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Ideas & Letters
Feedback from Ukulele Yes! Readers

Hi,

One of the challenges I have is teaching classes consisting of both beginners and intermediate students. Do you have any advice on how to present material that is not overwhelming to the beginners, but that is also not too easy/boring for the intermediates? Do you simply avoid this as much as possible?

Thanks,

Tim
California, U. S. A.

Hi Tim,

This situation is unavoidable. The moment you have two people in a room you have a range of abilities, interests and aptitudes. The best policy: be prepared and know your material inside-out if you want to keep all students involved at a level consistent with their abilities.

When Chalmers Doane and I wrote the Ukulele in the Classroom books, we carefully tailored the exercises and arrangements so that they could 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.

Like most things, this will get easier as you gain experience. With practise, you'll get good at teaching any song or skill in a differentiated way.

-- Ed.

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Hi,

I applaud your Ukulele in the Classroom effort, but I have to make one comment. In reply to the question about having a left-handed student, you say that such students have an advantage in fretboard chording.

I am a right-handed person who plays the ukulele left-handed. The reason is that I have more flexibility in my right hand for doing chords. This follows your logic, but also prompts me to then ask, shouldn't all right-handed persons play the ukulele left-handed?

Cheers,

John
California, U. S. A.

Hi John,

This is an excellent question. Here are my thoughts on the matter:

1. I wish this was a black-and-white issue but it's not.

2. There are many things that might prompt a beginner to play "left handed" such as: a) ease of playing b) need for attention c) creative/contrary behaviour and so on.  In other words, being left-handed (i.e. in writing, baseball, and tennis) does not mean that you'll want to play ukulele left handed.  My sister is overwhelmingly left-handed in all things but learned to play the ukulele at a high level holding it the "normal" way.  As far as I know she never had the urge to hold the uke backwards.  I'm sure there are many similar examples out there.

3. Here's what I suggest: don't respond immediately to a student's apparent "left-handedness".  If we did that we'd be building left-handed pianos and left-handed cars.  By responding immediately and reflexively to the apparent needs of the student you're also opening the door to a "class fad" (i.e. a number of other students may suddenly become "left-handed").  Explain that it takes two hands to play the ukulele and get on with the lesson.  (This is where the "You have an advantage over your classmates because you're left-handed" line comes in; the logic of which you rightly question.  It's a way of diffusing the situation and probing the student's reasons for wanting to play left-handed.)

4. If, 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, I suggest re-stringing the ukulele to create a genuine "left-handed" instrument (as opposed to just "flipping the instrument over").  That way the chord fingerings remain the same (if not the diagrams).  In this case the student [and/or the student's parent(s)] must buy his/her own ukulele so that the left-handed instrument doesn't get mixed into the class set.

-- Ed.

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