So you want to teach the Ukulele?
I don’t know how you’ve found this article. Maybe someone has suggested to you that the ukulele would be a good idea for your music classes, or alternatively perhaps you’ve been teaching the ukulele already for a while, but you’re feeling a bit “stuck in a rut” and not like you can make any progress with your students.
Either way, this article is designed to give you a few ideas and some thinking points to get yourself moving with teaching the ukulele in an easy and effective way.
Key #1 – Realize that it’s only as difficult as you make it yourself.
How difficult to play is the ukulele? That is something that is constantly asked of us as music teachers … along with how difficult is the piano? How difficult is the violin? How difficult are brass instruments to play compared with woodwind?
These kind of questions that students and parents ask are really “how long is a piece of string” kind of questions. Eventually as experienced individuals teaching music we realize that every instrument has difficult and easy aspects to its use.
However, of all instruments, the ukulele is one of the easier ones.
Here is why:
- It has only four strings! Just because of that it has an advantage over the guitar, in that our brain can quickly see the chord shapes and the melodies in place.
- It doesn’t require anything from the musician to stay in tune. Guitars, keyboard and percussion have distinct advantages over wind, string and brass instruments in that they don’t require the musician to think much about tuning. You can tune the instrument with an electronic tuner, and you’re good to go!
- The level of technical skill required is low. Once students know how to hold the ukulele and perform some basic strums, they can focus on what they’re doing with their left hand, and can therefore get some success straight away.
So the ukulele is only as difficult as you make it.
Yes, you may struggle to get your fingers into those tight awkward positions on the small neck of a soprano ukulele.
Yes, you may struggle to get the hang of the strumming patterns – particularly the “Hawaiian strum” which is so popular in many musical styles.
And yes, picking melodies on the ukulele might be something you’ve never tried before.
However, give it a go and realize that as long as you stay a few steps ahead of your students, you’ll be just fine.
Key #2 – Organization and Systems for success
If you get all excited, order a class set of ukuleles and then decide to open them up in the classroom, two minutes before the first lesson … then you won’t be set up for success!
One of the biggest tips we can give for a ukulele class is this :
Make sure you “play in” new instruments
Ukuleles strings take a little while to stretch in place, and therefore for the first few hours of playing they will constantly go out of tune.
For this reason, do what it takes to play each instrument for a period of time before the first class. This will help you improve your own skills, but more importantly it will get the strings stretched in and settled down, and you won’t have so many tuning problems.
Once the ukuleles have been played in the strings will settle down, and they will rarely need tuning. This will save you lots of time in class and you’ll be able to get straight to the playing.
Have a consistent storage process and method for students picking up instruments.
There are many different storage systems for ukuleles. From simple hooks on the wall, to specially built racks that cost hundreds of dollars. Whatever you have, make sure that you instruct the students on how to pick up and replace the ukuleles and ensure that they are cared for.
Key #3 – Get consistency in resources
There is nothing more confusing for students than chords presented in different ways, from different sheet music and videos.
Youtube, while a wonderful resource for us as teachers, definitely has its issues.
If you search “Ukulele play-along for _______(song name)” you’ll get an enormous range of different videos – some with arrows, some with light up chords, some with vertical chords and sometimes they’re horizontal.
The challenge is that they are all different. If you use one play along for one song and then a different style for the next song your students will get very confused.
That is why we’re doing something about that here at the Fun Music Company.
We’ve developed a unique animation style for our Ukulele Curriculum System and we aim to have all the songs and resources you ever need for teaching ukulele, so that your students will be used to a consistent approach through all songs and lessons.
Get started today by downloading our free ebook on how to create Fun And Engaging Music Lessons With The Ukulele In The Classroom.