Frequently Asked Questions
What are the best ukuleles for students to play?
What is the best age for students to begin learning the ukulele?
What size ukulele should students play?
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?
What's the best way to store ukuleles?
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?
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.