Teaching Ukulele

Ukulele & Your Students

Make your life easier. You'll have your solo students, or entire class, making instrumental music in one sitting. You'll also have all the tools needed to teach important musical concepts.
Why teach this rather than what you're doing already?
  • Are the majority of your students headed to higher education in music? Probably not, but real humans are goofing with ukulele for their whole lives at all ages now. Give them a gift of life-long musical learning.
  • Do you need to get an ensemble of instrumentalists ready for the spring show? Probably. And the Christmas show ... OMG. This is the place to get the best ukulele Christmas book on Earth. The best.
  • Can you stand one more day of recorder and Orff instruments? Absolutely not -- well, the glockenspiel is sweet -- but people don't play any of that stuff "for reals." They do play the ukulele. At the university, we studied our primary instrument and took pedagogy classes. At no point did ukulele come up (probably), partially because academics are notoriously behind and they're busy doing what they do. Ukulele wasn't in their thinking, but it should have been; it will be one day; and, you should be the one ahead of the curve.
  • Would you like a pre-packaged, pre-tested, world-class program written so you can teach it in lots of different ways and meet your state's standards? Heck yeah.
  • How about something you could, in an emergency, just photocopy and survive the day? It happens. (I used to teach in public school too.)
  • Does free sound okay?
  • Would someone with almost two decades of ukulele and teaching be a helpful support to you? Well, he's kind of a tool, but yeah, you'll get used to him and he does know how to make you love teaching ukulele.
  • Would you like a way to support solo instrumentalists, ensemble musicians, singers and other teachers? Here it is. And it's good.
  • And, for your advanced kids, would you like a huge resource of music they can study independently? You know you want those students to go away and practice, right?
  • How about hundreds of video lessons (for you or your students) and MP3 recordings of every single piece of music ready to download? Geez, I'm helpful despite being notoriously iffy as a video star.
  • Does the music publisher you usually use have an ukulele program? Yep, I've seen it ...  I've seen them all ... and they're (for the most part) NOT good (sorry) and they're expensive and they're almost invariably designed to add ukulele into a singing program ... don't be confused by what they'll expect you to teach. If you want to teach instrumental skills, you almost certainly need to be here. Did I mention it's free?
  • Join the email list using the widget. It's either to your right if you're on a computer or just down below if you're on your phone. You can always unsubscribe if you find this doesn't match your instructional goals.
  • Okay, let's go --->

General Advice

The Music: You need to learn to play a little bit. Go to the Book 1 menu item above. I recommend you've completed the first 15 lessons prior to starting your student. The goal is for every student including you to do all 30 lessons. Wrap your head around all the ways we can create solo and ensemble experiences for all your students, and make music in multiple ways. (It'll make your recorder ensemble seem like a huge waste of time.

Hint: I have never not taught Frère Jacques to an ukulele student. It's the key to understanding everything else. And I teach everything else straight down the list. They build the correct skills in the correct order. Once you've passed the arpeggio lesson #17, you'll have life-long musicians in your room. Note, the baritone program is identical to the ukulele program but it's in a different key. If you intend to have both instruments play the same song at the same time, one group will play the chords from the other group's sheet music. (It's magical.)

I am always willing to write sheet music for teachers, but I'm also always way behind on stuff, so let me know what you're thinking and hopefully with enough lead time we can collaborate on a project. You can use the public domain music in any way you like, but if you use the music in the member's section, please drop me a note and let me know what you're doing so I don't get nervous and you don't get a call from a lawyer.

The Instruments: If you're teaching elementary, you'll probably be okay with all sopranos. Older students with bigger hands should use tenors. I sell Mahalo brand and then trade out the strings to fluorocarbon and adjust the frets and action. If you're in Colorado, I can make you the best deal you'll find on properly set up classroom sets. If you're elsewhere, you may end up being your own ukulele technician. If you have to buy what your purchasing department says, you'll live with whatever brand they're repping, but know most of those types of ukuleles sound like bricks and changing strings to fluorocarbon will be essential.

Baritones are a great addition, but you probably only need a few of those to add depth to your classroom ensembles. If you think all of your students will progress to guitar (good lord help you ... and really, this does not happen), I would start them all on baritone rather than ukulele or guitar. It makes your life and their lives more musical.

Classroom Management: Keep the little gig bags and teach students to put their instrument into them properly. Use big plastic tubs for storage. Teach your more capable students to help you, and put them in charge of tuning up all the instruments each day. If you're teaching kids, they all must wash their hands before handling the instruments. If you're teaching adults, they need to shower and wear better clothes. What the heck are they thinking leaving the house like that?

My Advice: Don't be confused by your prior music training. Perfection is for those sitting for their Masters degree performance recital ... and really nobody else ... and really not even them. This instrument is for making music in a fun way and making lots of mistakes along the way. You should make them, your students should make them, and you should instantly forget they ever happened. Music is a one-dimensional art form and yeah you should try your best, but you should allow a wide latitude for yourself and your students to play the "jazz" version and then move on along.

Standard Notation vs. Tablature: This gets controversial, I use standard notation and tablature and have the delight of students learning both systems. Academically minded people may suggest tablature is a lower order form of music notation, but after way too many years of thinking about this, and watching how guitar gets mis-taught, I can assure you (and I can prove it too) that tablature is (for the most part) a superior system when playing fretted instruments.

If you are in a traditional classroom, teach both systems. Remember, ukulele will not be the only instrument they play. Unlike piano or singing, where the notes are never going to move around, they show up in different places on every instrument. It is common to re-tune ukuleles in crazy ways, so tablature is a far more adaptable system for the realities of the instrument. You should teach rhythm, note length, articulation, and dynamics from the standard notation line, and where your fingers go from the tab line. The names of the notes and where they are  on the instrument is way less important. 


Day One Book:

Here is one of the books I give to almost everybody. It includes:

  • Information on the program and what it can do for you and your students.
  • A page on the essential ukulele tips to get started well.
  • A page on the important ways of tuning your ukulele (obviously very important). We're bringing George back.I ask my students to say "George Clooney Eats Apples" each time they meet to help with memorization.
  • Frère Jacques: This is the most important song. It teaches how to read tablature in 10 minutes.
  • My Spaghetti Monster: One song that will sound great and audiences won't sing along.
  • Three Blind Mice: This is the second most important song and the first piece where we study "TuffUke" or chord-melody -- use right-hand thumb down technique.
  • Happy Birthday: This song is a stretch, but everybody connects with it.
  • Strum Pages: Waltzing Matilda, Drunken Sailor, Kookaburra, This Little Light of Mine, You are My Sunshine, and Danny Boy. I only teach this stuff because there is an expectation all students know the chords in the Key of C. To be 100% honest, teaching chords to new students is a perfect way to get them stuck and most students do not want to sing.
  • Bar Chord Exercise: Students will need to deal with bar chords almost immediately, so getting their bars in shape early makes your job easier down the road.

Note: I have a longer version of this book if you intend to teach this at a higher level. It includes a couple of non-public domain songs so I don't post it here, but will be happy to email it to you. In addition to the above, it includes:

  • Soft Kitty: This is an ensemble arrangement to teach working together.
  • Brahms' Lullabye: I use this as a test to see if students understand chord-melody and Key of C major chords.
  • Over the Rainbow and Lava: To be strummed along with the video on YouTube. Teaches students to move through their mistakes and keep going.
  • C Scale: You know you want this is you're going to teach standard notation.
  • Arpeggio: The first arpeggio in my book of arpeggios is included to get students working on right-hand formations.
  • Practice Log: Ehem.

Book 1 Teacher's Guide (under construction obviously):

Download the MSWord editable lessons plans HERE and let me know if you find mistakes or need something additional added so you can minimize editing  (coming soon).

Lesson #8: Frère Jacques

FrereJacquesI have never not taught this lesson to every student. It's the most important lesson (with the possible exception of the "thumb lesson." We have six expected outcomes for you to master here.

Expected Outcomes:

-Students will learn to read tablature by plucking one note at a time.
-Students will learn to read a chord grid and strum the A chord (E chord for baritone).
-Students will learn to read first and second repeats.
-Students will play in ensemble (some with chords, some with melody)
-Students will know the difference between an eighth note, quarter note, and half note.
-Students will memorize the melody and the chord.

Required Resources:

Tuned ukuleles. Sheet music.

Prior Knowledge:

How to properly hold the ukulele. Left and right hand posture. How to read numbers.

-Play without the sheet music.
-Make an A chord and an E chord on both ukulele and baritone.
-Read from standard notation without using tablature.
-Teach another student how to play this song in the various ways.

Three Chord Strumming Book: Ukulele Ensemble PDFBaritone Ensemble PDF ~ Guitar PDF

Print double-sided SHORT edge binding and you'll get a little booklet. Do anything else and you'll get madness.

This is lesson #9 in our program, but it's good enough to stand on its own. A brief commercial: Kids these days almost never know these "old fashioned" songs because they're growing up in a Disney-fied world. So I've gone back to teaching these to kids. They're easy to sing, require little or no prep on your part, have great melodies, and when I teach adults, I remind them they can teach their kids, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, neighbors, friends, or extra-curricular clubs.

Teaching the Key of A chords is far easier than Key of C chords due to the challenges of G major, and this book mirrors the easy chords on guitar allowing you to use two different instruments at the same time.

  • Songs with red headlines have one chord.
  • Songs with green headlines have two chords.
  • Songs with blue headlines have three chords.
  • Songs with purple headlines have four chords.
  • Start by teaching A chord and playing Frère Jacques and Three Blind Mice. Try various strumming patterns.
  • Next teach D chord. make sure their left-hand index finger is on 4th string 2nd fret and that their thumb isn't ending up someplace weird.
  • To make E7, start with a D chord and then slide the index finger back a fret and drop the ring finger to the first string.
  • After playing through lots of songs, I will teach the A » F#m » D » E7 » A chord progression on Page 1 and we write songs. Really terrible songs.

Jumping Flea Arpeggiator: Please please read the cover before diving into the book. I believe this is the most important book you can use to create advanced ukulele players. It's good and I get emails from people all over the world who've been inspired by this. You should work through each key.

  • The Book is HERE.
  • The Sound Files are HERE.

Ensemble Music for Ukulele Orchestras in Classrooms

One Chord Songs

The music for our regular orchestra is a little daunting for new players, so I'm starting to arrange multi-part music for new ensembles. The sound file is the "ensemble" version in the widget to your left. Baritone parts are optional, but you really should have one in the classroom and your sound can be a lot bigger. Ideally all players should have a chance to play all parts. If you use this in your classroom, please let me know how it went. These arrangements are meant for traditional classroom settings or after school clubs with a faculty sponsor.

I am happy to arrange more pieces for this purpose, but you need to tell me what you need.

  • Frère Jacques for Ensemble [A]: PDF
    • You need to teach the solo version on Page 2 first.
  • Three Blind Mice for Ensemble [C]: PDF