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Ukulele In Education

Starting Ukulele In Your School

Firstly, great news that you are considering the ukulele in your school - but where do you start?

There are probably a few questions you need to ask yourself before you start.

Can you play ukulele?

If you can already play that's great, but if you can't, please don't panic. Yes, ideally you need to be at least a little ahead of pupils in school (at least to start with) but a huge part of the fun when we started our club was that nearly all of us were beginners. As your ukulele playing skills progress it will of course mean you are better able to "teach / support / encourage" the children but it is certainly possible to introduce ukulele into your school as a beginner ukulele player yourself.

As a bassist / cellist I have never played guitar so chords and strumming were a completely new thing for me. Learning the uke (as an adult music teacher) has been an exhilarating experience because it has given me an insight into "beginning" again. Yes, there are many things that I already understood in terms of theory, techniques and musicality, but being reminded of the frustrations of not being able to "instantly" achieve something without practice is a valuable tool as an educator.

If you don't already play, the internet is a wonderful thing and I was absolutely amazed at all the free resources available. YouTube will probably be your most useful tool but there are many fantastic websites covering just about all areas of learning the ukulele. Also, the sheer volume of chord sheets and tab PDFs that are available to print out or download onto electronic devices is incredible.

 

What is your initial goal?

Simple question really but every situation will be different. Primary and secondary schools will of course be different, school size, location, resources etc. will all have an impact but those factors will ideally be considered.

I teach in a large secondary school with an already quite busy music department so my initial goal was to start small with no real extra pressure on myself or the rest of the department. The "ukulele club" would be an extra curricular lunchtime activity (approx. 25 mins) once a week. There was always an aim to be able to perform in small school events but the idea was always fun and sociabilty over the pressures for perfection. This is still very much the ideology of the club even though we now currently have three different clubs running and regularly perform in public events and concerts.

 

What support do you have?

It is amazing what you discover when you start looking into something. As I started talking to pupils and staff about my plans to start a ukulele group I suddenly discovered not only pupils who could already play the ukulele but indeed other members of staff who could already play and other teachers who wished to start. Most were beginners but with a couple of more advanced players! Talk about your plans, ask around to see if pupils (and staff) at your school would be interested. Any help or support you can get, especially when starting out is great.

 

What do you need?

Obviously you need ukuleles and if you click HERE there is information about what ukuleles, funding, where to buy etc.

We started very small, I persuaded our management to purchase 5 instruments and as a department we bought a further 3, so we had 8 school ukuleles. It was a start! As the ukulele can be a relatively inexpensive instrument to buy (especially for beginners), many of our pupils very quickly got their own instruments too.

You need players. For us it was a small mixture of pupils and staff, some could play a few chords, others were absolute beginners. Some of the pupils (and all staff) had their own instruments so we weren't restricted to only the school instruments.

You need music to play and resources to enable the music making. This could be printed sheets with chords and lyrics or technology eg. a projector with PDFs or youTube videos. There is a huge amount of FREE resources out there. Check out the various YouTube channels featuring ukulele lessons, tutorials, play along videos etc. and the different education ukulele websites on the Resources page.

You need enthusiasm. There will (hopefully) be a degree of excitement about your new project but if you can add your very own energy and enthusiasm into the mix,it really will make a difference. The ukulele is such a fun instrument and if you can get this across it will pay dividends. Naming our school club "The Ukulaliens" was part of the initial success and gave a sense of "belonging" to something. We also run a rewards scheme - each player is given a small wooden keyring and they add coloured beads to show their progress - again, this was a big part of the initial success of the group when everyone was starting out. After a little while, we began running raffles, each with a ukulele as a prize. This was not only a fantastic way of building up funds to increase our stock of school ukuleles, it also made the whole school aware of the activity.

One other bit of advice, if you can, join a local ukulele group yourself, especially if you are a beginner. Apart from the obvious advantages of helping your own playing, it will give you ideas for your school club, help you make contacts with other local uke players and also add to the fun of your own ukulele experiences.

 

This is how we started in late 2016 with about a dozen of us. We currently have a beginners group of approx. 20 players, our main club which can vary on a weekly basis but is upwards of 40 players when everyone attends and a staff group which also meets weekly (a great well-being session!) but the staff also tend to attend the other groups too.

We began with just 8 ukes but now have over 100 school ukuleles (of various sizes) within the department and have started teaching ukulele to whole classes within our schemes of work as well as running the extra curricular activities.

 

Good luck with your ukulele journey.
I hope you have as much fun as I am having.

 

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