This page contains a Flash digital edition of a book.
ideas and resources on Pinterest. YouTube is also a great resource. It is full of both professional and amateur tutori- als. Robin even makes her own tutorials so students can watch and learn at home!

Once students have a few chords under their belts they can move on to contemporary music. Blues songs and cur- rent popular songs are possible once students know three to four chords. There are websites that not only have the chords for popular songs but can transpose songs to a key that is familiar to students. There are how-to websites that provide tuners, chords and tabs, strumming techniques and all the information you need to get started.5

Ukulele Class

I divide my 30-minute classes roughly in half, starting with singing and tonal and rhythmic skill development and end- ing with ukulele practice. All songs are sung first during that beginning time before they are performed on ukulele. Even the chord changes are taught aurally first so that stu- dents can hear them rather than just read them on the page. The ukuleles give students a reason to sing a song and learn the chord changes. Playing the ukulele at the end of class is motivation for them to practice skills in the beginning of class.

It is easy to work other musical skills in with ukulele study. For example, students can create a rhythm piece and use it as a B section with a ukulele song. Students can add non- pitched instrument ostinati to their uke songs. Students can create an arrangement, improvise introductions and codas, and create rhythmic strumming or sounds (like slapping the strings, bending, or sliding the strings). My students do a small group project where they choose a popular song and arrange it for ukulele and other percussion instruments and voices.

This year I taught tablature as well as chords. Tab is when you play a melody by plucking one string at a time rather than strumming. Students can compose their own songs with tab to work on melody and composition skills. Robin taught her 7th and 8th graders to improvise melodies using the blues scale. There are so many possibilities!

Possible Drawbacks

Before deciding to start teaching ukulele, there are a few challenges to consider. One of the cons about using the ukulele in general music class is that C is the easiest chord to play but is a low key for singing. To combat this, I now start with the C chord but quickly jump to songs in both C and F major. Another concern is that, especially at the beginning, we stay in major tonality for a long time while students struggle with the executive skills of playing the instrument. However, the A minor chord is simple, and


teaching that at an earlier time, perhaps to accompany a simple minor tonality round, would provide some tonal variety.

Another drawback of owning a class set of ukuleles is the time investment. In order for new instruments to main- tain their tuning, the strings must be stretched and pulled multiple times. It can take four weeks before the ukuleles hold their tuning. Purchasing a “string winder” for a few dollars will save time (and muscle-ache). Once the strings have been stretched to their fullest, daily tuning remains a necessity. All instruments wear and it takes time (and re- sources) to keep the instruments tuned and repaired. I give the ukuleles a good tuning in the morning before class, and then tune the occasional uke that goes out of tune during the day. Denise starts the year using a tuning website that teaches the students to tune their instrument.6

includes a video tutorial and then a visual and the sound of each string’s pitch, which gives knowledge and a resource for students tuning their own instrument at home.

Choose Ukes!

The positives of choosing to teach ukulele in general music far outweigh the challenges. Ukuleles are attractive to students in the middle grades who are frequently difficult to engage. The recent popularity of the ukulele, combined with its long history in this country, give it social and cur- ricular relevance in our schools. Learning to play the uku- lele encompasses a wide variety of musical concepts and skills. Most importantly, learning to play the ukulele gives students the potential to become independent music mak- ers. As music educators, our ultimate goal is for students to be lifelong musicians. You will feel good about your choice to teach ukulele when you see your students excited about making music, both in the classroom and beyond!

3Sisario, Ben. Ukulele Crazy. New York Times. April 15, 2011 4

Denise M. Guilbault, “The Effect of Harmonic Accompaniment on the Tonal Achievement and Tonal Improvisations of Children in Kindergarten and First Grade,” Journal of Research in Music Education 52, no. 1 (2004); Denise M. Guilbault, “The Effects of Harmonic Accompaniment on the Tonal Improvisations of Students in First Through Sixth Grade,” Journal of Research in

Music Education 57, no. 2 (2009) 5

Uke Hunt ( is a great place to go for beginner information, and Pineapple Pete’s Uke School (http:// has an online tuner. 6

Cathy Fox is currently teaching elementary general music in the Grand Ledge Public Schools. She taught music in Ohio, New York, and Connecticut before moving to Michigan in 2003. Cathy has Music Education degrees from Oberlin College and North- western University. She can be reached at

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