Slack Key Guitar Workshop with Alfonso Valdes

Alfonso Valdes

Photo by Kelly White, 40 North

Hawaiian slack key refers to a wide range of fingerstyle guitar music in which some of the guitar strings are tuned down (“slack”). Although there is no standard tuning, some common slack key tunings like open-G are also used in folk, Celtic, and rock music. In the workshop, we will be using the G Kilauea tuning, introduced by contemporary slack key master Daniel Ho, which is D-G-C-g-b-e. Note that the treble strings are tuned as in standard guitar tuning, so that chord shapes and scales that you already know on the treble strings carry right over. But the open strings give you the bass notes of the chords in the key of G major. We will use the G-Kilauea tuning and intervals of thirds and sixths common in Hawaiian music to play “Prairie Aloha,” an original tune by the workshop instructor (here’s the chart!). The workshop should appeal to fingerstyle players looking for a something new. Bring a guitar that you can play fingerstyle, tuned to G-Kilauea. Pineapples optional.

Alfonso Valdes has played flamenco and classical for many years, and was inspired to take up ukulele after a trip to Hawaii a few years back. He moved from California to the Champaign area two years ago, and took up Hawaiian slack key guitar to broaden his musical horizons and out of nostalgia for the islands. He has played slack key and ukulele at Champaign’s “Friday Night Live” summer outdoor concert series, once under a tornado watch, and has appeared on WILL’s “Live and Local”. He often appears at the Urbana Hootenanny on Monday night, where he might play slack key, ukulele, flamenco, or his newest musical pursuit – mandolin.

You can link to his Spanish guitar recordings at, or his recent Hawaiian selections on, which links to SoundCloud.

For his day job, he manages a research center at the University of Illinois.

Saturday, November 1st, 2:45pm-3:45pm