2017/2 Teaching Ukulele TAB



I’ve a couple of ukulele classes to teach this year. One group, of year 5 and 6 children, have already done ukulele as a class instrument a couple of years ago, so I didn’t want to just follow my tried and tested route.

So, in order to provide them with a completely new angle, I thought I would start by teaching them to read TAB.

We started the lesson by checking the tuning using the song “My Dog Has Fleas”, which they all remembered with affection from last time. That sorted out tuning, holding, plucking, and they were mostly quite quick to get this right.


I revised the parts of the ukulele, especially the frets, and the spaces in between where you put your fingers, and how these spaces were numbered 1-top space-finger-1; 2-second space-finger-2; 3-third-space-finger-3.

Then we strummed open strings while we sang “Concentration”. I handed out a sheet like this:


and explained that this had the MUSIC NOTATION and the TAB NOTATION, and it was TAB we were doing today. (At this point I came over all ferocious, and made sure that they were listening, as if they missed this explanation it would take forever to get them back on track!)

We all laid our ukuleles under the music for “Concentration”, with the pegs on the left and the body on the right. All of us. Every one. Then, I showed how the strings of the ukulele related to the four lines of the TAB, and how each line related to “My-the lowest line, Dog-the next one, Has – nearly the highest line, Fleas-the top line.”

We looked at the TAB notation for “Concentration”; 3 3 0 0 33330000 3 33 0000 0 0 0. We noticed (most of us) how the last 0 0 0 were on a different line. I explained that “3″ meant put your finger in the third space on the string that matched the line. I explained that “0″ meant take your finger 0ff that string.

I did my very best to show, explain and demonstrate how putting your third finger in space 3 on the “Has” string, and taking it off, as you pluck that string makes the tune for “Concentration” emerge from the ukulele. At the first go, one or two children got the idea. Once I was sure they knew what they were doing, I split us all up into groups lead by people who knew what to do. There was chaos for about five minutes, and then suddenly, nearly everyone caught on. It was a simple matter to sort out the two of three who still needed help, while the other children were given the challenge of playing the next tune on the sheet – another tune that they were already familiar with from previous years.

Within seconds, I was being besieged by excited children who had suddenly discovered that they could read and play TAB. Time was up, and the lesson ended on a high.

Now, HERE’S the missing step which I should have done next, except I hadn’t thought of it. In fact, I should have introduced this handout (there’s no whiteboard in the room where I teach) after we had revised “My Dog Has Fleas”;


If I had used this to explain how the TAB notation relates to the ukulele strings, I think I could have saved several children from teetering on the brink of saying “I don’t get it” or, even more to be dreaded “It’s too confusing”.

Roll on The Pink Panther!


snipped from ukulele.co.uk


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2017/1 Happy New Year!

Here we go, still teaching, still getting a buzz, still, even right at the beginning of term getting the “WOW” from seeing your classes succeed.

This term I will be teaching the usual variety of lessons, which will give me plenty to post about.

There is always so much to learn, as well as to teach – I do hope you are all enjoying your music teaching as much as I am.

Have a great term!


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100/100 Breathless

With any luck I shall be visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum in January, especially to see this sculpture by Cornelia Parker;

Sculptural installation - Breathless

Here’s the description from the V&A link;

‘Breathless’ is a work commissioned specially from the British artist Cornelia Parker for display in the new British Galleries. It was specifically designed to fill the oculus or open space newly created between the two floors of the Galleries in a corner. It is made of 54 defunct brass band instruments which have been squashed flat and hung from wires. They are designed to be seen from both above and below, with polished upper surfaces and tarnished undersides. the work is an attempt by the artist to explore such ideas of duality as silence/noise, upper class/lower class, and death/resurrection.

I can’t wait to see it for real. Here’s another article about it from the BBC.



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99/100 We’re Going on a Bearhunt

I watched the animation of this famous children’s classic story on television over Christmas.


It’s been written down by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. I say “written down” rather than “written”, because, as Michael Rosen says himself, it is a traditional children’s rhyme.

Here’s a fascinating article from “The Guardian” newspaper about how the book came to be.

And here’s an official video from the walker books website of Michael Rosen performing it.

WARNING; If found this version of the video by going to www.walker.co.uk. If you look for the video on youtube, you will find a link to something called jointhebearhunt. When I clicked on it, my internet security software blocked it as a “dangerous site”, so I back-arrowed in a hurry. 

I’ve used the story before, with Early Years classes long before I’d ever read the book as I knew the traditional rhyme from somewhere else. I’d gather the children at one end of the space, and we’d start;

We’re going on a bear hunt

We’re going to catch a big one

I’m not scared  (my version didn’t have “what a beautiful day”)

…… oh-oh….

and then you add your obstacle….

We can’t go over it, we can’t go over it, we can’t through it, we’ve got to go through it.

….. off you go, with actions and sound effects…. until you get to the other side

All you do is repeat this, until you find the bear. The trick now is to prevent the children from running, screaming, back to where they came from! You are supposed to hurry back through all the obstacles, in reverse order, with the actions and sound effects, until you get safely home.

These days the children all know the story… which makes it perfect for turning it into a narration with percussion sound effects. They will happily choose instrumental sounds for grass, trees, mud, the river, and maybe one group doing Michael Rosen’s wonderful “dadoomp, dadoomp” footsteps in between each episode. Once you’ve got everything organised and working well, make sure you record it as the children will enjoy watching and listening to themselves.


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98/100 Lovely Evening – 3-part round

Here’s another round that I will be using with my beginner keyboard ensemble.


It works on a similar principle to Nanuma except that the last line is even easier – just repeated Cs. That will be useful for when a new person appears, unannounced, having never touched a keyboard before, which happens almost every other week. They will be able to join in with the group almost immediately!

I’ll have to make sure that the children are comfortable counting in three-time. I’ll teach a selection of 3-time rhythms, using “Listen and copy”, the words of the song and rhythm cards.

Then I’ll teach the first phrase as

finger numbers (1  23   14   33214    3321)

and notes (C   DE   C    F   EEDCF    EEDC).

Once that is secure, I’ll teach the second phrase, by duplicating the fingering but starting on E, just as we did with Nanuma. This will also introduce “new note A” (some of the children know the note already from picking out “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”).

Again, extension activities will be playing the chords, or using the final line as a drone.

These two posts have made me very happy – I reckon that’s a good deal of my planning for the beginner keyboard ensemble sorted for the start of term!


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97/100 Nanuma – 4-part round

This is a traditional African round – you can find it in all sorts of places and song books.

Here is one version – sometimes the top note is a B flat, sometimes it is a B natural. It is a lovely thing to sing. I saw it done once in an inset, where everyone chose which line they wanted to sing, and wandered around the hall until they found other people singing the same line, and formed “clumps”.


When we sing this, a note closer to B flat sounds more “natural”, giving a C7 chord (now there’s a thought for ukulele groups). I’m going to use it with my beginner keyboard ensemble, so we will play a B natural for simplicity. Last term I managed to reach a point where most of the children were able to identify and play CDEFG by the last session. I realise that I will be starting again from the beginning, after a gap of several weeks over Christmas, so I will start with just playing the rhythm, below (probably on “sound effect” or “drum-kit” – that will provided endless amusement)

nanuma-chords-and-rhythm-onlyI‘ll then introduce the first phrase, as notes ( C C C C E D    C C C ) and fingering (1 1 1 1 3 2     1 1 1)

Once that is reliable, I’ll show them how the tune repeats itself, just starting on E, and then G (introducing the notion of the tonic triad of C along the way…)

When everyone is playing the tune in unison, we can set off on the adventure of a two, three, even four-part round. With ostinato accompaniment based on the tonic triads of C major and D minor, maybe?

I taught it this way before, years ago, and hopefully it will be a useful way back into ensemble playing for these youngsters. The couple of more experienced players (one of them has piano lessons) can add LH chords or ostinato accompaniments.


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96/100 Boxing Day – St Stephen’s Day

I’m a couple of days late, I know, but today I finally got a chance to listen to this track which had been sitting in my in-box. It is a traditional folk song about St Stephen, who is remembered on the day after Christmas.


This is the “folky” sort of sound that I love. The band is called Magpie Lane, the CD is Wassail – A Country Christ,as, and I’ll be putting it on my Christmas List for next year.



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95/100 Scales – Start at the top

Here’s a thing;

Suppose the brain is like a battery, that runs out of energy when it is used;


When your student is playing a scale, especially if it is a new one, (and I’m talking piano here because that’s what I mainly teach), have you noticed that they may make it to the top, and even halfway back down again, but nearly always collapse, note-wise or finger-wise in the section.

Take a beginner playing a left-hand one-octave scale; up they go; 5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 and down they come 1 2 3 4 5 “oh, I’ve run out of fingers”

contrary motion divider


Or right-hand D major; D E F# G A B C# D and back; C# B A G F E D – what happened to F~ on the way back?”

Hands together, two octaves – how often do they end up with an extra finger on the final note? Or missing a few sharps/flats towards the end?

I explain it to the students that they have used 70% of their “brain battery” getting to the top (which is the easier part) and have only 30% of their battery life to get down to the bottom (the harder part). So, if you were to start at the top, you would use 70% of your brain battery to get to the bottom (harder part) and 30% is probably enough to make it to the top.

Once I have taught a scale and the students know what they should be doing (even if they can’t do it) I always switch to “upside down” scales for a week so that they play the downward run while their brain is still functional, in order to consolidate RIGHT notes and fingerings instead of WRONG ones.

This seems to work, and if nothing else adds some variety!


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