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Ukulele is Current


Ukulele has the potential to attract student interest for a number of reasons. The ukulele has gained popularity in recent years, with pop performers such as Train and Jason Mraz using the ukulele in their songs. Even SpongeBob plays the ukulele! This gives the instrument credibility with students. This popularity has spawned the production of fairly good yet inexpensive ukuleles. For about thirty dollars you can purchase a ukulele in an array of attractive, shiny colors. This low cost allows students to purchase an instrument of their own and become a lifelong player. The ukulele is light, portable, and easy to play--many chords can be played using only one or two fingers on the frets. Compared to the guitar, the ukulele has only four strings and is easier to manage when playing either chords or tablature.


Ukulele is a Good Curricular Fit


The use of recorder in the general music classroom has of- ten been seen as a preparatory wind instrument for students. The recorder is inexpensive and has a fairly good sound. It gives students the chance to play a melody instrument. The ukulele can be seen in the same way as a preparatory string instrument. Student ukuleles are also inexpensive and have a fairly good sound.


While the recorder is mainly a melody instrument, the ukulele allows for learning harmony as well as melody. This makes it a good complementary choice in the curricu- lum. Harmony has often been overlooked in the elemen- tary curriculum, limited to singing rounds and playing borduns. Recent research suggests starting the teaching of harmony in early grades by singing and playing chord roots and chord tones.4


Putting chord changes on the ukulele in


the upper grades is the culmination of that earlier study of harmony. Ukulele can prepare students for playing guitar or other string instruments. The skill of playing the ukulele and reading chords and tablature is easily transferred to guitar.


Ukulele is Social


The ukulele can be a solo instrument but it can also be a social instrument. Upper elementary students are often shy about singing in front of their peers. Having the ukulele tucked under their arm and performing with others gives them more confidence. I allow students in ukulele class to choose their own partners and groups. While I require stu- dents to perform independently for me to assess their prog- ress, I allow them to perform for the class within the safety of the group. Students take ownership for their learning and the learning of their group members. They develop a bond with each other from their shared experience of performance. For example, one group of boys named their group, calling themselves “The Mariachi Band.” Students


who have previous guitar experience can be leaders in the class, sharing their knowledge and song ideas.


Getting Started With Ukulele


Once you have decided to teach ukuleles, give yourself enough time to prepare. You might consider purchasing your own ukulele so that you can stay ahead of students as they learn. You will want to prepare materials, choose literature, and get the ukuleles labeled and organized. Find- ing funding, shopping, and shipping all take time, so you will need to plan ahead.


Purchasing Ukuleles


One way to get started is to purchase a classroom set of soprano ukuleles. This might involve writing a grant or asking for financial assistance from your Parent Organiza- tion or Music Boosters. For under a thousand dollars, I was able to purchase a set of thirty ukuleles with the help of our Music Boosters association. A less-expensive alternative would be to purchase one ukulele for every two students and have them share. The ukuleles are housed in the music room and while they take up less space than guitars, you will need a place to safely store them with easy access for students. I number each ukulele and students are each assigned a number so that I can track potential damage to the instrument. Students sign a contract agreeing to the safe keeping of their uke and their responsibility should it become damaged.


Local music stores sell ukuleles and are usually accom- modating to music educators. Online music stores also sell ukuleles and often have educator discounts. Music123 and Musician’s Friend are a few of the online companies that work with teachers. Allow plenty of time for shipping, as the current popularity of the ukulele sometimes has them backordered.


If you are unable to fund a class set of ukuleles, there is an- other option. My colleague, Robin Giebelhausen, has a dif- ferent approach. Students can bring their own ukulele from home or purchase one through the school as we currently do with recorders. She also purchases some ukuleles to use as “loaners” for students who cannot afford them. This means purchasing far fewer ukuleles and has the upside that most students will own their own instruments and may spend more time practicing now and in the future. Families may even take interest and learn to play!


Ukulele Resources


Ukulele literature can be songs that would normally be taught in the general music classroom or songs the students know from previous years. My colleague, Denise Wilkin- son, starts with one-chord familiar rounds and moves on to two and three chord folk songs. She has found many free


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