My best lesson - Ukulele turns students into mini guitar heroes

21st February 2014 at 00:00

At the start of a new academic year, I decided to journey into unknown territory: I was going to teach all middle-schoolers to play the ukulele. It was the first time it had been attempted at my school.

The instruments were unpacked and, since they were decorated with spider designs, they looked cool. I was excited but many of my fellow faculty members had considerable doubts about the project. I kept the faith, sure that the so-called happiest instrument on Earth would not let me down.

My first lesson was with 15 students aged 11-12. I had planned to start slowly, making sure that the children first understood the theory, and absolutely not teaching them any songs until they had mastered the basics. They came bounding in with great enthusiasm. "We can't wait to play!" they said.

I don't know if it was their expectant faces or my eagerness for results, but my plan to teach the theory first went straight out of the window. I handed out the instruments and the children's eyes widened as I began to play. They followed my lead and quickly learned C and F chords.

"Only one more chord and they'll be able to play their first song," I thought. I went against all my plans and taught them G.

I was so elated that I handed out the music to The Lion Sleeps Tonight. Then, while practising chord changes, something miraculous happened.

One student raised his hand and said: "Miss Z, I have a practice strategy to share. If I read ahead and look at what chord is coming, I rest on one strum and set my fingers up on time for the next chord." And before I knew it, students were sharing practice tips and helping each other to learn.

Since then, we have made great progress. But this first introduction to the ukulele, with its raw excitement and engagement, remains a highlight of my career.

Roxanna Zampieri is an upper school music teacher at Whitby School in Greenwich, Connecticut, US.

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