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Interview with Dominic Pieranunzio

Mar 31, 2009 ~ Dominator (Dominic Pieranunzio) is the ‘ukulele tab world’s hero. His web site and way of creating tabs was the best guide around for me when I was starting Live ‘Ukulele. If you are not familiar with Dominator then you should go visit his site and take a look. He creates all of the tabs you see there in PDF and Powertab format. I was able to interview Dominator via email about his music career, transcribing, and ‘ukulele making. Thanks Dom for the interview and great tabs!

Brad Bordessa: When did you first start playing and how did you get interested in the ‘ukulele?

Dominator: I’ve been playing guitar since about age 12 so music has always been part of my life. My wife and I took our first trip together to Hawaii in 1997.  We stayed on the island of Kauai and loved it so much that we bought a time-share at a resort in Po’ipu before leaving the island. During that first trip we met a native Hawaiian family that lived on the North Shore near Hanalei. We would try to get together each year and during our stay during 2000 they invited us over for a New Year’s celebration. After dinner the family pulled out the instruments and started to sing and play Hawaiian songs. They knew I was a guitar player so they gave me an ‘ukulele and said “here, I will show you what chords to play”. After my quick briefing we were playing the Molokai Slide. It was that encounter with the ukulele that sparked my interest. Shortly after that I was exposed to the music of Pure Heart (featuring Jake ShimabukurDominator playing at the Wine Country 'Ukulele Festo) and the beautiful voice of Israel Kamakawiwio`ole. I was pretty much hooked after that.

BB: Who do you consider your musical heroes?

Dom: Well, I don’t really subscribe to the notion of “the best or the greatest” when it comes to any musician because there are so many really great and talented musicians that don’t fall into the “famous”  category. From an ‘ukulele perspective without question Jake has had the biggest influence and impact on my growth as an ‘ukulele player. James Hill has also had some influence on me however, not so much as it relates to how I approach playing the ‘ukulele. What I mean by that is this. James has had more of a mental impact on how I approach the ‘ukulele (how to practice effectively, how to prepare for a gig etc.) vs an impact on how I play the ‘ukulele. Fact is, for me, Jake’s tunes fall under my fingers far more easily than James’ tunes. The playing styles are just totally different and I find James Hill’s songs much more difficult to execute.

BB: I know that creating a tab can be challenging, what is your process for tabbing out a song?

Dom: The first thing I do is spend the time up front breaking the song down into sections and learn how it should be played. If there is a video available of the artist performing the song then I will also refer to that which helps get the correct positioning of the notes.

To aid in the process when working on songs that have particularly fast passages (take Jake’s 3rd Stream as an example) I use a software program called “Transcribe”. Transcribe allows me to slow the music down while retaining the correct pitch which enables me to pick out the correct notes being played. It also helps with chord voicings by using the built in spectrum analyzer. This approach to transcribing songs works really well for solo performances. It gets to be a little more tricky when you have a full band and vocals getting in the way of the ukulele performance.

Once I know what should be played is when I will sit at the computer with my ‘ukulele in hand and create the tab using the Powertab software. Each fret number is placed on the tab staff via the mouse and then the corresponding note in standard notation is automatically placed on the standard notation staff.  Probably the most challenging thing about creating a good tab is getting the timing and note values correct so that the midi playback sounds like the song you are trying to emulate. The more you work with it the easier it becomes but it can still be very challenging.

BB: Apart from doing tabs you also build ‘ukuleles. Tell me a little about that.

Dom: I’ve had a woodworking hobby since the mid 80s. I’ve built a number of pieces of furniture for our home and when my friends would come over and see my shop they would always ask “since you play in the band why aren’t you building your own guitars?” I had the blinders on and just thought it was way too difficult and never gave it another thought.

After playing the ‘ukulele for a few years the thought crossed my mind to maybe try to build a small instrument and then graduate up to guitars. Then in late 2003 I ended up having a heart attack and my life suddenly came to a screeching halt. After undergoing 5-way bypass surgery I purchased William Cumpiano’s book entitled “Guitar making Tradition and Technology” and a book on ‘ukulele construction by Denis Gilbert. During my recovery I studied the books and realized that from a pure woodworking perspective it was not as difficult as I had imagined. It did however require a few specialized tools and construction of a number of jigs to aid in the building process. To date I have completed 10 instruments, 3 sopranos and 7 tenors. I currently have 1 soprano, a concert prototype and another tenor in various stages of completion. In the future I hope to spend much of my time building if I can ever afford to retire from the day job.

BB: I saw you play a set at the Wine Country ‘ukulele fest, what challenges does playing solo present?

Dom: Performing solo can be very nerve wracking for sure. Most people that know I perform regularly with the rock band just assume that performing with the ‘ukulele would be no different for me. In reality it’s quite different. When you are playing with a group, any little mistakes that are made can go unnoticed by the audience simply because there is so much more for them to concentrate on. If I’m playing solo though, it’s just me and the audience. If I make a mistake chances are the whole world will know it. For that reason I tend to be quite nervous when performing with my ‘ukulele. It usually takes a couple of songs to settle in and get the nerves under control. I’m sure it will get easier the more I do it. I’ve really only performed officially at 3 or maybe 4 ‘ukulele festivals to date. I will be performing at the upcoming Tahoe Area Ukulele Festival on June 27th with Brittni Paiva and Victoria Vox. I’m looking forward to that event.

BB: What has been your favorite performance so far?

Dom: I’d have to say my most memorable performance to date would be when Brittni Paiva invited me to play a song with her to end her house concert in Cool, California. We played “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” together and though it was never recorded I just know in my heart that it was something special. It was an amazing experience.