Teaching the uke – Back to school!
For the last six months I’ve been enjoying what has turned out to be one of the most rewarding things of my time as a ukulele teacher – teaching a class of year 5’s at a local school.
How Did It Come About?
Literally from a chance encounter in the street where I live! A neighbour who publishes the excellent local magazine www.livinginmagazines.co.uk I was teaching the ukulele. In a conversation with the music teacher at one of the local junior schools she had mentioned that they had been donated 40 ukuleles which was great…….but they didn’t have anyone to teach it! The music teacher had said that at a push she could probably cover the very basics but she was really keen to try and find someone to do properly. I had been teaching an adult group at www.ritzmusic.co.uk for the last few months which I was really enjoying and decided that this was a challenge not to be refused. So what happened next…..
We Sorted Out The Foundations.
Meeting the music teacher Kim Bloomfield, could not have been a better experience. We hit it off straight away and talked about her aims for the ukulele in school www.darell.richmond.sch.uk which was essentially to give the year fives a fun music experience that would be above anything else fun, accessible by all and free of the formal rigour of learning musical theory and graded exams.I emphasized that I didn’t have any formal teaching qualifications but was confident that by enthusiasm for the instrument, energy and tapping into my time at the BBC as a management trainer (this turned out to be extremely useful!) that we would get there. would be working as a volunteer and in the capacity of classroom assistant. Was I concerned that I would be working for free? It’s always nice to have ones worth valued and rewarded but this gig could only be done on a for free basis so I just had to accept that was part of the deal and move on. I knew it would be such a great learning experience for me that I viewed it as a fair exchange. The school admin manager sorted out the all important ‘Enhanced DBS’ (previously CRB check) and we were good to goThen It Got Scary!
The school were very keen to launch to the kids and parents that they were introducing the uke to the school so the first thing I was asked to do was a presentation at the school assembly.
I’ve done a lot of gigs over my time as a musician and to some large size audiences but for some reason walking into the assembly in front of about 300 kids and parents got the adrenalin going way more than any of those! After a straight play of ‘Lion Sleeps Toninght’ to show the uke in its usual guise as a straight strumalong instrument, I decided to present some things that the uke is not generally known for and played a a medieval tune called ‘Kent’s Jig’ which I play on a Noah Uke in open F tuning www.noahukuleles.com then a faux Hawaiian tune on an Ashbury 8 string in slack key tuning www.ashburyguitars.com and finished with some bottleneck slide on a solid electric uke through and amp with the gain cranked right up. Needless to say the kids really went for the play it loud style of the electro uke!
As it was in the run up to Xmas, I played ‘Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer’ as they kids all left the assembly with the teachers clapping along. Everyone had been so welcoming and I couldn’t have asked for a better start.
Let The Lessons Begin.
I started the next week teaching the year fives for a 30 mins class. I got there early and so pleased I did as tuning up 30 Maholo ukes which had not really been tuned before in ten minutes was a bit of a challenge to say the least. The kids arrived and there was a great amount of activity around choosing their ‘favourite colour ukes’. They were a great bunch and many of them mentioned that they had seen the assembly and couldn’t wait to get started learning the uke which was great to hear.
In the first lesson they picked up things very quickly and by the end of just the first lesson had all managed basic strumming, the chords of C, F and in no time at all a very credible version of ‘Paperback Writer’ was starting to appear. Kim
By the end of just two more lessons they had ‘Paperback Writer’ up to a standard where they felt confident enough to perform it at the Xmas school fete. It was such a great achievement by them and certainly a proud moment for me.
Since then they have mastered more chords including, G7, Dm, Am and really nicer versions of the songs ‘Hold Back The River’ and ‘Budapest’. They also performed ‘Apache’ in front of the Mayor and governors along with other members of the school on percussion, glockenspiels and recorders. Another landmark in the ukulele careers! Kim has been at every lesson and her presence and support has been the big thing that has made it possible for me to be able to make a success of it at my first run at teaching ukulele in a school. I would strongly recommend working with an experienced music and classroom teacher if you get the opportunity to teach at at a school.
‘Are There Grades For The Ukulele?’
This was a question asked by one of kids. I’ve always been keen to make sure that learning the uke stays in the ‘fun, accessible to all and no homework’ for the kids. I think they have enough other formal stuff and exams to do. So I explained that there were but we wouldn’t be doing them. However, I put together a ‘Uke Skills Award’ certificate and started with the ‘Bronze Level’. I presented them to everyone at the last class before Easter and they were really well achieved. So Silver and Gold ones are now on the radar in the run up to half time and summer break.
What Have I learned?
That this is about as much fun as a uke teacher as you can have! Any minor discipline issues that do come up are dealt with by the music teacher and also the form teacher who also sits in on the class. Quite simply I’ve learned some real teaching skills and had a great time. In the last lesson before Easter break, the class asked me to play a song so I decided to ‘Three Little Birds’ and was genuinely surprised that most of them knew it. When I finished, one kid came up and said ‘How does Bob Marley like his doughnuts?’ ‘Jammin’. Best job you can have.