Case Study: Ukuleles in Schools
Tim Kendell from Woy Woy South Public School has established ukukele teaching for most of his school through the Relief from Face to Face program, one class each week when regular teachers take a break from the classroom.
This little instrument has been taking Australia by storm during the past decade, ever since the “Spicks and Specks” TV show had a ukulele group perform “It’s a long way to the top”. Far from being just a novelty instrument, educators are starting to finding a place for the ukulele in the classroom.
What are the benefits of having a school ukulele group?
It allowed us to offer the whole school an affordable musical instrument to purchase. It has created opportunities to teach children about their coordination and allows singing along with the playing which recorder does not allow. It is simple for most children to begin playing simple chords and some children are developing more expertise and playing melodies. This has allowed discussion and teaching of individual parts of a song and how many people playing together can create the music. We have found that the year 3 boys are particularly interested in the ukes, this has created new social setting for these boys and a sense of camaraderie.
What does a ukulele group usually involve?
We advertise the Ukulele Group in the newsletter constantly to remind kids and parents, I have a core of 7 kids but it goes up to 20. I have used a lot of different music and often end up writing chord charts myself for different music.
If my school has a ukulele group, what kinds of opportunities are there for it to perform?
Local uke festivals, Regional Music Showcase, Weekly school assembly, Fathers’s day breakfast, and so on.
If my school doesn’t have a ukulele group, where do we start?
Our school bought a class set of ukes and then I teach Ukulele as part of the Relief from Face to Face (RFF) program. This allowed me to begin teaching music literacy in a clear way to all 3-6 and some year 1& 2 classes. I also began a uke group for students that showed extra interest and recently invited a local expert to begin formal tuition for those wishing to pay for further lessons.
I have also sold the ukes at the end of the first year of the RFF program to the interested students at a reduced cost to allow those with very little finance an opportunity to own an instrument. I then had the school purchase new instruments, this way it subsidises some of the cost of the initial $600.00 outlay and keeps fresh instruments in the classroom.
I have found Mahalo ukes are the best quality of the sub $30.00 instruments. I also bought a pick punch from eBay and punch out soft picks from the covers to plastic sleeve folders. This is because many children complained of soreness on their strumming hand.
How does learning Ukulele in school prepare people for a life in music?
It begins a discussion with students on the formal aspects of music and musical literacy. For the lower socio-economic status (SES) community I work in it allows the formality of music education to be discussed with the informality of the uke itself. It is affordable and I often describe it to parents as a “gateway” instrument to allow the student to develop an interest in personal performance. If the student shows motivation and interest the hope is that students seek other musical experiences after the uke.
Is this program best suited to primary schools, secondary schools, or both?
I have found it effective for students from year 1 onwards. Year 3 have generally shown more aptitude and cope better with the motor skill issues.
Is this program available to government and non-government schools?