So your kid wants to learn the ukulele? GREAT!
Ukulele is my favorite starter instrument for kids ages 4 and up. The skills learned on a ukulele can directly transfer to guitar, violin, viola, cello, and other stringed instruments. OR, your child can just be a UKULELE player, because yes, the ukulele is a REAL instrument. (Take that, recorder!)
The ukulele is a simple enough instrument that you probably don’t want to invest in private lessons, at least initially. Check out our super simple online course that shows parents and educators how to introduce the ukulele to kids ages 4 - 10. It’s all about providing kids with a positive experience so that they’ll be continue to love music for years and years.
Ready to get started? Here are my top 10 ukulele tips for kids!
GET A QUALITY INSTRUMENT
If you only read one of these tips, read this one. Quality ukuleles stay in tune! For a beginning uke player, that’s the single most important factor in helping them feel successful.
Here are my favorite affordable ukuleles! My favorite is the Kala Starter pack for around $60. This is the ukulele that I use on a daily basis and I LOVE IT. I’ve had it for years and it’s a wonderful little instrument.
Another one that I like (that’s probably the bare minimum, price-wise) is this Hola! Ukulele starter pack for around $38.
(Remember! You have to tune a new ukulele 10-15x before it will stay in tune longer than a few minutes because of the stretch in the nylon strings. Hang in there and plan to tune it a lot in the first few days! )
2. COLOR-CODE THE CHORDS
We are trying to get kids into the music-making process ASAP, so I like to remove as many frustration barriers as possible to help them be successful.
3. INTRODUCE CHORDS SLOWLY
It can feel tempting to jump chord to chord because as an adult, you’ll be able to play them fairly quickly and easily. Kids don’t have the motor dexterity of adults, so these chords are going to take them considerably longer to master.
When you’re learning the first couple of basic chords, let kids feel like they’ve mastered them before you move on to the next one. There are lots of songs that are ONE chord or TWO chords, so you can give them new songs to try to challenge them in a new way without giving them too many chords at once. (Remember, the first goal is a positive experience!!)
4. TAKE THE FRUSTRATION OUT OF TUNING
Tuning can be very frustrating for kids. For the youngest ones, go ahead and tune the ukulele for them. For kids that are a bit older, you might tune 3 of the 4 strings and then get the last one pretty close. Then they’re getting the practice in, but it’s only on one string. It teaches them the concept, but reduces frustration.
I’ve seen plenty of kids sit down to play, to not even make it through the tuning of the 4 strings before their attention has lapsed. Get them to the songs as quickly as possible!
P.S. Here is our favorite tuner!
5. USE WORDS AND NUMBERS WHEN SIGNALING A CHORD CHANGE
Harmonic structure is WHERE and WHEN a chord changes. In other words… WHERE do the chords fall in the song and WHEN do they change to the next chord? This harmonic structure can feel very intuitive to some adults (and completely foreign to others—that’s okay too), and it’s one of the very hardest things for kids to grasp.
My online course is BUILT around carefully and thoughtfully introducing this idea, because teaching this concept is the single greatest challenge in my ukulele groups.
For some kids, you need to tell them the WORD that they change chords on. For example, you play the F chord until you get to “banana”… then you play C7.
I like to eat, eat, eat apples and (C7)BANANAS.
For other kids, they need NUMBERS. You tell them that you play the F chord 4x and THEN you play the C7 chord.
When you’re just getting started, try both ways and see what works best for the child!
6. “WIGGLE IT AND PUSH A LITTLE HARDER” for clunky strings
Another frustration point for kids can be the “clunk” that you get when you’re not pushing the string down hard enough.
When they get that…. rather than saying something like, “You’re not pushing hard enough!”, try a more positive redirection like… “That sound is the ukulele telling us to WIGGLE your finger, and PUSH a little harder (on the string).”
Then you aren’t criticizing them for their effort (remember—this is a VERY demanding motor task for little fingers), and instead, you’re giving them something else to try.
7. DON’T MAKE LESSONS TOO LONG
The whole goal here is SUCCESS and a positive, fun experience. So if a child looks like they’re approaching the point of not having fun, stop and end on a positive note!
Yes, for 4 and 5 year olds, this can be 5 minutes or less. That’s okay! They will come back to it when they’re excited.
8. FOCUS ON THE SONGS THEY’RE EXCITED ABOUT
Does your child love a certain song on the radio? Do a quick google or YouTube search to see if there’s an easy ukulele version of it. Even if they can’t play the whole thing, even 1-2 lines of their favorite song is sure to “up” their enthusiasm.
9. CONSIDER HOW YOU CUE: VERBAL, VISUAL or VOCAL
There are 3 ways you can cue a certain note. Say you want your child to play string 1 on the ukulele (the string closest to your lap, an A). You can say the note name (“A”) for a VERBAL cue. You can point to the string for a VISUAL cue, and you can sing the tone of the note, for the VOCAL cue.
Some kids are going to need the verbal cue, some are going to need the visual, and others will need the vocal cue. You may as well do all 3… because it’s easy to do so, and you’re increasing their chance for success.
10. LEAVE THE UKULELE ON THE COUCH
Our ukulele lives on our couch and everyone in the family picks it up and plays a little tune on it from time to time. If it’s visible and in tune, it’ll be played! Play a goofy little made up song on it from time to time and you’ll notice that your kids will start doing the same.
Interested in even more? Check out my online course: Ukulele for Kiddos!
With this online course and printable PDF guide, you’re getting the equivalent of 12 weekly lessons AND a beginning ukulele book. (P.S. You’d spend more on a single private lesson!)
An adult with zero musical experience can help kids ages 4+ get started on the ukulele. No experience needed. No fancy equipment needed. Just this course, and a ukulele!
Music educators, this course gives you ALL YOU NEED to teach ukulele in your classroom, with minimal time on your end. This course uses mostly known, public domain songs, so you don’t have to spend your precious hours learning new repertoire. It gives you step-by-step implementation with short, instructional videos.
In about 5 minutes a week, you’ll be introduced to color-coded songs with increasing difficulty featuring finger picking, chords, and strumming. These songs have been carefully selected and tested to make sure kids can grasp them quickly.
Finally, there’s nothing more important than kids having a successful and positive experience when learning a new instrument. THAT is the goal of this course!
Questions? Email me @ firstname.lastname@example.org!!