Mountain Dulcimer Championships in Winfield, Kansas in 1979 led to appearances at festivals, colleges and coffeehouses across North America and Europe, and a recording career spanning over 25 years.

He's an engaging performer, artfully weaving stories and humor with heartfelt music to transport the audience. Mark has performed just about everywhere from Barrow to Boston; Sligo to San Diego. He's shared the stage with performers as diverse as Grover Washington, Jr.; Norton Buffalo; Phoebe Snow, Doc Watson, George Winston and many others. He once worked as a banjo playing gorilla in Dublin, but that's another story...

"Nelson is a musician who possesses that rare combination of insight and talent necessary to successfully transcend conventional concepts of genre and culture."
John Berger, Honolulu Star-Bulletin

"Every once in a while a musician comes along who can make an instrument speak in tongues"
Deseret News, Salt Lake City

"Mark Nelson seems to be on to something new and sweet with his marriage of Appalachian dulcimer and Hawaiian slack key guitar. Drizzle is one of the most achingly beautiful slack key numbers heard in years."
Danny Carnahan, Acoustic Guitar Magazine

"It's my sunset-have-a-martini-on-the-lanai soundtrack every night!"
Duke Walls, Hana, Maui
Reviews & Feedback 93/100 with 170 ratings

(first time the feedback window has popped up in the 29 lessons I've worked with!) Mark's aloha for the music and tradition are wonderful. I have wanted to learn slack key since I was in high school in Honolulu, in 1956, and this is the first o


thanks brother Mark, it is good.


Taropatch sounds very nice with that kind of feel


Nice the way Mark gradually develops the student's skills and thinking......."training the brain" to put it all together.


Great lesson series. Bring back Mark for another group of lessons!!


Great Song! I love that it builds on previous lesson.


Great Teacher - Really assisting me getting the fundamentals of slack. I have been able to join in on some kanikapila's here on the Big Island


I can tell this is older, from the video quality, but I still appreciate it tremendously. The variety of styles is what brought me to JamPlay, and I’m SO excited to learn my first slack key tune. Thank you very much!!


I like the teacher, love the music style and the teacher makes it easy to understand


I really like Mark's teaching style and lesson materials. This is a really nice course!! I'm in to rock and heavy metal but I love this Hawaiian Slack Key music and I am so glad these lessons are here for us to learn ;) thanks so much!!!


Insights into playing and improvising much appreciated especially the use of the tabs as a "roadmap" from which it is okay and encouraged to play as you feel. Thanks Mark!


It's nice and slow and easy to fallow instructions. Easy to understand. Looking forward to learning more. Mahalo!


Like his aloha and looking forward to learning.


like the history


Mahalo Bradda.


WANT TO LEARN A LOT MORE SLACK KEY! Hawaiian music is my favorite!!


Mark is a Teacher in addition to be an accomplished guitarist. I am not jumping ahead and I sincerely hope the quality and wonderful instructional intuition continues. I realize Mark is on video but he communicates the feeling that he actuall


Nice introduction with much feeling. thank you :)

pepper dawg

Very Nice!!


We are so lucky to have Mark teaching this. This is the genre I am specializing in. Too bad I don't have time to delve into the other Fingerpicking and fingerstyle Jazz lessons. Mahalo to JamPlay!