Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the best ukuleles for students to play?

This site doesn't endorse any particular brands of ukulele, but the best type of ukulele is one that is sized appropriately, stays in tune with itself, projects well, and is well-constructed. You may find a decent ukulele at the very lowest price point, but these brands are not likely to have good quality control. Look for recommendations from fellow music educators if possible, based on bulk purchases.

  • What is the best age for students to begin learning the ukulele?

Students as young as Kindergarten can physically play a ukulele properly, but not all students develop cognitive and fine-motor skills at the same rate. When working with a class of students, waiting until 4th grade generally ensures the developmental readiness of the whole group. Each grade younger will have an increasing number of students who will simply have to go slower.

  • What size ukulele should students play?

Soprano ukuleles are the original size and best for elementary students because they are the smallest. Concert ukuleles are slightly larger and may have a fuller tone, and tenor ukuleles are larger and fuller yet. These sizes are all tuned the same. There is also a baritone ukulele, which is as large as a half-size guitar and is also tuned like the first four strings of the guitar (d,g,b,e). As a result, baritone ukuleles require different sheet music than other ukuleles. Some people actually do not consider baritone ukuleles to be true ukuleles!

  • Should students use picks?

Beginners should not use picks unless they have a documented disability that would make it impossible for them to play the ukulele properly without one. Students who are more advanced, with plenty of strumming and fingerpicking experience, may use soft felt picks to play more virtuosic passages. In general, part of what has made the ukulele more accessible than other stringed instruments is that you do not need any accessories to play it.

  • What about left-handed students?

Unless a student has a documented disability necessitating a modification to his/her educational program, no beginning student in a school setting should be taught to hold or string the instrument differently just because s/he is left-handed. While this may seem helpful in the short term, it represents a restriction in the long term as the student will not be able to play the same instruments or read chord diagrams or tablature in the same way as others.

  • What's the best way to store ukuleles?

For a class set of ukuleles that stays in school, its best to leave them as accessible as possible while still keeping them safe. Storing them outside of their cases by hanging them on the wall or sitting them in a rack is ideal, as long as the space is away from heat sources. This will conserve instructional time and also make it easier to spot-tune ukuleles as needed when not in use. If they can't be stored out in the open, they should be in padded gig bags (which are good to have no matter how you store them, in case long-term storage or moving classrooms ever becomes necessary) and may be kept on shelves or in storage containers. It is not necessary to de-tune ukuleles for long-term storage.

  • What about tuning?

Brand-new ukuleles require very frequent tuning for a week or two, but once the strings "settle in" they should not require much tuning as long as the tuners are not touched. A class set that stays in school and is shared should be tuned before the first class and may need some spot-tuning later on if several other classes use the same ukuleles in the same day. Your ear training skills and familiarity with the ukulele are critical in the ability to tune ukuleles quickly, and practice helps. Beginners who have never played a stringed instrument should master the basics of the instrument before learning how to use an electronic tuner (the clip-on type with a specific "ukulele" setting that will only recognize the ukulele's open strings is best). If students are bringing ukuleles from home, depending on the quantity and situtation, you may be able to have them brought to you first thing in the morning; otherwise, if it must be done in class time, group tuning or enlisting tuning helpers can help the process go quicker.

  • How should you write/pronounce the name of the instrument?

If you read or write the word "ukulele" you're dealing with an English word which is pronounced "yoo-ka-LAIL-ee" and often gets shortened to "uke" (yook). If you read or write the word 'ukulele, it's a Hawaiian word which is pronounced "oo-koo-LEH-leh" and features the okina (symbol at the front of the word which causes the first "u" to be pronounced with a glottal stop--"oo"). This is not unlike the name Hawaii (huh-WAI-yee) vs. Hawai'i (ha-VAI-ee). Using the English spelling and pronunciation is acceptable but it is important to understand this is not the spelling or pronunciation used in Hawaii or by Hawaiians.

  • Should I teach chords or notes first?

This all depends on the goals of your program. It is also possible to alternate between teaching notes and chords without postponing one for a very long time.

The ukulele is not a transposing instrument and can be read on the treble staff, which makes it a great tool for teaching how to read standard notation. With C6 re-entrant tuning (which is standard stringing on most ukuleles) the lowest note is middle-c. On most starter soprano ukuleles there are exactly 12 frets, making the highest fret the octave. Starting with notes also allows you to skip any left-hand technique initially, as you can already play four pitches (the open strings) without fretting.

This is not to say that chords are more difficult. Strumming all strings is generally easier than picking one note at a time, and you can play at least 8 distinct chords with only one finger or less on the fretboard (C6/Am7, C, Cmaj7, C7, Fsus2, A7, AMm7, Am). Singing while strumming a round (or any one chord song) may prove simpler than singing while picking the melody to a simple song.

  • What is a good curriculum to use?

Of course this site is related to the method book Uke Can Do It 2! which was written with upper-elementary in mind and works well for beginning middle school students as well. The best curriculum is one that is aligned with the program's goals and the teacher's style, and it is generally good to have a variety of sources available in order to supplement as needed.