How To Launch A Successful Ukulele Program

In this post I will highlight the 12 steps that I learned in the past 4 years of starting ukulele programs. Unfortunately for me, they didn't teach this in my undergrad. Fortunately for you, I have highlighted it for you. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below and I would love to get back to you. 

Here we go!

1. Ukulele Shopping. 
  • 4 Soprano Ukuleles
  • 24 Concert Ukuleles
  • 8 Tenor Ukuleles


If you don't know much about ukulele sizes, or are ordering online, I recommend you go for the concert size. If you are more familiar and comfortable with ukulele sizes, I recommend buying a variety of sizes. These are my numbers:
soprano, concert, and tenor ukuleles
The size differences allow my students to experiment with different ukuleles and find their right "fit," even if it is only a school instrument. The ukulele size does not have to match the student's size. For example, some of my tiny 2nd grade students like the bigger (tenor) ukuleles, while some of my 4th grade boys like the soprano ukuleles. Everyone has a different preference and I like the students to find theirs.
I have ordered Oscar Schmidt, Kaka, Elvis, and I have Lanikai and Córdoba ukuleles. I have a variety of sizes ranging from soprano to tenor. I made a YouTube video showing you and reviewing the ukuleles I have. You can watch it here.
If you'd like to watch my video review of ukulele instruments I have in my classroom, please click here: Ukulele Shopping for My Music Program
Some families express that they want their child to play the guitar in the future. In these cases, I agree with the parents and tell them how it's much easier for students to gain the skills they need to play guitar on ukulele first.
So far, this has been a pretty successful approach.
tenor ukuleles next to a 3/4 size guitar
Contact me if you have a particularly difficult family. We can develop a plan of attack together ;)
2. How many ukuleles should I buy?
Short Answer: 3 more than the students in your class (If you have 25 students in your class order 28)
Better Answer: Order 3-5 ukuleles more than you need for the biggest class you will have in the next 3-5 years.
For example, I start teaching ukulele halfway through 2nd grade. I need to know how many students are in the biggest classes in 1st grade and even kindergarten.
My mistake: The biggest class I had was 29 students, so I ordered 30. This worked out great for the first year until we had our first popped string and I didn't know how to replace a string yet. Then, the next year, my biggest class had 31 students. I had to order 2 more ukuleles and I couldn't find the same model that I had, so my ukuleles would not match.
Had I ordered 3-5 extra ukuleles, I would not have had to worry about this. There were also fellow teachers at my school who wanted to learn ukulele and wanted to borrow one during their prep to learn. This was GREAT because it meant I would have an ally in my staff but I did not have an extra one to let her borrow. Lastly, there were times when students wanted to perform during lunch time or a class presentation like "show & tell" and I had to say, "no, I need those ukuleles for the class I will be teaching at that time." Pity. Now I have 35 ukuleles. Students can perform at lunch time, use them for show & tell, and fellow teachers can learn during their prep time without affecting my numbers.
3. Order extra strings. You. Will. Need. Them.
You may pop a string, a student may pop a string, or a well-meaning adult may do it. No matter who it is, if you do not have replacement strings, you are taking away a child's opportunity to play an instrument. You are also wasting your resources. Having an ukulele without a string hanging from your wall may look cute, but it is a waste of money you spent on your program.
these strings came with the kaka ukuleles!
Also, replace your strings on the same day that they get popped. If you don't know how to do it, use this YouTube tutorial for replacing ukulele strings! or do what I did: I asked my science teacher to help me. He's a really really good guitarist and performer. He had never replaced a ukulele string but had replaced bass and guitar strings many times. He did just fine!
4. Learn how to replace strings.
Read step 3 if you need more convincing.
Also, if you have a document camera, replace a string under the document camera and explain this process to the students. They don't have to learn how to replace a string, but they should appreciate the work that goes into this process. This should also hopefully help them understand why they should turn the tuning pegs.
Here is a YouTube video link for learning how to replace an ukulele string! Video link
5. Plan how you will tune the ukuleles daily/weekly. 
Tuning app? Clip-on tuners? Will students learn how to tune? How will you teach them? I use PANO tuner (see pictures below) on my classroom iPad and have taught a 2 students in each class how to tune.
PANO tuner is a free app (ads will appear on the top). This app lets you choose between alpha or do re mi!
We also have clip-on tuners that are very easy to take on performances.
I tune ukuleles every morning on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. The students let me know if there is an ukulele that needs fine tuning.
I used up one of my lunch times to teach my most confident ukulele players how to tune. Then I had them teach some of their peers. This time invested has helped A LOT. I no longer need to stop the class to tune. Age does not matter. My students were in 2nd grade when they learned how to tune.

6. Choose the curriculum you will use or develop your own curriculum.
Although it is exciting to buy the ukuleles, think about where you want to set them up in your classroom, and imagine your students strumming away on the instrument, it is very important to think about how you are going to get them there.
Do you have a method book?
Have you downloaded and printed chord charts?
Have you chosen music?
How will you assess your students' growth?
Is there an end goal? A performance? A concert?
Before you get overwhelmed with all of my questions, relax. Breathe. And know that I have my answers to these questions here for you.
  • Teach chords. Students will love them. If you want to see a video of how I teach chords, click here
This is one of my latest chord projects. I listened to Bon Jovi's Livin' On A Prayer and notated the chords.
I also created an attachment with all of chords used in the song.
this resource is available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store
  • You should have two types of chord charts to maximize student independence: 1) a 1-page reference of the most useful chords and 2) chord progressions on your wall. The chord progressions are color-coded so that I can simply say, "let's play the orange chord progression today" or "this song uses the blue chord progression chords." If you like the chord charts from the image below, click here. I did not make these, so the link will send you to Katie Wardrobe's website.
  • Once your students get more confident holding the ukuleles and playing a handful of chords, let them go. Go to a guitar tab or ukulele tab website and print out some music for your students. Start them with something simple, like "You Are My Sunshine" or "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" -these songs only use C, F, and G (or G7)
  • I give the students 2-5 minutes to practice an excerpt of the music. By now they know that once the alarm goes off, I will choose one random student (using the random button on ClassDojo) and they are expected to play what we have just practiced. This may sound cruel, but it makes your 2-5 minutes of independent practice intentional. The students know there is a chance they may have to perform, so they can't slack off or waste time for 5 minutes. These performances allow me to assess student growth. They also are a teachable moment for the rest of the class. I coach the class on how to be a good audience member while someone performs.
  • Concert/Performance - the first few years of teaching ukulele I did not have a public concert or performance. I was scared about throwing a performance for something that I was just learning how to do. Instead, we had an "end-of-term" talent show and we all performed for each other. The students loved this. Now, my students perform at assemblies, school events, and public events. The students improve substantially when they have an upcoming performance. It helps them up their game.

7. Decide whether your students will be able to check the instruments out. 
This is a tricky, because you may fear for the livelihood of the instrument. I understand. What I did was I started an ukulele club for the students who were really committed to the ensemble, created an instrument checkout form, and I only let those students check out the instruments. If you're interested in this free resource, I have provided it here for you: UkuleleClubApplicationInstrumentCheckoutForm

8. Create a resource for parents and families informing them about what ukuleles to buy and which to avoid.
I can't tell you how many times I wish that parents would have communicated with me before buying instruments for their children. I get it. They're excited that their child has a new passion and they want to support it. I also understand that they have a tight budget or are afraid of making a serious investment just in case their children don't commit, BUT if you don't educate your families, students will show up with souvenir ukuleles expecting them to be real instruments they can use in class.
Don't worry :) I have done the work for you. Show parents this link: Which Ukuleles Do I Buy for my Classroom?  It's my video reviewing ukuleles that students have purchased and that I use in class. The video description box also has links to order on Amazon!
All of the ukuleles I have in my classroom cost ~$100 (some more, some less). Most come with a soft case and extra strings!
Another option: prepare a handout of Teacher-Approved Ukuleles that families may buy at your local music store. Please see #9

9. Talk to the staff at your local neighborhood music store. 
Students and families are likely to go to a local music store to look at ukuleles. If you want your students buying specific materials, give these expectations to your local music store.
Before starting a ukulele program in Imperial, California, I visited Clark Baker Music Store, the closest music store to my school. When I walked in, I surveyed the store and noticed they only had 2 ukuleles in stock.
I introduced myself to the owner and staff, told them where I would be working, and let them know I would be starting an ukulele program. Crystal, one of the employees at the store, asked me for a wishlist -what I wanted my students to buy at their store!
I gave them a wish list for reeds, books, and accessories for all of my band classes. I also told them that I would be launching a new program that would enable 180 students to play ukuleles for the first time. The music store bought a wide selection of beautiful ukuleles in a variety of sizes. They all had a great sound, came with a carrying case, and were teacher-approved!

10. Use a sticker system.
I wish I had used this system when I taught ukuleles at the middle school level, but unfortunately, I did not learn this lesson until I moved to elementary music teaching.
My stickers are organized to match the boomwhackers/push bells.img_3794img_3795
  • C Chord, or DO, is red
  • F Chord, or FA, is green
  • G Chord, or SOL, is blue

My students were able to learn both chords and tab much faster after I started using the stickers. I would never start another ukulele program without them!
To watch see how I set up the stickers, click here.
To learn why I use the sticker system, watch my introduction video here.

11. Think about daily ukulele storage. 
Think about how/where the ukuleles will be stored.
Plan your dismissal procedure. I failed to do this and had broken ukuleles because of it.
Now I keep ukuleles in 2 different areas, as you can see from the photos below.

12. Teach scales
There's a reason why our music teachers made us learn our scales. Actually, there are many reasons. Here are a few:
Scales will help your students develop
  • left/right hand coordination
  • speed
  • familiarity with the fretboard
  • an ear for music
  • transferable skills
  • improvisation skills
  • confidence in their instrument
I was pleasantly surprised at how much the students loved learning scales and showing them off to me.
I made this resource for them that I threw on my Teachers Pay Teachers page.

Need some suggestions on which ukuleles to order? Read my article on which ukuleles I buy and avoid for my classroom here, or go straight to Amazon and check out these Ms. B-approved ukes

12 Steps To A Successful Ukulele Program


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