Jenny Peters presented “Ukulele in the General Music Classroom” at the January 27th Illinois Music Education Conference in Peoria. The session was well attended by educators eager to benefit from her expertise in teaching this child-friendly instrument.
Jenny highlighted many interesting topics during the session.
Jenny explained that the ukulele is portable, inexpensive and easy to play. And it’s not intimidating and easy to learn, so all students can be successful at it.
How To Teach Effectively
Jenny presented her unique pedagogy which begins with students learning strumming patterns and one finger chords. Next, she teaches singing rounds, then gradual expansion into two, three and four chord songs. Students then play together to develop rhythm skills. Students are also encouraged to listen to each other and play with a resonant sound. Jenny also emphasized the use of visual aids to reinforce learning.
Jenny pointed out that starting with strumming before teaching melodies means all students in a class are learning something brand new. (Even those students some stringed instrument experience are unfamiliar with strumming.)
Assessment is very important to U.S. educators and forms an integral part of the development of ukulele skills. Two methods of assessment were highlighted:
Here, students are divided into groups of four. Specific criteria about what is expected (referred to as a “rubric”) are then used to grade them based on their performance. The teacher can track students’ performance using a sticker chart or grade book. For motivation, students may take videos of themselves while performing. The videos can be uploaded to a protected video sharing site where parents can see their children performing.
Students can complete written tests of their understanding of the material presented in books or in class. Students can write using clipboards while other students are doing their performance-based assessment.
Another great topic Jenny covered with the participants was how to evaluate ukulele teaching materials. Jenny pointed out that using a wide array of visual materials can speed students’ learning process. For presenting chord shapes, she proposed three types of images:
- Traditional chord stamp
- Chord stamp turned 90 degrees
- Picture of a hand making the chord shape
Another great visual aid is video. Using videos in class allows the instructor to walk around and help struggling students. While the teacher is helping individuals, the rest of the class can follow the directions on the video and be learning to play the melody, strum, and sing together.
The 12 Bar Blues
Jenny also discussed teaching the 12 bar blues. The 12 bar blues is an important part of NaFME’s Common Core standards for music for harmony instruments (piano, guitar, ukulele). Learning blues makes it easy for students to create their own songs. A simplified blues scale can also be a great tool for students to learn how to improvise.
Educators Play Like the Students
This was the best part of the presentation. Jenny provided 70 participants with ukuleles and attendees got a chance to experience learning ukulele. Below is a snippet of the event.
The session ended with an enthusiastic question and answer session chock full of great participant ideas. Some of the topics covered were ukulele tuning, storage, classroom organization, special needs students, music theory, and how to teach when there are more students than ukulele. It was a great event in Peoria!