Issue 57: How do you teach 40 children to hold their ukuleles?

How do you hold a ukulele? Well, it seems absolutely obvious to me. I have tinkered with a guitar, off and on, over the years, and although I am left-handed, I have always played every instrument the normal way round, so the Paul McCartney left-handed guitar business has not really made much sense to me.

Well, I can tell you that it is NOT perfectly obvious to the children! At the first lesson I was treated to the “nursing the ukulele as though it was a dolly” position, the “mirror image of the teacher” position, the “shoot at the stars” position, the “shoot your neighbour in the foot” position, the “hold it away from the body like a – dare I say it? Yes, I think I do – like a piddling puppy” position….

So, over three separate Wider Opportunities Ukulele Groups, I have perfected the following method:

For maximum success in getting the ukuleles pointing to the left, firstly arrange the children in rows facing the front, NOT in a circle. If the children are in rows, they find it much easier to work out what is going on. If they are in a circle, many will be totally confused because they will be looking at the children on the opposite side whose ukuleles will be pointing in the opposite direction.

Step 1      everyone holds their ukulele in a vertical position with the back “glued to their tummy button”.

Step 2     everyone tilts their ukulele towards a clearly recognisable feature on their left – ie towards Mrs Whatsit, or towards the window, or whatever BUT KEEPING THE BACK GLUED TO THEIR TUMMY BUTTON. Meanwhile, I swivel my ukulele towards MY RIGHT so they all copy me.

Step 3    I demonstrate how I have to tilt my ukulele the other way to them. All those who are WATCHING BUT NOT LISTENING (sigh) will copy me and will need re-directing. I get one of the children to explain to the class why my ukulele is pointing in a different direction.

I am ruthless and determined about persuading the children to hold their ukulele (and the recorder, and any other “handed” instrument) in the standard way. It is really problematic when you come across children who have been allowed to start learning an instrument “the wrong way round”. The children encounter massive and discouraging obstacles in trying to change. In my opinion, for most children and for most instruments, the “handedness” is irrelevant, as the two hands play equally, but differently, important parts in playing the instrument correctly.

Let’s see how we go next week!

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