As a public school music teacher, I belong to several music organizations. Recently, I got to teach teachers how to use ukulele in their classrooms at of the District Festivals for the Illinois Music Educators Association. The response was fantastic. I’m looking forward to presenting more such workshops in the future.
I started by explaining to the teachers why the ukulele, this little, four-stringed instrument, is so great for the classroom. The reasons are numerous and varied.
It is portable, inexpensive and easy to play.
All students can be successful and a classroom of pupils can sound good right away.
Students can play and sing simple songs within five minutes of getting the instrument, which is gratifying to everyone.
Great instrument to teach music with. By singing a melody and playing chords (harmony) students experience many elements of music at the same time: beat, rhythm, melody, harmony, ensemble and dynamics.
The ukulele builds community. Getting students to practice together, co-ordinate with each other and help each other promotes social bonding.
When children play for their families, and the joy on their parents’ faces is what any teacher wants to see.
Students love the ukulele. The level of energy and excitement in a classroom when playing the ukulele is extraordinary. Plus, there is a lot of fun to be had while they do it.
Teachers are happy because they are teaching happy and engaged students!
After telling them how wonderful the ukulele is, the teachers now got a chance to experience the excitement themselves. They got to play ukuleles and go through the material so they could learn first-hand what it is like to play a new instrument. They were all thrilled to discover what a great instrument ukulele is for school music class.
As human beings, we often learn best from experiencing something first and then digesting our experience.This philosophy of teaching works great with both children and adults.
Start with Strumming
I then identified specific techniques I use in teaching ukulele in the classroom.
I explained why I start with strumming rather than playing melodies on the ukulele. It’s because strumming is a great equalizer which encourages everyone to be part of a group. You can read How to Develop a Sense of Beat on Ukulele to learn more about strumming.
Melody Tabs Helps with Classroom Management and Community Building
When some students in a class are more advanced, it’s great to have material to keep them engaged. In the Classroom Edition books, we include melody tablature of some songs so some students can learn to play the melodies on their ukuleles.
In a junior high setting, students were often unwilling to sing, but they love to play melodies accompanied by the strummed chords of their friends. In this way, the whole class makes something greater than what any individual could do, and we can again foster a sense of community through music making.
I also talked about ways to assess the students through both performance and writing. The books offer opportunities to have both kinds of assessments available so that both teachers and students can measure learning and reflect upon it.
Some of the assessment suggestions I highlighted include:
Video performances: I have found great success in taking videos of the students while they are playing songs and posting them in my district-protected YouTube Channel. Students as well as their parents love to watch these videos. As the students watch themselves playing, I guide them in making suggestions to areas they need to improve.
Written assessment: This is another great way of testing how the students have understood the material of the book.Written assessments will allow you to evaluate your students’ comprehension and use of the key academic vocabulary in Ukulele for All.
Are you a student, teacher, parent or just a music enthusiast who would like to learn how to play the ukulele? Ukulele for All is a great place to start. The book provides a unique pedagogy for beginners and you will be up and running from the first page! The UFA comes with a free interactive practice studio which offers multi-screen video lessons, play-along recordings, and much more for every song in the book, yes, absolutely FREE.
One of my favorite units is the 12-Bar Blues. I taught the teachers a simple Blues Scale and had half of the of the class strum the chords and the other half play the blues scale. The result sounds cool and gets students excited.
Since most blues songs do not have school-appropriate lyrics, I provided teachers with two original compositions they could use in their classrooms. We also watched a YouTube video about teaching the blues to first graders, which is hilarious.
I recently showed this video to 7th-grade English students, and they enjoyed it, even if they did not like the blues!
Check out our lesson video on Johnny B. Goode below. This is an example of a blue song.
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I am now teaching teachers all over the Northern suburbs of Chicago how to use the ukulele in their classrooms. The students and educators are both excited to be adding something new and current for their students to learn and enjoy.
Please fill the form below if you would wish to contact Jenny to do a presentation on teaching ukulele.