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Frequently Asked Questions

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Tuning

How should I tune my classroom ukuleles?
If you're unsure, please read this. The options are (from lowest- to highest-sounding string): a, d, f#, b (known as "D6 tuning") or g, c, e, a (known as "C6 tuning"). For more details read this article: Making Sense of Ukulele Tunings. If you're still not sure which tuning is right for you, please contact us.

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What's the difference between "D6 tuning" and "C6 tuning"?
D6 tuning and C6 tuning are short-hand names for the two most popular ways to tune the ukulele. The strings in D6 tuning are, from 4th to 1st: a, d, f#, b (a D6 chord). The strings in C6 tuning are, from 4th to 1st: g, c, e, a (a C6 chord). The D6 tuning is popular in Europe, Canada, and on the east coast of the U.S.A. while the C6 tuning is popular in Hawaii, Japan, and on the west coast of the U.S.A.

For the past 40 years, Canadian schools have used the D6 tuning for classroom ukulele because of its brighter sound and greater projection. Also, a ukulele tuned to D6 matches particularly well with the developing range of young singing voices and has the same "easy" keys as the guitar (D, G, and A). For more details read this article: Making Sense of Ukulele Tunings.

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What is "low fourth string" tuning and why do you recommend it for use in classroom settings?
Historically, the fourth string of the ukulele (the one closest to your face as you hold the instrument) is tuned an octave higher than you might expect (hence the familiar "my dog has fleas" tune). "Low fourth string " (a.k.a."linear") tuning means tuning the fourth string down an octave. Why? Because there's a big difference between teaching ukulele and teaching music. Given that we're using the ukulele as a vehicle for music literacy and general musicianship, there are lots of reasons why the low fourth string makes the most sense in the classroom context. For example:

  • The melodic range in the "home position" (i.e. the first five frets) is significantly increased.
  • An increased accessible range makes part-playing more interesting, enjoyable and rewarding.
  • The structure of scales and chords can be more clearly demonstrated and understood in linear tuning.

The "high fourth string" tuning (also called "re-entrant" tuning) has unique qualities that students should be encouraged to explore, particularly once they move beyond the material in Book 3. At the outset, however, a ukulele with a low fourth string is better suited to classroom use.

Note: Play Ukulele Today! - The Quickstart Guide for Everyone, Ukulele in the Clasroom Book 1 (revised edition), Book 2 and Book 3 are 100% High 4th Friendly! Tuning Help

For more details read this article: Making Sense of Ukulele Tunings.

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Your books are "100% High 4th Friendly." What does that mean?
In the classroom context, we strongly recommend the use of "low-4th-string" tuning (or “linear” tuning) in which the fourth string is replaced with a thicker string and tuned down an octave. This expands the melodic range of the ukulele, creating more opportunities for students to play in harmony, clarifying the structure of scales and chords, and putting more repertoire at students’ fingertips.

That said, a great deal of effort has gone into making 100% of the lessons in the James Hill Ukulele Method compatible with "high-4th-string" tuning (the standard "my dog has fleas" tuning). In other words, there are no lessons in which a student with this tuning would be forced to "sit out.”

While a student with a low fourth string will have access to more material, there's something for everyone in each lesson.

Note: You Can Play Ukulele Today! - The Quickstart Guide for Everyone is the perfect book for shorter, exploratory teaching units; it's also 100% high-4th friendly.

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What brand and thickness of string do you recommend for the low fourth string?
We recommend using a classical guitar G string (hard or extra hard tension). The gauge (thickness) of the string should be about 0.040". Cut the guitar string in half to get two ukulele strings! D'Addario is a very good brand and their strings can be ordered online here:

D'Addario Pro-Arte (Hard Tension, 0.0410")
D'Addario Pro-Arte (Extra Hard Tension, 0.0416")

These can also be found at most local music stores.

Important Note: if you are using a soprano-sized instrument in C6 tuning (g, c, e, a) we recommend that you use a wound low-4th string (just like Hawaiian ukulele master Herb Ohta, a.k.a. "Ohta-san"). You will get a much better low-G sound on soprano-sized instruments this way. String gauge should be between 0.026" and 0.030". Our recommendation:

D'Addario Classic Silverwound (0.029")

Remember: changing the fourth string is a reversible procedure that doesn't permanently alter the instrument but that greatly expands the capabilities of the ukulele in the classroom context.

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Teaching

Can I use these books for self-teaching?
Absolutely.  The books contain a ton of material--fun arrangements and creative exercises--for anyone looking to improve their ukulele and musicianship skills.  One customer writes:

"I recently purchased my first uke along with  Hal Leonard's Method bk. 1 and Ukelele Fretboard Roadmaps (I'm several pages into both). I'd seen your Ukulele in the Classroom courseware, but initially assumed it more a classroom resource than infrasture for self-teaching. After returning to the site several times, I'm feeling more and more that it might be a better learning platform than what I've started."
- Dirk, via email

To get the most out of the books as a self-studier we recommend getting a copy of Teacher Edition as well as the Student Edition.  The finer details, challenge activities, and additional discussion in the Teacher Edition will get you "behind the scenes" on each lesson and help you to truly be your own teacher. 

Just starting out? Check out You Can Play Ukulele Today! - The Quickstart Guide for Everyone. Essential, affordable, and lots of fun!

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At what age should students begin using the Ukulele in the Classroom books?
The Ukulele in the Classroom series contains a wealth of repertoire and exercises for ukulele students at any stage of their musical development. The material can be used in a wide variety of learning environments including in-school music classes, after-school interest groups, summer camps, adult ensembles, seniors' homes, hospitals, private lessons, and music academies / conservatories. The authors recommend that the series be used with students aged 9 and up.

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How many students should I be teaching at once?
An experienced teacher can handle a class of 30 students and stay on-task while making learning fun and exciting. Remember, part of the psychology of the classroom approach depends on student "politics" and the way they wish to be perceived by their peers. In other words, a "large-ish" class isn't always a bad thing as long as you have strategies for keeping students engaged.

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How many times per week should I meet with my class (and for how long)?
We recommend that students have two 45-minute lessons per week. For more related information, read this article on starting a ukulele program.

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I have a mix of beginner, intermediate, and advanced students in a single class. What should I do?
Be prepared and know your material. That's the best way to keep all students involved at a level consistent with their abilities. Ukulele in the Classroom exercises and arrangements are carefully tailored to accommodate many levels of skill simultaneously.

For example, in Rocky Mountain (Book 1 Lesson 5), beginner-level students play Uke II (open-string notes only), intermediate-level students play Uke I (pentatonic scale notes only), and advanced-level students are challenged to sing the melody while picking the Uke II part (a musical version of rubbing your belly and tapping your head). To view Book 1 Lesson 5 go to this page and click on the Book 1 Sample Lesson.

Many opportunities for this kind of "differentiated" instruction are embedded throughout the Student Editions and are discussed in detail in the Teacher Editions.

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How should I set up the chairs and stands in my classroom?
Chairs and stands should be set up two-by-two with one music stand per pair of chairs. Pairs of chairs should be set up in rows allowing enough room for the teacher to walk through. This way, you'll have quick and easy access to any student in the class at any time.

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How fast should my class be progressing?
The rate at which a class progresses depends on many things including the amount of class time per week, the age of your students, your students' musical background, your own familiarity with the lesson material, and so on. That said, a consistent effort in the classroom and at home will see most classes complete Ukulele in the Classroom Book 1 in 6-8 months. That's around one arrangement per week.

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I understand that students begin Book 1 by working with single-string melodies. Does this mean they can't sing and have fun?
Students are singing and playing almost immediately. In fact, by Lesson 2 they're singing and accompanying more than half-a-dozen well-known songs. By the end of Book 1 they're singing, strumming, sight-reading, improvising, and part-playing in two keys. Sounds like fun... and it is!

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Is it true that chords aren't taught until Unit 4 of Book 1?
Not exactly. Unit 4 is a formal introduction to basic chords and strumming. However, chord symbols are included for nearly all the arrangements in Units 1, 2, and 3. This lets the teacher informally introduce chords (i.e. by rote) in the early lessons as students develop facility with melodic techniques.

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Should I follow the sequence of lessons exactly as they are in the books?
More or less, but be flexible. The Ukulele in the Classroom books are organized into units, each of which has a unique focus. Know your students' interests and aptitudes (also be aware of your own biases), and sequence the material accordingly. For example, you may want to teach the first two units of Book 1, then skip to Unit 4 and return to the songs in Unit 3 later. Whatever you do, try to include some singing, picking, strumming, note-reading, and ear-training in every lesson.

Click here for FREE lesson plan templates to help you plan ahead and stay organized.

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I have a left-handed student - what should I do?
Keep in mind that at the beginner level, students tend to have the most difficulty with left-hand skills (pressing down strings, playing scales, holding chords, etc.). In a way, a left-handed student has an advantage over his right-handed classmates owing to the greater dexterity he has with his left hand!

Remind your student: in the end, the ukulele is like most other instruments: it takes two hands to play it. Think about it: have you ever seen a left-handed piano? Be gently insistent and, most importantly, get on with the lesson.

There are many things that might prompt a beginner to play "left handed" including: a) perceived ease of playing b) need for attention c) creative/contrary behaviour and so on.  If, however, after sincere effort over a period of days or weeks, the student is still trying to play the ukulele "left-handed," there may be a physiological reason driving them to do so.  In this case, we suggest re-stringing the ukulele to create a genuine "left-handed" instrument (as opposed to just "flipping the instrument over").  That way chord fingerings remain the same (chord diagrams will be "mirror images").  In this case we strongly suggest that the student buy his/her own ukulele so that the left-handed instrument doesn't get mixed into a class set.

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Can I photocopy lessons from the books and/or project them on my Smart Board?
Sorry, copying lessons from the books is not permitted.  That being said, you can access free sample lessons in PDF format here (click on any book to access free sample lessons).  If cost is the main issue, please consider purchasing You Can Play Ukulele Today!, a smaller, low-cost book for beginners that includes 10 lessons to get your class started.

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Instruments

I'm a teacher who's just starting a ukulele program. Can you recommend a good beginner ukulele?

For everyday classroom use by beginners, we recommend the Empire Music Classic Concert ukulele (model CL500) - an inexpensive but well-made uke with a good sound. There's also a soprano model (model E755T) which has a smaller sound but which may be a better fit for very small hands.

Empire ukulele are available with machine heads (i.e. geared tuning pegs): link to concert size with machine heads. Link to soprano size with machine heads. Machine heads are more precise (many classroom teachers prefer them) but more difficult to replace if they break. Cases are a must.

Other suitable instruments for beginners include those made by Kala Brand Instruments and Ohana Ukuleles. Both brands are widely available in music stores around the world and offer an extensive selection of models and price points.

Important Note: Beware of "$25 special" ukuleles! They might look pretty (i.e. be brightly coloured) but they don't sound good and won't last. Worst of all, they won't give your students a fair chance to explore the world of music.

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Can I use baritone ukuleles with my students?
The Ukulele in the Classroom series is written for soprano, concert, and/or tenor-sized ukuleles in C6 or D6 tuning. Because the baritone ukulele is tuned to the notes d, g, b, e (highest-sounding four strings of a guitar) it cannot be used in conjunction with the Ukulele in the Classroom series. Keep in mind that the baritone ukulele is significantly larger than the soprano, concert, and tenor-sized ukuleles, making it uncomfortable for small and/or weak hands. Furthermore, the range of ukuleles tuned to C6 or D6 matches particularly well with the range of young singers whereas the range of the baritone ukulele does not.

The baritone ukulele is a beautiful instrument with a warm, mellow tone. It's fun to play but it doesn't have the advantages of soprano, concert and tenor-sized instruments in the music education context.

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Should students buy their own ukes?
Ideally, yes. The student will feel a much greater sense of responsibility and pride in his/her ukulele if he/she has purchased it (or at least contributed to its purchase) instead of using an instrument belonging to a class set during school hours only. The student who can't take his or her uke home, on the bus, on camping trips, to the shopping mall, etc., won't learn nearly as much as the student who can.

If you do have a class set of ukes owned by a school or organization, consider having a "sign-out" system that allows students to take an instrument home to practise.

Also consider a "buy back" option whereby your school or department buys second-hand ukes from older students and sells them at a much-reduced price to those beginning students who can't afford a new instrument.

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My ukuleles have friction pegs. The slightest movement causes a major change in pitch. Any suggestions?
Friction pegs - whether on a violin, cello, or ukulele - are touchy, no question.  Machine heads (geared tuners) are much more forgiving but they're also more expensive and harder to replace when they break (and in a school classroom they will!).  First, make sure the screw that holds the peg in isn't too tight. Then take a page from the violinist's book: if you're close to the pitch but not quite there, don't try to "finess" the pitch with small movements of the peg.  Instead, crank the pitch down a step or two and then - with one movement - tighten the string to pitch.  If you don't get it in tune, repeat the process. With a little practise you'll get the hang of it.

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I'd like to get a better-quality ukulele for myself. Any suggestions?
For a bigger sound without a much bigger price tag, consider the Classic Tenor from Empire Music. Other brands we recommend in the "better-without-breaking-the-bank" category are Kala Ukuleles and Ohana Ukuleles.

When you're ready to upgrade to a hand-made instrument, we highly recommend the Hawaii-based GString Ukulele Company, the California-based DaSilva Ukulele Company and the Washington-based Mya Moe Ukulele Company. Their ukes sound as beautiful as they look.

Other fine uke makers to check out include: Ko'olau Ukulele & Guitar Co., Kamaka Ukulele, KoAloha Ukulele, Talsma String Instruments, and Tony Graziano Ukuleles. Links can be found here.

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Teacher Resources and Support

My friends and/or colleagues are skeptical about the ukulele - what can I do?
First, you must learn to play well enough (one or two songs can suffice) to demonstrate that the ukulele is an instrument capable of making "real music." Your own playing must be exciting enough to inspire your students. Play recordings of ukulele artists and ensembles in your classroom, invite ukulele musicians to perform at your school - get your students excited about making music with the ukulele.

As for your peers and superiors, let them know the simple truth: the ukulele is unmatched as a vehicle for music literacy in our schools. Here are just some of the many reasons why:

  • It's inexpensive
  • It's portable
  • It can play any type of music from anywhere in the world
  • It sounds good
  • It's a solo instrument
  • It's an ensemble instrument
  • It's an ideal tool for developing the ear
  • it's an excellent way to learn harmony and theory
  • You can sing and strum at the same time
  • And of course... it's fun!
"It makes no difference what instrument you choose - recorder, trumpet, piano, bass, guitar, mandolin; none can compare with the ukulele as a means of music education in our schools."
 

- J. Chalmers Doane
Teacher's Guide to Classroom Ukulele, 1977

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Are there conferences and/or workshops for ukulele teachers?
Yes, and more are always in the planning stages. Click here for a list of upcoming workshops.

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Can you recommend a good "ukulele chords" website?
Try this one. It has more chords than you'll likely ever need and you can choose your tuning.

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Besides the Ukulele in the Classroom series, are there other books that you recommend for classroom instruction?
If you're just starting out (and you have limited time and a tight budget), consider Play Ukulele Today! - The Quickstart Guide for Everyone. This book is a perfect "first step" for beginners of all ages (and very affordably priced). When students are finished with the 10 introductory lessons in Play Ukulele Today!, they'll be primed and ready to start Book 1 of the Ukulele in the Classroom series.

Also, the Doane Ukulele Method series--the cornerstone of the Canadian `ukulele program for 40 years--is still in print (published by Waterloo Music) and is available from Empire Music (follow the links below). The method includes three books for students:

Note: There is very little overlap between the material in the Doane Ukulele Method series and the material in the Hill/Doane Ukulele in the Classroom series making the Waterloo materials a valuable, relevant resource for classroom ukulele teachers to this day.

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What about books specifically for teachers?
A companion teacher edition (co-authored by Hill and Doane) is available for each of the three books in the Ukulele in the Classroom series. With a helpful lesson plan, enrichment level exercises and key points for each lesson, these detailed guidebooks are a highly recommended resource for teachers. Click here for more information.

Also, Teacher's Guide to Classroom Ukulele by Chalmers Doane is essential reading and reference for classroom teachers. First published in 1977, it's organized into two sections: 1) a lesson-by-lesson guide to Doane's Classroom Ukulele Method and 2) a priceless collection of practical tips for making your ukulele program a success.

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Can you recommend some funding organizations and/or resources in Canada?
If you're looking for an affordable, powerful, and versatile vehicle for classroom music, you've found it. But even with the low cost of a ukulele program, you may need some help getting set up. Here are some links to Canadian funding organizations and funding resources.

Federal Resources
The Coalition for Music Education in Canada
The Canadian Music Educators' Association
Music Industry Association of Canada

Provincial Resources
Click here for an alphabetical list of Canadian funding resources

At Ukulele in the Classroom, we make any and all price breaks and bulk discounts available to you on books, CDs and workshops. Please don't hesitate to contact us for further information about reducing class setup costs.

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Money is tight right now. Can you recommend some free or inexpensive resources?
We know that funding is often an issue. Don't let that stop you from getting started with your ukulele program. Be creative with your fund-raising and take full advantage of the many free resources we offer:

  1. The "Resources" page of this site includes free flashcards, quizzes, lesson plan templates and more:
    www.ukuleleintheclassroom.com/resources.htm

  2. Free sample lessons from all our books are available here:
    www.ukuleleintheclassroom.com/books.htm

  3. Free song arrangements are available in every issue of Ukulele Yes!, the Ukulele Teacher's eZine.  Browse the current issue at www.ukuleleyes.com (archived issues are available at www.ukuleleyes.com/archive.htm).

  4. Questions, comments, and suggestions are all welcome in our on-line forum. Forum signup is completely free.

  5. Play Ukulele Today! - The Quickstart Guide for Everyone is an inexpensive volume (just $6.98) that's jam-packed with great material for beginners.  Download a free lesson and order books at www.ukuleleintheclassroom.com/playukuleletoday.

  6. Our newest book Great Popular Songs is the first in a series of leveled, supplementary repertoire collections. Download a free song and order books at www.ukuleleintheclassroom.com/greatpopularsongs.

Questions about tuning your ukulele? Click here for answers.

 
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