"The free play of art is the result of mastery. " --Ernst Fischer, The Necessity of Art

"Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them." --Ladybird Johnson

"...a well-trained ear, a well-trained intelligence, a well-trained heart, and a well-trained hand...." --Zoltan Kodaly


Ukuleles rock.

I think ukes rock.

I think every kid should be able to play uke.

At my school, they do.

Here's how it works:

We have enough ukuleles for each kid to use one during class, and a few in case one explodes or something.

I tune them in C major (every day).

We use a variety of picks--from tiny hot pink shell-like ones, to big old floppy picks made from quart yogurt container lids.
Surprisingly, the latter are sometimes the favored ones: they're easy to hold and they sound good.

In September, I play the uke for the first few classes: some classical pieces and a lot of accompaniments to songs.

In the third week of classes: every kid gets a uke during class.

We go through a guided discovery process first (what's it look like? what's it made out of?  to what instrument family does it belong? and so one).

The first thing we work on is how to hold it. More of a challenge than is apparent at first....the kids sit so that everyone is facing me. I hold up the uke so they know in which direction to aim the neck. We spend a LOT of time working on holding the uke correctly and just strumming...on the beat....together.....at the same time....stopping when the lead uke player (sometimes me, sometimes a kid) stops.

We don't use picks at this point. We use just the open chord (no fingers on the frets).

Once that's underway, we add picks.

Next up is learning to mute. (A necessary skill, especially once we start on the blues...)

Then it's time for solo/ensemble work. Volunteers play by themselves (with me accompanying them on another instrument..sometimes piano, sometimes bass, whatever), briefly, on the beat, mute or open chording, alternating with the class playing as an ensemble.

Now they're ready for chords. We start with C7 (obviously: it only needs one finger to play it!). Then C major. Then F major.

All during this time, they're playing everything to real music: either we're singing and playing (here's where the abilty to mute comes in handy!) or they're using ukes and I'm playing piano. We do a lot of blues.

The last chord for awhile is G7. And, of course, if they can do G7, they can usually do Bar 5, Bar 6, Bar 7....which is a nifty swing-style ending for tunes, that I learned from Ruthy Ungar Merenda, at Ashokan Fiddle and Dance Camp. (www.ashokan.org/ashokan/camp.shtml)

So how does this work out?

It's now January. We started in September.

Kindergarteners and First Graders can play open strums and muting, on the beat, together, solos and ensemble. All Firsts can play C7; some Firsts can play C, too.

All of my 2nds can play C, C7, and some can play F major.

Third, Fourth and Fifth graders can play all of the chords we've learned thus far. Some kids still need help to remember the G7 chord at times, but most are rock solid.

We have music class twice weekly, for a half hour each time. We play ukes during only one of the class sessions.

We start with uke jam for about 5 minutes: I show them today's goal (for instance, "we wanna be able to play a really seriously clear F major chord today, every time, no matter how fast the song switches chords") ....and they get to practice...and chat...and work on anything else with the uke that they'd like. Explore it. Some kids create amazing strums during this time, and some start fingerpicking. Some look for melodies. Some practice the chords. And some chat.

It's all good.

Then we re-convene, and start woodshedding on whatever today's tune is.

It is completely fun, completely absorbing, and rapidly creating a solid group of about 250 kids who love to play uke, who think of themselves (rightly so!) as musicians, and who
seriously rock.

These kids rock.

And so does the uke.

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