Hawaii Music: Influences

The art of music in Hawaii has been influenced by a number of cultures

Making a Mark on Music

The music of Hawaii has roots in several different cultures from around the world. Immigrants, such as the Polynesians and the Spaniards, brought with them various styles of music and instruments. These influences from abroad were blended with native Hawaiian melodies and chants, creating a unique form of eclectic music that has become a major part of the Aloha Islands' culture.

Influence of Immigrants

To really understand the roots of Hawaiian music, one must look back in time to when the first people migrated to the islands, bringing with them their practices and culture, which includes musical styles. The following are the most influential international cultures that have contributed to the musical genres of Hawaii:


The Polynesians were the first people to come to the islands, and they made very lasting impressions on Hawaii's musical culture. The Polynesians mostly used music in their religious rituals, which consisted of chants and prayers to the spirits.

Western Influences

The influence of the Western world impacted Hawaiian music greatly from lively sea chanties that were sung by the early visiting mariners to the more solemn hymns brought to the islands by the missionaries. The European Protestant missionaries brought Christian hymns to the islands, and introduced melody into the islanders' traditional music.

Following the missionaries came Spanish influence via Mexico. Spain still ruled Mexico when Mexican cowboys, or paniolo, arrived on the islands. They brought with them their Spanish guitars and distinct musical style, including falsetto singing, which they taught to the native Hawaiians.

Though the islanders adopted several aspects of Spanish music, they became especially interested in the guitar. Soon, the Hawaiians implemented their own methods of playing and tuning the guitar to better fit the style of their traditional Hawaiian songs and chants. The most notable change to the guitar was the "slacking" of the strings, which allowed them to play bass on the bass strings and treble on the treble strings. They also picked the guitar strings with their fingers in order to create a steady rhythm to go along with singing and hula dancing. From this alteration of the guitar a new form of the instrument was born: the slack key guitar.

The Portuguese, who migrated to the islands, were also key players in the shaping of Hawaiian music. They forever changed the sound of the islands when they introduced the braga, also called the cavaquinho. The braga is a lute with origins in Portugal and Brazil, and is a mixture between a guitar and mandolin. From the braga would come the most well known Hawaiian instrument: the ukulele.

Other popular genres of music from the Western world that influenced Hawaiian music include American pop music, country and western, jazz, gospel, ragtime, swing, and European light opera. The Hawaiians took these very diverse styles of music and incorporated them with their own native tunes and guitar styles forever changing the sounds of Hawaiian music into authentic harmonies all their own.

Influencing the World

Throughout the history of Hawaiian music, the sounds of the islands have adapted over the years, which is perhaps one of its greatest contributions to other genres of music. The ancient Hawaiians embraced foreign styles of music that were brought to the islands, and from then on, the progressive nature of the islands' music has made a lasting impression on the world's musical history.

Many different cultures have contributed to the sounds of Hawaiian music in both style and instruments. These diverse musical elements have added to the richness of the Aloha Islands' culture, which has swept across the world creating an awareness of Hawaii's traditions and way of life.

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