Why Learn or Teach Ukulele?
Have you heard from students that they want to learn ukulele? Have you been asked to add a section of General Music to your schedule? Do you want to form an after-school club to bring more students into the music program? Has your administration asked you to justify how music benefits students? Do you want to teach concepts of music theory in an accessible way that gives students tools to create music of their own?
There are many reasons this little instrument from Hawaii is an excellent choice for schools, clubs and private studios.
- It is portable, easy to learn, and affordable. You can use it to teach musical concepts such as melody, harmony, rhythm, playing by ear, and music reading. The ukulele’s nylon strings are soft and easy on a student’s fingers. Students can learn the basics of three chords in a few sessions and move onto improvisation and composition in a few weeks.
- The ukulele builds community. There is something magical about having 45 students strumming a C chord and singing a folk song all together. The ukulele’s lyrical sounds will calm a class of rowdy students quickly.
- Students love the ukulele. More and more the ukulele is appearing in today’s music. I’m Yours, Lava and Over the Rainbow are all recent hits featuring ukulele that today’s students know. These songs all use a few chords and simple strumming patterns, so students can learn to play them in your class!
How to Start Teaching Ukulele
So, how do you add ukulele to your teaching arsenal?
First, learn ukulele yourself. I found it best to start with simple one-chord songs and strumming patterns. As a violinist, it was easy for me to pick out melodies right away, but I have found for a person without a stringed instrument background, strumming and singing is more beneficial as an initial experience.
I start my classes with one-chord songs (rounds) and have students strum with a steady beat. I teach them all down strums first and then add the up strums as quickly as possible. The coordination of singing pitch and rhythm over a steady beat improves student musicianship quickly.
After learning a few chord shapes and one-chord songs, I move on to two-chord songs with simple strumming patterns.
Tools for the Classroom
Over my years of teaching ukulele, I’ve developed various tools to help make it easier for me to manage a class.
I created video lessons for the songs I teach which show the lyrics and the chord shapes on the screen. I stream them into the classroom so that the class can play along with the video while I roam the room and provide individual help to students who need it.
You are sold, you really see why the ukulele is the perfect instrument to learn. You have one problem though, how do you begin? How do you get from zero to hero in the shortest time possible? Ukulele for All is here to make that happen. The book provides a unique pedagogy for beginners and you will be up and running from the first page! The UFA book 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.
I’ve also found that students often struggle with knowing when to change chords. A great way to help with this problem is to use the Kjos Publishing’s Interactive Practice Studio which is included for free when you purchase the Ukulele for All book. The IPS 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 screenshot of the IPS.
If you’re looking to purchase a ukulele, check our recommended ukuleles and accessories here.
- Blues: After teaching 1 and 2 chord songs, I teach the 12-bar blues as an initial experience with three chords (I, IV, V7) material. At this point, I also add the blues scale and improvisational experiences.
- Three-Chord Songs: Then I move to three-chord songs and more complicated strumming patterns.
- Reading Melodies: From there, I move onto reading melodies making sure that my students learn to read tablature along with standard music notation.
- Four- and Five-Chord Songs: Finally, I move my classes into four- and five-chord songs and more complicated strumming patterns.
I continue my use of streaming video and slide presentations to help students learn these more complicated songs.
I also use video to motivate my class. For instance, I film a class performing the songs they know and then post it on a private YouTube channel for parent viewing. Students are motivated to work hard and play well knowing they will be on camera, and parents love seeing what their children are learning in music class.
More Than Just Notes
As music educators, we know the value of music education for all students:
- Music helps students with communication, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking.
- Students trained in music can solve problems and think divergently.
- Students trained in music gain tenacity, discipline, patience with ambiguity, respect, empathy, and acceptance of mistakes as a learning tool.
When we are asked to do more as music educators, we respond with passion, commitment, and solutions. We know that our twenty-first-century leaders will need these qualities, so we add that extra class or club because we believe in its benefits to students.
Here’s hoping that you will embrace the ukulele with passion as another tool in your music teaching arsenal.
- Unique UFA pedagogy begins with one chord songs to give students instant success as they learn solo and ensemble skills.
- For today's digital learners, the INTERACTIVE Practice studio - included free - offers multi-screen video lessons, play-along recordings, and more for every song in the book.
- The informative Teacher Edition will make it easy for you to succeed with teaching ukulele.
Get your copy now!