Teaching Ukulele in the Classroom
Here at ‘Ukulele Quest’, we thought it would be interesting for us to share some ideas about teaching ukulele in the classroom. Having around thirty ukuleles in the hands of children, all playing at the same time can seem like a daunting prospect. With a few tips here and there, this can be a really enjoyable and rewarding way to teach the ukulele.
Here are our ‘6 Classroom Ukulele Tips!!!’ We’d love to hear your thoughts!
New ukuleles are often provided with slackened strings and can have trouble holding intonation for a little while. We highly recommend allowing for some time to tune these up (the guitar tuna app is great for this) and for them to hold their tuning. Tuning in lessons can take quite a lot of time and break the flow in lessons so making a bit of time for this beforehand can give peace of mind.
It’s worth considering how you’d like the classroom to be set up for Ukulele. As it’s such a small instrument, it’s possible to play at a desk / table but it’s worth changing chairs around to face forwards so that the children can see the teacher clearly. Putting the tables away and sitting in a semicircle is also a really useful way to teach. This way, everyone is visible and it’s easy to get to children to help them if needed. We also put the chairs in pairs within the semi-circle, so everyone has a ukulele ‘buddy’ to help them with the chord shapes.
Managing volume in the classroom can be difficult with lots of children. A good idea is to use call and response when opening up a lesson. If you loudly tap a rhythm on ukulele and repeat it, children will naturally copy and eventually all join in until they are all silent. When starting out, it’s good to get children to stand up and make a ukulele oath, perhaps something along these lines:
1. I will listen to the teacher when they are talking
2. With plectrums/ukuleles I get what I get and don’t get upset
3. I will rock out and have fun!
After the pledge it is always good to show the children a signal, that means they have to be in a ‘resting’ position. Resting position means that the ukulele strings are face down on the child’s lap. We normally tap three times as a signal for the children to do this. You can even make a game of it and see which pair of children get to resting position first.
We find plectrums really useful when teaching Ukulele. Strumming can be quite tough on fingers and thumbs so using plectrums is a good way around this. If you’re using them, we’d recommend setting up a “Plectrum Passport” system where the children take more responsibility for the plectrum by keeping it in their possession for the whole lesson and handing it back in at the end. This could be coupled with a reward such as house points or dojo points. Reinforcing good posture with the Ukulele also helps here so that they don’t end up being dropped into the sound hole which can cause some headaches! We would recommend plectrums between 0.8 – 1.0mmm this means they are slightly thicker and don’t break as easily. They can be cheaply bought in bulk.
Playing along with popular songs is a great way to get the whole class involved with ukulele as an ensemble. We use lots of popular songs in our lessons and it’s a nice way to get everyone playing in time. Children like chart songs and big beats as much as anyone, so try to keep it modern and relevant. Many musical elements can be taught here in a practical way also such as dynamics, structure, pulse, rhythm and tonality. Teaching songs in levels can also really help, such as playing one chord per bar or using a simplified chord shape. Having a more advanced part or an easier part for the song will allow for more differentiation in the lesson. Check out some easy first chord changes here:
Here is a ukulele course if you are learning yourself for the first time:
Little round coloured stickers - easily found in craft stores can be useful for mapping out simple chords on the ukulele. Showing where C, Am, F and G are using different colours gives the children a really nice visual reference for the chord shapes. This works especially well with KS1 and younger KS2 children who may find it difficult to remember the shapes for the chords. This gives a way to reinforce the chord shapes and also having a couple of ukuleles in the room with no stickers can help for those children ready for an extra challenge. Stickers can also work well as rewards in the lessons and if children have their own ukuleles or the provider is happy with it, they can be used to decorate and personalise the ukulele which a lot of younger children really enjoy.
If you are thinking about setting up a ukulele class ensemble and aren’t sure where to start, do check out our book ‘Ukulele Quest’ from Faber Music Publishing. This is written with a class in mind and will take you through the first term’s lessons. It builds up chords one finger at a time and includes upbeat bespoke songs to rock out to! The songs can also be multi-levelled. Here is an amazon link: