What I’ve learned about teaching ukelele
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
This year, I've embarked on a new journey: teaching ukulele! I've really enjoyed it and have learned a lot my first year, including the following:
You don't have to spend a ton of money on ukuleles
Initially, I thought about purchasing ukuleles for every single student in my classroom. Once I realized the amount I had to work with, though, I decided I could buy for half of the class and have students work in pairs. This has worked pretty well for my students — more on that in a bit — and it helped me start ukulele without a ton of money.
I bought the Kala Waterman ukuleles for my classroom. I heard lots of great things about them, and I have been pleased with the purchase. The ukuleles are currently only $39.99 each. I did have to tune them consistently every day for a few weeks before the tuning stuck; I still have to tune them, but not as often.
You don't have to spend a ton of money on ukulele storage
I've seen many creative ways to store ukuleles, from on a cart to on the wall. The storage idea I came up with was effective and cheap: magazine boxes from IKEA!
If you want students to have a specific ukulele, you could add numbers to the boxes.
You don't have to teach tuning right away
Magazine boxes from IKEA are great for storing ukeleles.
I struggled at first with how I would teach tuning, but then I decided that I could think of it like a band instrument: We don't need to teach tuning immediately to a beginning trumpet player, so the same could hold true for ukulele. Once the students are more familiar, then we can dig into tuning.
In the meantime, I've been telling students to not touch the tuning pegs. To tune, I've been using the ukulele tuner by Snark. Next year, I plan on teaching my fifth-graders (who have been playing in fourth grade) how to tune, using the tuners.
Kids can teach each other
As I stated above, my students are currently paired up when learning ukulele. Although it's taken me longer to get through my ukulele curriculum — since they have to switch — I have enjoyed having students teach each other.
For example, when the first student in the pair is learning the C major chord, I'll circulate the room to make sure all students are putting their finger down on the correct finger and fret, but when the second child gets a turn, I tell the first child to help their partner. This cuts down on the time I need to circulate, and I love that the students are helping and teaching each other.
You can be just a few steps ahead of your students
When I first decided to teach ukulele, I maybe knew one chord, so I knew I had some work to do. Just like when I've taught band instruments that aren't my main instrument or when I taught strings, I've been keeping a few steps ahead of the students.
As long as you can model a good sound and know your chords well, you don't need to be amazing at it. What's really nice about teaching myself, then turning around and teaching them, is that I understand the common mistakes they will make because I've made them, too!
The kids love them ... and so do I
I've been teaching recorders for years. As a trumpet player, I do love how well recorders can train students to learn fingerings and tonguing, as well as read from the treble clef staff. However, in an effort to gain relevance to their lives and to the music they hear every day, I wanted to try ukulele. I have loved the experience, and so have they.
The instrument is accessible — small enough for their hands (and for mine). With only four strings instead of six like on the guitar, it's easier, yet if kids wanted to learn guitar later, they would have gained many skills on ukulele that will help them be successful on guitar.
The kids are so excited to play, and I am, too!
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