March 29, 2016     Heidi Welch

UKEnomenon: Incorporating Ukuleles into the Music Classroom


When I began teaching at the high school level in 1998, I took on a position that had a part-time band and sometimes choir.  The principal at the time offered a young beginner teacher with only 2 years of K-5 general music under her belt a chance to “build a program.”. I could do whatever I wanted, within reason,  to get kids in the door of the music room (which was hidden way in the back of the building behind the cafeteria).

Beyond band and chorus, I knew that guitar class  would be the area that would be a “hook” for students who had not considered music as an option. With a limited budget, I was able to buy 20 basic classical guitars.  They were not a great brand, but I needed to have as many as I could get for as limited a cost.  Through many years of trial and error, a variety of method books and changes in practice, my class is now getting the most of guitar in the short semester that I have them.  They learn first position chords, progressions, strumming patterns, how to read lead sheets of all kinds, tablature, basic notation, basic songwriting, capo and footstool use, string changing, various ways of tuning, power, and  barre chords — and all in 16 weeks with classes every other day for 70 minutes!

The UKEnomenon

THAT BEING SAID — last year, I noticed a phenomenon — a “UKEnomenon”.  It seemed as though ukulele’s were everywhere.  Ukulele open mic’s, ukulele YouTube channels, ukulele festivals, ukulele classes — it was never-ending, and it was uketastic!  Ukulele’s were replacing recorders in elementary general music classes and were becoming a staple in middle school general music classes.  Music teacher pages on Pinterest were blowing up with ukulele storage ideas and lesson plans.  Teachers Pay Teachers started pushing a variety of ready-made plans, worksheets, and printables.

How Do I Incorporate Ukulele in The Classroom?

Incorporating ukulele’s into guitar class could be awesome, but –

  1. How do I start?
  2. Would I have time to teach basic ukulele AND all of the basic guitar competencies?
  3. Would the students WANT to try ukulele?
  4. Would it be a waste of time and effort?
  5. Where would the money come from?

The how came easy.  One of my dear colleagues (and my co-advisor for the Class of 2018) is not only a wonderful physical education and health teacher but he is also quite a woodworking machine.  He builds his own guitars, ukuleles and banjos in his spare time, and does a workshop on guitar building with my guitar classes each semester.  He happened to have a few ukulele’s around for my class to borrow for a mini week-long unit.  I had two ukulele’s of my own – so it was a start.  Long story short — the week-long mini unit was a huge success!  The guitar students started coming to the music room during their enrichment period, break, and free periods to play ukes.  They asked for ukes for Christmas and birthdays.  They brought them in to show and share…and couldn’t get enough. The light-bulb went off for me as a teacher — and I was so excited for the challenge to switch things up a bit!  I didn’t want to buy ukulele’s though — I wanted students to OWN the lesson and the ukulele forever.

DIY Ukulele Kit For the Music Classroom

My colleague and I decided to collaborate.  We researched building ukuleles but that seemed a bit crazy for the time that we had.  I found Do It Yourself (DIY) ukuleles and the reviews were mixed, but my colleague assured me that he could test one out in his shop, and see what adjustments may need to be made for the classroom setting so we got started and made this handy kit along the way:

Click here to access the “DIY Ukulele Kit” for the music classroom!

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