Innovative Practice - Striking a chord

27th January 2012 at 00:00
The quick results that come with learning the ukelele can soon boost pupils' confidence enough to perform in public

The background

Whether they prefer Jessie J or Rihanna, hundreds of children at inner London primaries have been learning how to play their favourite pop song on the ukulele.

Last month, more than 200 inner-city students strummed the small, stringed instruments in a public performance at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The project was dreamed up by Lorraine Bow, who teaches the instrument to 250 children at six schools. Ms Bow, who set up the company Learn To Uke only two years ago in London, says she now receives emails regularly from schools across the country wanting to get their pupils involved. She believes that if she can play the ukulele, everyone can. "I want to open up fretted instrument playing to everyone," she says.

Previously, when she worked as an event manager, she stumbled upon an event run by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and was surprised at how quickly she picked up the instrument after a session run by orchestra members. Prior to that, she had only been able to play London's Burning badly on the recorder, which she had learned at school. Performances at the school concert included Childeric Primary performing Price Tag by Jessie J, Brindishe Green Primary and their medley of Umbrella by Rihanna and Singin' in the Rain by Gene Kelly, and St Augustine's Primary doing their version of Swagger Jagger by Cher Lloyd.

The project

Lorraine Bow mainly teaches classes of 30 children aged eight and nine with the support of their class teacher. Smaller children are taught in groups of 10 to ensure they stay focused. Each class has a one-hour session a week and, she says, by the end of the first hour all pupils will be able to play a song.

She believes that the ukulele is the best first instrument for children as it allows them to sing while they are playing. "With the ukulele there's something for everybody. Even if a child has a physical disability that means they cannot reach all the chords, they can sing for the notes they miss."

Tips from the scheme

"For any teachers looking to get involved, I would say 'go for it'," Ms Bow says. "It's an easy instrument to learn. Children learn the two skills of incorporating a choral (through their voice) and instrumental element (through the instrument itself). It's beautiful to see the children immersed in music at every level."

She regularly receives contact from schools wanting her to run Inset for teachers. She encourages those scattered across the country to log on to and chat with neighbouring schools in the forums or email her directly for advice.

"A school could set up within a couple of weeks once a class set of ukuleles is ordered and they have liaised with a ukulele teacher," she says.

Evidence that it works?

The concert at the Victoria and Albert Museum demonstrates that the approach can prepare pupils for a public performance. Ms Bow insists that, since she began teaching two years ago, she has not yet worked with a child who did not want to get involved. "Even if a child enters the room in a bad mood, once they're playing and singing their mood lifts," she says.


Approach: Teaching music through mass ukulele pop performances

Leader: Lorraine Bow

The schools

Schools involved in the concert Michael Faraday Primary, Childeric Primary, Brindishe Green Primary and St Augustine's Primary, all in London.

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