Let’s learn how to set up a classroom ukulele program today!
Do you want to have excited and engaged students in your music classes?
Have you ever wanted your students to create their own music?
Do you want to teach music basics (melody, harmony, and rhythm) in a way that is creative and fun?
Do you want your students to love what they are doing?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, setting up a classroom ukulele program is for you.
Why the Ukulele Is Perfect for the Classroom
Ukulele makes a great classroom instrument because of the following reasons:
- Ukuleles are portable, affordable and have a pleasing sound. Those four strings make a sweet sounding harmony that will keep you smiling all day.
- They democratize learning because they are easy to play at an affordable price. This is an instrument for each and every one of your students
- It is easy to challenge students at many different levels at the same time by creating “ukulele orchestra” arrangements. This way all students from the most challenged to the most talented can make music from the beginning.
Learn Music Through the Ukulele
Students learn the basic elements of music in a fun and harmonious way. From the easiest one-chord songs, students are learning and experiencing the difference between rhythm and beat, hearing harmonies and either singing or playing melodies. Students get all of these elements from the start, which is a great way to engage both their hearts and minds.
The coordination between two hands and a voice on melody is a brain challenge that uses multiple brain centers. Once students learn a couple of chords, they can sing and play many songs and even start creating their own.
More Than the Music
Students learn about areas outside of music too.
When a student sings a song, he or she is experiencing poetry. Songs often will change chords in an unexpected place, even in the center of a word. Such a contrast between poetry and music is a great challenge to the developing brain of a student.
Students learn the history of songs. They can create lyrics and chords to write their own songs. Students also learn about the evolution of musical styles over time.
And students get to see connections between social history and popular music. One of my favorite examples of this connection is showing students Eminem’s rap hit Mockingbird after they have learned the folk song Hush Little Baby.
Hush Little Baby is connected to Social Studies, which is part of the Common Core. When Eminem uses the lyrics of a 19th-century folk song and applies those lyrics to the present day, he is creating art and commenting on what happens in modern families.
Studying these connections is musical anthropology or ethnomusicology, which is part of the discipline of the social sciences. Exploring these relationships also fulfills two of the National Standards for Music Education, namely:
- Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts.
- Understanding music in relation to history and culture.
Human beings are social animals thus the necessity to build healthy relationships with others. As the students have fun and learn music with their friends, there is that mutual bonding and healthy interaction. They get to help each other out and work as a team to make a song sound good.
Ukulele classes build a sense of community within the school. Because all students are on beat and in harmony with each other, there is a sense of shared purpose within the music classroom that can spread to other school activities and experiences.
Ukulele taps into the students’ creativity. The ukulele encourages and enables them to move from just being consumers of music to becoming music creators.
Creativity is also nurtured when the students get to play and improvise on existing songs. If a teacher teaches the 12-bar blues, students are improvising and creating songs within minutes.
Ukuleles are used in pop music. Students cover songs they want to learn rather than songs always chosen by the teacher.
One word of caution – preview the lyrics of any song a student wishes to learn first! Much of our current popular music has lyrics that are inappropriate in a school setting.
So, you’re convinced. You want to create a ukulele program in your school. What should you do?
How to Set Up a Classroom Ukulele Program at Your School
1. Learn to play the ukulele
You can teach yourself using our book 21 Songs in 6 Days: Learn Ukulele the Easy Way. We have online lessons that will help you with strumming, chord shapes and learning melodies on the ukulele.
You can join a ukulele club, take a class, or sign up for some lessons. Get excited about the ukulele so you can share your newly found passion with your students.
2. Have your school purchase a classroom set of ukuleles, tuners, and books.
If physical books are more expensive than you can afford, you can purchase eBooks for under a dollar per book. Students can use the books on iPads or Chromebooks.
Music books will benefit your students in the following ways:
- Students learn to read music by seeing musical notation daily.
- The students work in small groups at their own pace, while the teacher has the opportunity to help struggling students or give more challenging music to students with a musical background.
- Students are given “quiet” reading or writing assignments with the book, so you can work with a small group of students.
3. Make sure you have a PowerPoint or the new Interactive Practice Studio from Kjos Publishing
This is to help your students when you play the ukulele and sing together as a class. Color-coding the lyrics by chord change really helps students see when to change chords.
Ukulele For All comes with an Kjos Publishing’s Interactive Practice Studio which includes both video lessons and audio recordings of every song in the book. The lessons are split screen, so you can see up close what each hand is doing on the ukulele. You can change the playback speed of the recordings. Below is a snippet from the Interactive Practice Studio.
4. Have videos that teach the students while you “roam” the classroom.
This way you can help struggling students who are often behavior problems if they are struggling with the music. The Interactive Practice Studio offers multi-screen video lessons, play-along recordings, and much more for every song in Ukulele for All.
5. Video your classes performing and post the videos on a protected YouTube account.
Classroom teachers love to see and hear their students in a different light. Parents love to see their children having fun at school and doing something really cool.
6. Involve parents and your Parent/Teacher Organization.
Parents are thrilled to see their students learning something “real,” and will support these programs.
7. Perform for parent groups or in the community.
In short, setting up a classroom ukulele program is a challenge, but the rewards for students, parents, teachers and the school community far outweigh the difficulties involved.
Have you started a classroom ukulele program or set up a club at your school or church? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.