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Ideas & Letters
Feedback from Ukulele Yes! Readers


Thanks for your excellent piece on creating a bluegrass sound (Ukulele Yes! Spring 2009).  I learned a lot from it.  It's beautifully clearly explained and illustrated with sound and scores.  Also great fun! 

Maybe one day bluegrass ukulele players will be able to say to the banjo and mandolin players who are pleading to join, "Um, okay, you can sit with us. Just don't play too loud till you get the hang of it."

Saskatchewan, Canada

Kudos to the late, great John Kavanagh who penned the article. He is fondly remembered and sadly missed. -- Ed.


My 13-year-old son expressed an interest in guitar earlier this year, and we purchased one for him to experiment. I've had an interest in the ukulele for many years, but never the time to give it a try. I recently purchased my first uke along with Hal Leonard's Method Bk. 1, and Ukulele 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. Could you advise? Is there a significant sample of folks using it in a self-teaching mode? Are there supplemental resources fill the gaps?

Sincerest regards,

New Jersey, U. S. A.

Hi Dirk,

Yes, there are many, many people using the Ukulele in the Classroom materials for self-learning and all reports are positive. The only thing required--in the absence of the structured classroom environment--is some sense of routine and the usual discipline/motivation to practise. I will say this: the UITC materials are different from all other ukulele methods (that's why we wrote them) in that music comes first, ukulele second. In other words, our goal is to have students learn the fundamentals of musicianship including ear training, sight reading, melody, harmony, rhythm, tone, form and so on. Ukulele is the vehicle, music is the message.

As far as additional resources go, there are CD recordings of all the repertoire available (this is a big help for learners of all ages). We also offer free learning resources like flashcards and quizzes at



I'm a 3rd grade teacher here and started teaching ukulele to my students during recess this year. We practice twice a week and out of 22 students, 20 committed to the year-long learning. I'm a rather musically uneducated banjo player who played by ear and only started learning music this year along with my students as they, and I, picked up this amazing and versatile instrument that I've really fallen in love with. I can't remember playing banjo more than twice since I picked up the ukulele. My students are really soaring and love it.

I had to ask my students to purchase their ukuleles this year and while they were able to we really ended up with a broad range from good student ukuleles (around $45) to terrible, won't-stay-in tune-ukes. I'm approaching my district for a grant for a class set of ukes, around 25 of them. Can you recommend an affordable student ukulele that has geared tuners? I've found geared tuners are much easier for them. I greatly appreciate any direction. Many thanks and keep up the great music and education.

Ohio, U.S.A

Hi Jason,

Sounds like you've got a good thing going!  Keep up the great work.  When it comes to affordable, high-quality student ukes I always recommend the "Classic" concert-sized model from Empire Music, model number CL500M (click here for US orders or here for Canadian orders).  This is the same instrument I started on as a kid; they've been used for years in the Canadian school system.  A really nice student model uke for the money.

-- Ed.

Hey James,

There seems to be a new thing going on in my school district: "80% singing and 20% ukulele playing." In order to get a reasonable vocal/instrumental balance we are constantly having to look for ways to cut the ukuleles back while we are singing (e.g. first row only, girls and then the boys, etc.). The kids are frustrated because they want to play.

So what do you think: that we should be asking for them to cut their sound down to 20% and boost their singing up? Are our singers singing more meekly than ever before (this year I am taking younger kids, maybe that's it... grade 4 and 5)? Shouldn't the goal be to have all the kids able to play their ukes and sing using dynamic control and good singing techniques?

Any comments?

British Columbia, Canada

Hi Sue,

I think this is a "spirit of the times" question as much as it is a "music education" question and it interests me very much. When it comes to vocal/instrumental balance, here are my thoughts:

1. There just isn't as much singing going on these days. iPods, American Idol and the like have, to a significant degree, replaced "self-made" music. As a result, young people today aren't learning the fundamentals of vocal production.

2. There's no question that singing is a crucial component of music education, especially in the early stages. But I'm loathe to sacrifice the instrumental side to the extent you're talking about. One of the great strengths of the ukulele is that students can sing and play at the same time. It's crazy not to take advantage of that.

3. Have students try a "thumb brush" strum sometimes (i.e. strumming by brushing across the strings in a downward motion with the thumb; contact point is where the neck and the body meet). This makes a softer, more mellow sound that may give you a better vocal/instrumental balance.

4. Take time to work on vocal production. Spending a few minutes of every class on breathing and tone production exercises will help immeasurably.

-- Ed.

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