The studio was alive with activity as the advanced class wrapped up their lessons and the beginning students chatted in the lobby, waiting to take their seats. Two teenage teaching assistants fluttered among the beginners and tuned their instruments while random plucks and strums rang out in the foyer. I was expecting a cacophony, but the untuned ukuleles sounded harmonious, even when they were played all at once. “It’s an easy instrument to make sound good,” says Greg Daulton, teacher and leader of San Pedro Ukulele at Angels Gate Cultural Center.
Despite opening shortly before the pandemic, the studio’s student body tripled during the COVID lockdowns, a feat Daulton attributes to a strategy of using flyers and an improved website to get the word out. But the reviews from Daulton’s students tell a different story. “It’s just really a fun class, and there’s no judgement,” says Marty Barrera, who attends the beginner’s class. “Mr. Greg is so nice. If you miss a class, or can’t remember what you’re working on, he tells you right away,” she adds. Elliot Kennedy, one of Daulton’s teaching assistants, agrees. “Mr. Greg is just awesome. He really teaches you the details, and he’s such a great teacher.”
Although currently specializing in ukulele instruction, Daulton’s musical journey involved several different instruments and musical pursuits. “Guitar was something I always had,” he explains. “I was into rock n’ roll, and at the age of 12, I was given my first guitar.” His Hawaiian heritage later led him to ukulele music. He felt a deep connection to the instrument and loved its harmonious sound. “It’s seen as a simple party trick, but there’s so much more to it,” he says. “It’s a challenge — you need to do more with less.”
He continued to play guitar and ukulele throughout his teenage years. After high school, his passion led him to Berklee College of Music, where he studied film scoring and composition. It was there that he began to develop his teaching philosophy. “In college, I had a guy that gave me an incomplete and then left for the summer,” he explains. “I never want to be that guy. I’m your teacher all week, not just for a 45-minute class.”
After his studies, he moved to Los Angeles and gigged until the 2008 recession hit. Live events came to a stop, and he began instructing group and private guitar lessons in Orange County. He experimented with instructional methods; he created a course on rock band performance and a composition called The Rock Band Experience and later published The Complete Guide to Modern Songwriting. As of 2021, the do-it-yourself textbook on music composition was listed on BookAuthority.org’s “100 Best-Selling Songwriting Books of All Time.”
Along the way, he discovered San Pedro. He moved to the town in 2015, and upon the suggestion of his wife, he visited Angels Gate and found a thriving artistic community. He opened his own studio there and split his time between the new location and Orange County. When the pandemic began, he shifted to virtual lessons and whittled his enterprise down to the basics, keeping only his studio in San Pedro and teaching only his most popular instrument: the ukulele.
Now, he teaches private lessons and holds group ukulele sessions on Fridays that draw about 30 students. The curriculum is rooted in Daulton’s philosophy, and the classes are structured like a conversation, with plenty of back-and-forth between Greg and his pupils. To ensure his classes offer something for everyone, he penned a music book that includes works from ukulele icons like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole alongside adaptations of songs from Elvis, David Bowie, and dozens of other artists. The students learn one song per session which can be drawn from nearly any genre or style of playing. “I think it’s really important that people get to learn what they want to,” he says, “because when they’re encouraged to go after what they want, that’s when people want to put their own spin on it. That’s when you get originality.”
In the future, Daulton hopes to expand to more locations in San Pedro and organize community service outings with his students. But despite his classes’ popularity, he has no plans to teach outside of the town. “There’s a togetherness in San Pedro,” he says. “My students are going to each other’s volleyball games, to their concerts… you just don’t see that support in other places.” The feeling is mutual. “I tell everybody about Mr. Greg,” says Susan Tsuji, who attends the beginner class with her husband Carl. “He’s just the nicest person on the planet.” spt
For more info, visit SanPedroUkulele.com.