Ukulele in Today’s Music Classroom
How the Ukele can benefit your music classroom
By Nathan Cahill
While there is an abundance of tutorial videos and online lessons for every conceivable piece of music available, there is very little EDUCATIONAL research to do with the use of the Ukulele in today’s Music Classroom – and virtually none outside of North America (that this author can find). Therefore, the ‘research’ within this article can only be based on analogies and experiences from the last 5 years of a Classroom Music Teacher in Queensland, Australia:
A brief history:
My first three years of Specialist Classroom Music teaching consisted of a wholesome diet of singing, playing tuned and untuned percussion, Boomwhackers, and, of course, the ubiquitous recorder. And it was good. As both an eternal optimist and task-master, I felt comfortable in how I was molding my students into mini-musicians, half an hour at a time – whether THEY were comfortable or not is an entirely different question. Furthermore, I would have happily kept the status quo until my retirement, if it hadn’t been for the rainy day in January when I stumbled across a TV documentary entitled “The Mighty Uke” (I’ll let you research that for yourself). I was hooked in an instant. That hour and fifteen minutes has literally changed my life – and hopefully a least a few of the many hundreds of students who have since been on the receiving end of my Ukulele evangelism.
The final result – and by ‘final’ I really mean ‘very-much-in-progress…’ – is a program that gives EVERY student (and teacher!) access to level-specific, sequential resources to assist the learning of Music through this wonderful, 4-stringed tool. In my classroom (and a growing number of others’), the Ukulele is being integrated as the new ‘main’ instrument, with obvious benefits:
- Students can combine melodic, harmonic and chordal playing, and singing – all at the same time;
- Students have 4 simple to learn (and master) notes immediately upon picking up the instrument;
- These 4 strings/notes can create literally hundreds (thousands?) of ‘Kodaly-friendly’ songs – especially at junior school (grades 1 to 3) levels;
- Senior classes can build on existing knowledge – e.g. staff notation and musical styles – while quickly learning ukulele skills through mnemonics and technique tips.
And subtle benefits:
- By adding just one finger (the ‘Deadly D’ on the ‘Crocs C’ string), students have learnt the “C Pentatonic Scale”, opening up a huge variety of songs from traditional to pop for any level;
- The Ukulele is TUNEABLE – FORCING students to not only learn pitch, but RELATIVE pitch (if they want an in-tune instrument) – in turn improving in-tune singing skills.
- Students are learning hand-eye coordination, fine and gross motor skills, even whole-body/kinesthetic movement, depending on how the ukulele is utilized.
- Music and Literacy can really combine to create contextual learning opportunities across subject areas…
How many sentences can you make out of the words “Green Crocs Eat Ants”?
Crocs Eat Ants…
Green Ants Eat Crocs…
Green Crocs Eat Green Ants…
(Hint: there are many!)
Now… what if you add the word “Can”, or “Deadly”, or “Fat”?
As students learn to play (and sing) each string and its mnemonic, they are also (by accident?) learning both improvising and composing skills, supported by literacy skills! Here’s the complete C scale of mnemonics for you to preview – what happens if you play the phrase “Green Deadly Fat Bug” all at the same time? How about “Can Green Crocs Eat”? The possibilities are almost endless!
If I’ve whet your appetite, then please check out the Uke Resources at nathancahillmusic.com. Here you’ll get an idea of a suggested learning sequence, songs, games and other classroom resources – And I’d love to have a chat, of course! The world is small – who knows… I might see you in person soon!
‘Til next time – Sing, Play, Learn!
Visit Nathan at his website, www.nathancahillmusic.com, and on Facebook at Nathan Cahill Music
About the Author:
NAfME Member Nathan Cahill began teaching life in High School English/Drama departments, switching to Primary School Music in 2008 with a B.Mus.(Composition – Dist.). He is a passionate composer of Concert Band music, with work featured at the prestigious ‘Mid-West Clinic’ in the USA. Nathan has also become known for his themed songs (e.g. Book Week, Olympics, ANZAC), with repertoire performed by over 300 schools throughout Australia. He also enjoys commissions for school-specific works. His whole-school ukulele pedagogy (affectionately called “Green Crocs Eat Ants!”) is quickly growing in popularity, with interactive workshops showing teachers and students this unique method to learn music through this wonderful instrument!
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