10 Tips for Ukulele Teachers

10 Tips for Ukulele Teachers

If you went through teacher training on or before 2007, chances are that there were no ukulele pedagogy classes for you to enroll in. If there were, maybe you didn't take them because you didn't foresee what a mad craze the ukulele would soon become. 

Cal Poly Pomona, my alma mater, did not have ukulele pedagogy classes but it did have a few amazing guitar pedagogy classes that I enrolled in. I didn't play guitar, but I knew that one day I could be teaching in a program where such skills would be necessary.

By the way... if you are currently in school and there are no ukulele pedagogy classes but there are guitar ones, enroll in those! So many skills are valuable and transferable.

I began teaching elementary music in the fall of 2014. I did not have experience with elementary students and I only had one year of full-time teaching (at the middle school level) under my belt. I had to figure it all out day by day, as many teachers do. 
The first thing I learned was that students in grades 2 and 3 can do everything that a middle school student can! My students could hold the ukulele, read a chord chart, read tablature notation, and play in time. 
Here's a video that I took back in 2014 with the first set of girls that I was teaching ukulele to. They would come during their lunch recess, learn ukulele, and later help me whenever I had to teach their whole class. 

With that in mind, let's begin our list here

1. Have a core group of strong players in the class that you lean on for support. Choose them by personality first and playing ability second. Sometimes elementary children who are given leadership positions treat their classmates in a condescending tone. They feel that they are now the teacher and can tell everyone what to do. Prevent this by choosing kids who are naturally good with others and liked by their peers. Make sure that the students you choose play the ukulele with good posture and hand positioning.

2. Try using a sticker system when teaching ukuleles. The fretboard can look like an intimidating graph chart to newer players. Using stickers on the ukulele can help students find their place. I use red stickers on chord C, green on F, and blue on G, but you can use a system that works for you. I demonstrate my sticker system in the video below. 

3. Introduce ukulele terminology before the students start playing. Get the comfortable using words like "frets," "sound hole," "body," "tuning pegs," and "strings" before you introduce them to playing. This will save you TONS of time. Below I have added a page from my ukulele interactive notebook. It's a PDF I'm building to help teach the ukulele in a more engaging way. 

4. Pick a point in the classroom for the students to point the ukulele head to. We have an old VCR/DVD player hanging on our north wall. When the students hold their ukuleles, they must all point the head of the ukulele at the VCR. If they're pointing the head to our flag (on the south wall), they're on the wrong side. Now all I have to say is, "VCR" and the students know to fix their positioning. 

5. Prepare a lefty ukulele. This is a hot topic in the ukulele educators community. Teachers are divided about the idea of having left-handed players play the opposite way as everyone else. In my first years of teaching I told lefties to play the same way and I feel a little sick to my stomach at the thought of that. Having a lefty uke has more uses, though! If you have a backup lefty ukulele, you can use it to demonstrate to the class. 

In the video below I talk about what I do with my lefty players. If you have ideas to share, please drop them in the comments below!

6. Have the students "perform" for each other. When you start teaching the kids how to hold the ukulele (a technique I go over in the video below this step),  have a chair or two in the front of the class, invite the student who is demonstrating the right technique to sit at the front, and explain to the class what you saw when you picked this student. For some reason when the kids see another kid their age doing the "thing" correctly, it clicks for them.

I have a useful set of keywords to remind the kids to hold the ukuleles correctly. Other music teachers have let me know they are using these too and it is working in their classroom!

7. Teach C, C7, and Am chords first and then introduce other ones. Instill in the students that they should play C with the ring finger. Sometimes, if the kids are really young (kindergarten), I am okay with using the middle finger for C chord. C7 should be played with the index finger. Am should be played with the middle finger and the students should make a "house for a mouse" so that they don't touch all other strings on their way to Am. I talk about the "house for a mouse" in the video below. 

8. Introduce the ukulele in pairs first. Oh, how I wish I had started this from my first year. We now start ukuleles in pairs. That means that the groups are twice as likely to hear my instructions for what to do next. The students must teach and help each other. I recognize teams that work well together by giving away an origami paper, giving praise, or allowing them to perform a strategy for the class. I like to vary my reinforcements and I like to change them from time to time. 

9. Give frequent breaks. Working in pairs (step 8) helps with this because it gives the student one turn to rest and one turn to play. The strings can be very hard on young hands and you may get students complaining about blisters or pain in their fingers. Giving frequent breaks or having them work in pairs has almost completely eliminated this problem. I also use a google timer to keep me on track and make sure that I remind the students to switch. 

10. Use video to teach while you walk around the room. Would you believe me if I told you that my students listen much better when they see me on the screen than when they see me in person? I could say the SAME EXACT thing, but I know that if the kids watch it in a video, they will remember SO MUCH more of it. Instead of being frustrated about this, I roll with it. Now I play my videos for the kids to watch while I walk around the room fixing, helping, and listening. A few other teachers have gotten in touch with me and let me know they're doing the same. It really is like having another teacher in the classroom and who wouldn't like the extra support? 

I have other videos where I teach full songs, do DIY projects, and unbox ukuleles. Here are a few examples :)

Bernadette Etcheverry. Powered by Blogger.