As my ukulele launch in my middle school choir program draws near (either February 5th or 8th), I have been preparing for that launch. I am choosing to create my own method of teaching ukulele rather than to follow existing methods (e.g. Hal Leonard and Alfred). That said, I do have an eye on those methods as I plan.
While I am preparing, I am finding a ton of digital resources for the ukulele. Here are just a few:
Tuner: Kala Brand Tuner (FREE-created for one of the major manufacturers of all levels of ukulele)
Creating Ukulele Music: Notion (The most developed music notation app for iOS. For ukulele, creates notes and tablature–does not offer the ability to include chord diagrams for ukulele)
Self-Made Chord Charts: Chord Tunes (Creates lyrics and chords, plus ukulele chord diagrams)
Chords/Fingerings/Tuner: Guitar Toolkit (Guitar Toolkit covers many string instruments)
Ukeoke: Basically the Four Chords app for ukulele (monthly fee)
Futulele: An iPad ukulele app, ideally to be used by students that need accessibility features–thanks to Beth Jahn for the suggestion)
iBooks: There is a lot of ukulele literature on the iBooks Store–for less than what you can buy it in print. Here are just a few titles that are available:
- The Daily Ukulele
- The Daily Ukulele Leap Year Edition
- Kid's Songs for Ukulele
- Uke Can Do It! (A guide to setting up a school ukulele program)
- Chart Hits of 2013-2014 for Ukulele
- Chart Hits of 2014-2015 for Ukulele
- Alfred Kid's Ukulele Course (Three Parts Avaialble: Book Part 1, Book 1 Part 2, and Book 2)
- Hal Leonard Ukulele Method
Assessment: I will test most skills in class, but realize that some students will be afraid to test in person. Therefore, we have a few ukuleles to check out overnight. Students can take them home and make a video of themselves (using the stock Camera app) playing the required testing material, and submit the video to me via Showbie. I also use Showbie to create rubrics–allowing me to assess each student–and Showbie's new grading feature allows me to quickly transfer grades from Showbie to our school's student information system.
Web Resources: While there are a TON of ukulele websites out there, I recommend the following sites:
- Allukecando.com (Shelbi Busche, music educator)
- Got A Ukulele
- Uke Hunt
- The Mighty Uke (Documentary Movie)
- And of course, Katie Wardrobe's ukulele resources
And finally, Amazon. I love music stores–but there are times that the added overhead of a music store cannot be tolerated in the cost of a program. In our case, our entire set of 58 ukuleles (55 to be used in class, 3 to be sent home for practice/performance tests) were purchased from Amazon for under $2000–including setting up a ukulele hanging system with 2x4s and tool hooks. Unfortunately, if we had purchased these through a local vendor, the cost would have been well over $2000. Our ukuleles, Mahalo MK1s are throw-away models if anything serious happens (other than replacing strings). It would be a different situation if we had more expensive ukuleles that would warrant the need for repairs. As a side note, the MK1s do eventually settle into their tuning–and I go through and tune each of the instruments once each day. The instruments I purchased in Novemeber are nearly always in tune. That is a relief–58 continually out-of-tune ukuleles would be a nightmare.
We actually bought 68 ukuleles, as we gave parents the ability to send some extra money to buy their students a ukulele to keep. 10 families bought a ukulele for home. In total, the booster program purchased 28 of the instruments, and parents donated money for 30 of them. Not a cent of this program is on the common tax payer.
I have found out that Amazon's prices fluctuate wildly–the majority of our ukuleles were purchased around $25 each when they were backordered, but the instruments are now $37 each.
This morning, I purchased 2 additional instruments from Amazon: A Caramel (a Chinese brand) Concert and a Caramel Tenor for $75, shipped. I want to give these inexpensive larger instruments a try. It will be nice to have a concert and tenor on hand at school–and also for students that might struggle with the small soprano (thinking about some of the giant 8th grade boys) to try. If the Caramel instruments are any good–I'll certainly blog about them.
I also recently learned that D'Adarrio Ukuele strings are made by Aquilla (considered to be one of the best kinds of ukulele string), so it might be worth buying D'Addario for the savings over Aquilla.
The shift to ukulele is shocking to me–I grew up in the era of Tiny Tim, where the ukulele was a joke to our culture. My training in music education didn't spend one second talking about ukuleles–at any level of my education (K-12, college, or grad school). It appears that the ukulele is as common in many other countries as recorder and guitar are in the United States (although guitar programs are relatively few in number compared to Band, Choir, and Orchestra at the secondary level).
All I can say is this–I have fallen in love with the instrument, and I spend more than an hour each day playing and singing. It has resparked my love of music, and for that I am thankful. I now own two ukuleles (a Makala Concert, and a Kala Banjo Ukulele). There is a good chance that I will be adding a tenor ukulele (or two) to the stable in the near future. We also bought our boys a MK1 Mahalo, with the idea that they will leave my ukuleles alone (they are). When I tune my ukulele, my three year old runs up to me and asks me to tune his, too.
As I mentioned at the top of this post, our integration with the ukulele is right around the corner. I am excited to bring this experience to our students, and to get them singing and reading music in a sneaky way. The possibilities are endless–we'll see what happens!