How Old (or Young) Should a Kid Be to Learn the Ukulele

Ready to play?

Ready to learn? Ready to play? Or both!

UPDATE: COLOR-ALONG UKULELE, our book for young people who want to learn uke is available at www.Danielward.net Be sure to download the FREE SOUNDTRACK!

Is my child old enough to learn ukulele?  At what age is a kid ready?
A friend with twins asked me this question in message.  I started to write. And kept writing.  A few hours later I realized I had written a blog post. This answer pertains not just to our  book, COLOR-ALONG UKULELE  but to all kinds of questions parents have about kids, music and ukulele.
      There is a Long Answer and a short one.
The short answer ….it all depends on the kid, approach and the expectations.
      Here it comes– brace yourself, pour a drink: The Long Answer.
      Kids learn through a feedback loop, and progress is determined by their developmental readiness in response to their environment and their temperament.  When children are given stimulus to emulate, especially stimulus  which relates to them and to which they can relate– they take off in the areas that engage them.  I am sure you have either experienced or heard from parents how much faster younger siblings walk, talk etc… than their older counterparts.  One reason is that they are surrounded by stimulus relating to them, showing them how to be a child.
      Music, like language, is learned initially through a feedback loop.  It is a rare youngster who, at 5, is ready to physically finger chords or is mentally able to sit and play for more than a few moments.  But that does not mean that they are not learning! They are learning all the time, and music is no exception.
      The illustrations in the book, the fun pictures and the chord diagrams, give a visual focal point for the youngest kids.  Many wee folk love to look at pictures.  The recordings create the feedback loop of sound.  Kids learn intervals, melodies, and lyrics with alacrity.  When we know a song a song by heart before we try to learn to play it on an instrument, the outcome can be pure joy (and less frustration).
      Having an instrument on hand which a child can play with, and eventually play, is a great thing at any age.  $50 models are well suited for this.  Instruments, not toys; nothing precious–if they get broken… meh. Here’s my favorite starter: Ohana sk-10 from MIM
Tune them as often as you can.  Write “G” “C” “E” and “A” on the tuning pegs and number the strings with a sharpie!  Put a sticker on the fretboard where a finger should be placed to make a C chord.  Let a kid put stickers on the body with impunity!  Draw a smiley face on the top/side of the instrument to re-enforce “this end up”. Encourage strumming with a steady beat and clap along, saying “one, two, three, four…one, two…”.
      On the whole, I see kids in 3rd and 4th grade  having the motor skills, ability and  developmental maturity to really learn.  That is when I can take a classroom of 30+ kids and, in the course of a few weeks,  get them to play songs with 4 chords.
Ready or not.... here she comes! AKA musician's kid having fun in a dressing room.

Ready or not…. here she comes! AKA musician’s kid having fun in a dressing room.

      I have known a few kids- very few- who are really ready to play at 5 or 6.  Often they are kids of musicians who have grown up in households filled with music and experimentation, rehearsing; who have watched their parents sweat and rejoice the same way they do. Kids who are driven to practice, and know how to do it. It is pretty rare. (In fact, just as many musician’s kids are apathetic towards the idea of playing or performing)
      I do know that young kids who learn along side their parents learn better.  Children learn through watching us model behavior far more readily that they do through instruction. Some parents who feel insecure about their musical abilities worry about modeling effectively.  I don’t.  I think kids “ears”  grow irrespective of an adult’s shortcomings in pitch or rhythm.  To see a parent try, struggle, unafraid of failure… that is big. Perhaps even bigger than learning ukulele. Also, kids value what we value, and if they see music is important to you, it will be important to them.
      In private lessons or small groups I see kids at 6-8 able to focus and enjoy their achievements.  I have taught  private lessons for families in their homes.  A parent or two, and a couple of siblings, together sitting on the floor.  Rarely will a child of 5 or younger participate for more than 5 minutes.  Older kids may hang in for 15 or more. The parent will finish up the allotted time …and then some.  When I return the following week, I will often hear that the little kid was singing the song we covered and messing around with their instruments the next day.
      So- for the experience of making music, your kid is ready, regardless of age. They do it every day. Having an instrument to experiment on will give them tools they may be craving. They learn songs by ear fast- and never forget them!
The first 3 songs (in our book)  can be played by very young kids, 3 and up. They are strumming on the open strings of the ukulele, learning basic rhythm. Great developmentally appropriate goal!
But to really be able to play the instrument… probably 7-9 years is a realistic expectation.
They are NEVER too young to see and hear YOU learn to play!
What are you waiting for?!
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All for uke and uke for ALL!

As you may know I am a BIG fan of music’s magical power to bring people together.  The songs we know connect us to people and places far and near.  Starting with the bond of lullaby and ending with the bagpipe’s requiem, music is with us all our lives.  I could go on and on… in fact, I do!

Family style!

Family style!  Photo by Jill Richards

I did just the other day to October Crifasi, who is writing an article for Ukulele Magazine about ukulele for kids (that’s the same magazine which had me on their cover last spring!).  We talked, among other things, about family music- how great it is to teach parents and kids together.  The bond it creates within the family, the service it does for both parent and child.  You can read about it in Ukulele Magazine’s next issue (unless they decide to not print it- you never know).

Or you can come and live the experience!  I have two series classes for families starting up:  A four-Saturday session starting February 28th at 10:30 am at Uspace– the new downtown LA ukulele shop-school-venue-cafe located in the Japanese American Cultural Center.  (I am also working on a week long kid’s ukulele summer camp there. More on that soon)

And a 3-Saturday 10:30 am series at McCabes in Santa Monica starting March 28th.

I am also hard at work on a book! If you have taken a class with me before you have probably taken home at least one of my handouts.  I have been illustrating my lessons, and when I teach an all-ages class I always have Art Stix  or crayons on hand to give the kids who get antsy mid lesson.  They can do some coloring while the adults keep playing.  They make their own songbooks, and by the end of a semester or session they have.. a bunch of sheets of paper that all get lost.

So- I decided it’s time to get it together!  Our current project is a ukulele method book with illustrations and companion recordings.  Copies will be available to pre-order through Kickstarter soon.  You will be hearing all about that once the campaign is launched!  The art by El Rey is FANTASTIC!  here is a sneak peek at the cover-

Uke Songbook Mockup Front Cover only for Kickstarter640 x 480

So much going on! So many festivals coming up, concerts for families… I have not had a chance to post photos from all the great things that have just happened- like the trip to Mexico…. AMAZING!  If I can get the time together to make it back to the computer I will be popping some pictures up here as well as updating our schedule for the spring.  So many great opportunities to share music!  How lucky are we?

This Is Not A Test (Kitchen)

Preparing to teach a cooking class  at the end of January at the La Semana de Uke retreat on the shores of lake Chapala  in Jalisco, Mexico means testing out some recipe ideas at home.

There are still a few spaces available to join us on this adventure which includes hiking, photography, cooking and music.  Those of you locked in a cold wintery area: I especially recommend you consider packing a small bag and jumping on the first Aeromexico flight you can book.

Here is an enticing food-a-logue to get you thinking about it.

Last week Daniel wanted to work on a flautas/taquito idea.  Poor me,  I had to suffer the consequences.

Looks tasty already!

Looks tasty already!

While gigging in Baltimore(of all places), Daniel had eaten some really tasty appetizers in a fancy Mexican joint.  Flautas con pollo were on his mind: crunchy “Mexican egg rolls”, spiced with chili, oregano, zest and juice of orange, lime and lemon… mmmm.

First, a chicken was spatchcocked and roasted,  (OK, I just love to say “spatchcocked”.  But admit it- don’t you?) shredded and mixed with the citrus, plus onion, garlic, herbs, chillies and other seasonings.

There are always some secrets kept, even in the most intimate of relationships.  Even between blogger and reader.  It is what keeps our relationship fresh.  So, yes- there may have been salt and pepper added.  Perhaps even olive oil.  But I’ll never tell.

The tiny test kitchen gets a workout!

The tiny test kitchen gets a workout!

Flour tortillas were filled and rolled with the heavenly stuffing, but instead of frying…IMG_7415he baked them in the oven.  Red Chili from Chimayo, New Mexico makes the sauce… and it is never a party without a little guacamole!

 

he baked them in the oven.  Red Chili from Chimayo, New Mexico makes the sauce… and it is never a party without a little guacamole!

Daniel gets serious about plating

Daniel gets serious about plating and garnish

and….

Mmmmmm...   Nuf said.

Mmmmmm… Nuf said.

The next day he made the same thing,  but with corn tortillas, taquito style.  Even better.  Kid tested, kid approved!

However,  I think he needs to work on this idea some more, don’t you?   My mouth is watering just thinking about it!  If you can’t stop by for dinner this week you should definitely check your schedule for the last week of January…   Learn more about joining us at http://ukuleleadventures.com/

com com com nom nom nom.

 

 

 

Ukulele Trafficking

Survivor-Girl-and-Boy_a

I want to FILL THE HOUSE!  This show is a benefit for Survivor Girl Ukulele Band, and once you read a little about what it is and what it’s all about I know you will want to support this incredible project, too!  I’ll be at the Coffee Gallery in Alta Dena at 3pm with my new band The Smoking Jackets and I really hope I’ll see you there. If you can’t make it but would like to contribute to this project, follow this link!  The text and images below are lifted from an article which appears in Hometown Pasedena.  The WHOLE ARTICLE is worth a good read!  Check it out!

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For most of us, human trafficking is a grim statistic in the news. For Laurie Kallevig, it’s up-close-and-personal. She works with survivors of human trafficking in India.

Laurie’s work is unique; she brings ukuleles to India and teaches girls (and more recently, boys) to play the instruments. She hopes, eventually, these young survivors will “write the soundtrack to the movie of their own lives.”

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Kim Ohanneson: Describe your typical day with the children. What is the age range?

Laurie Kallevig: My typical process is to start with a small size class, just six girls, and teach them for a few days, building in a lot of individualized attention and a lot of fun and success. We start with songs that they know, songs in their own language.

Soon I add another small class to the schedule and maybe even have one of the students from the first class join the second class and help to translate and teach. Next, I combine the two classes and have twelve students at about the same level. Then I add another class of beginners, and so on, building to up to two or three classes per day, each about an hour and a half in length.

Last year in Pune, I was in a rescue home that had mostly major girls, 18 years and older. Most were in the 19 to 22 year old range, but a few students were in their early 30s.

This year in Mysore (working at Odanadi Seva Trust), my students ranged from 9 years old to 19 years old. And while I didn’t have formal classes for the little ones, I tried to make time to let the little ones (5-8 years old) come in and play and strum and make believe they are rock stars.

Often the students can’t stop playing, even to pay attention to learn the next thing, and I like to think they are lost in ukuleleland—that magical place of sound and vibration and strum, strum, strumming; a place where the bad memories fade and the music and hope and dreams of a better future come to life.

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KO: Where in India have you shared music and the ukulele? Where would you like to go next? Do you hope to expand beyond India?

Laurie: Last year in 2013, I taught for about four months in a rescue home in Pune. Most of my longer-term students were repatriated to their homes in India and Bangladesh, and then unfortunately, that rescue home discontinued the survivor girl ukulele band project. (That’s a whole other story.) So then for six weeks I experimented with teaming up with an organization in Mumbai and taught at one of their drop-in centers in a small red-light area. The women I taught there were working prostitutes and pimps.

This year, 2014, I was teaching at the renowned Odanadi Seva Trust in Mysore. They have a girls home and a boys home, and I taught at both homes.

Survivor Girl Ukulele Band Project 2015 will be in Kolkata, one of the largest human trafficking hubs in the world. I’ll be working at the shelter homes of Sanlaap (sanlaapindia.org). They have over 250 girls in their four shelter homes, and I am really looking forward to it!!!

Many thousands of girls are trafficked from Nepal and Bangladesh into India, and I hope to expand SGUB Project to both of those countries some day.

 

 

Meet McClelland!

If you have read every blog post I have ever written you might recognize Craig McClelland as part of the Sukey Jump Band, Vespus and Skumbaag, however I am excited to introduce him in a new light- as a uke teacher and member of the Smoking Jackets.  Craig is, you see, a man of many talents!

Craig has got both ends covered....

Craig has got both ends covered….

We are getting the jackets tailored for some shows at the beginning of November, and Craig will be flying out from his beautiful home in Sturgeon Bay, WI for music making and teaching in California.

First stop- McCabes Weekend Ukulele Warriors, November 1st, noon.

The next day we will be joined by John Bartlit, the forth (and yet unphotographed member) of the Smoking Jackets.  We have two shows on Sunday- the first is and 11 am Sukey Jump show at McCabes, the second is the 3 pm benefit at the Coffee Gallery in Altadena.

He's the good looking one in the fez

He’s the good looking one in the fez

Here is a little about Craig and what he will be teaching at McCabes:

Those Problem Chords – D Major and E Major (and more).

As a beginning ukulele player you find yourself facing many challenges. You find yourself asking how do I tune my uke, do I really look good in a bowtie, and just how do I pronounce ukulele anyway. Playing chords is just another of these challenges and just as you are getting a pretty good handle on how to play such common chords as G Major, C Major, F Major and A Major and are getting pretty good at switching between them, along come two chords that strike fear in the heart of every beginning ukester– D Major and of course, the dreaded E Major. In this workshop Craig McClelland will help you find ways to approach these most feared of chords – fingering variations, different voicings, and even out and out “cheats” that you can use at your next uke jam until you do master the preferred voicings – all while learning a couple of easy songs and having a fun time. If all goes well, we may even examine a few more common problem chords (although the decision to wear a bowtie is left completely to you).

Craig McClelland is a professional musician (bass, guitar, ukulele, and tuba) and instructor with over 30 years’ experience, presently working with the American Folklore Theatre and the Peninsula Players Theatre in Door County, Wisconsin. Craig has taught music publicly and privately over the last 20 years after having studied bass at Musician’s Institute in Los Angeles, as well as earning a BA in Music at University of New Mexico and an MA in Humanities from California State University – Dominguez Hills. He has been pleased to share his music with students of all levels, having taught in elementary schools, universities and all levels in between.

In addition to his teaching and theatre work, Craig can be seen around the country in such diverse ensembles as the Vespus Marimba Band, the Sukey Jump Band, Crossing 32nd Street, the Links Ensemble, The Gazebo Guys, and America’s only heavy-metal vaudeville troupe, Skumbaag. In 2012, Craig was honored when Skumbaag was chosen as Ensemble in Residence for the University of New Mexico International Composers Symposium, featuring a wide range of his music, including selections from his original musical, The Lubbock Lights.

When not performing, Craig likes to be with his family in Door County and uses the time for songwriting, playwriting as well as substitute teaching band, choir, and theatre in the public schools. He can frequently be found doing workshops such as this one.

Craig would also like to thank the fine folks at McCabe’s for this opportunity to share his love of ukulele with your community.

just don't bring up the bananna

just don’t bring up the bananna suit

Both of the fine photos of Craig were taken in PHX by James Barnett  WeTakeNicePictures.com

This last lousy one was taken by me

A working lunch at our PHX regional office.

A working lunch at our PHX regional office.

NEW Workshops at Wine Country

 

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Last year Wine Country Ukulele Festival was a wild and busy experience!  I was filling in for Andy Andrews as MC who was helping his son Eli recover from a terrible car crash. This year we have something to celebrate- their incredible success!  Eli is now back in his life surrounded by love in full bloom, love made stronger and richer by the ordeal and trials it passed through.

Between teaching classes, performing, doing a kid’s show and introducing all the incredible performers I met the lovely folks from UKULELE MAGAZINE who did a short interview with me and took a few pictures.  I was VERY surprised to see my face on the cover of the magazine four months later!  It’s like the cover of the Rolling Stone for uke players!

I am very happy to be returning this year as just a teacher and performer.  Andy’s shoes were a little too big for me, and I am relieved to be handing them back!

I will be teaching a bunch of new workshops and am working on my materials now, with Daniel’s help.  Yes, not only can he play, he can TRANSCRIBE!  Daniel’s got an all new curriculum as well.  I have copied the class descriptions below to give you an idea of what  you can sign up for- and I urge you to do it soon!  Some of the workshops are filling up already.  I must admit that I am particularly excited about the lyrical improv class, “Me and my Big Mouth”!  That one doesn’t even require you to play a uke!

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Learn to Play in a Day

Heidi Swedberg LOVES to teach absolute beginners. The more absolute, the better.  And by the end of one session, she guarantees you will be singing and playing songs on your uke and  laughing a heck of a lot.  While anyone, of any age, is welcome to attend this workshop, we ask that kids under 8 be accompanied by a participating adult.

 

Me and My Big Mouth

There’s a knack to thinking on your feet with your uke in your hand and being the life of the party. And one of the sure fire ways to make sure you, and your uke are invited back, is with this  little repertoire of fun songs  that allow you to make up the lyrics as you go along and throw in a punchline or two. Under the direction (and whacky inspiration) of Heidi Swedberg, who is a master of lyrical improvisation, you will learn how to use a couple of classic tunes to be as bawdy (or not) as you wish. It’s a terrific way to connect with your audience in a timely fashion and bring a smile to more faces than just your own. If you’ve ever seen Heidi in action and wondered “how does she do it?” come to this workshop and find out.

 

If You Had a Hammer

If you had a hammer, you’d probably hammer in the morning…..and all over this land.  But first you’d need to know how to swing it, and that’s what this workshop is all about. Here, Heidi Swedberg will work with you on a couple of popular tunes that you probably already know, but, with the addition of a few simple left-hand techniques, known as  hammers and pull-offs, you will be able to add  “grace” or melody notes  that will add piles of pizzazz to these, otherwise, very simple tunes. Not only that, you’ll come away with some fun songs to practice with, that will  help your left hand move confidently and powerfully across each of the strings and along the entire fretboard.

Freight Train, Freight Train

You, too, will be “going so fast,” once you have learned a few second-position chords and the simple, Travis picking pattern offered in this workshop by Heidi Swedberg. And what better song to practice it on than Elizabeth Cotton’s iconic song, Freight Train, Freight Train, a tune written more than 100 years ago and a great song to have in your quiver.  Plus, once you get this technique down, you’ll realize there are more tunes in your repertoire you can use this classic picking pattern with.  All aboard for the ride of your life!

Heart and Soul

No need to lose control, though, because Heidi Swedberg will guide you every step of the way as you navigate the Circle of Fifths, exploring the lovely chord progression in this great American standard.  And, as a bonus, you’ll learn the bridge!  (Nobody knows the bridge!)  Not only that, this workshop will open up a whole new world of musical insight that will carry over into just about every tune you’ll ever play on your ‘ukulele. Believe me; we all need a little heart and soul.

DANIEL”S WORKSHOPS

The Old Switcheroo

One of the biggest challenges facing any beginning player (and a number of more advanced players, as well) is switching the fingers on your left hand from one chord to another in a seamless and timely fashion. It’s hard!  But, it doesn’t have to be. In this workshop Daniel Ward will show you how to make those changes with little, or no, effort at all through a series of easy exercises and some expert advice that will let you relax and enjoy the music, without any pain or frustration.

Ethno-Ukeology

Take one tune and put it through several different style changes with your right hand and what have you got?  Ethno-ukeolgy.  From the friendly Travis pick to the more complex strums of  Latin America and the Caribbean, Daniel Ward will teach you how to  “cook” on the strings with some tasty spices, including (but not limited to) calypso, salsa, reggae, and country! Slow practice in class will make sure that you get it all under your skin before trying this at home, and handouts will make sure you get it right. Sounds like a hoot and necessary information to have under your belt. Plus you can have a little fun with it.   How about “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” with a calypso beat?

Stormy Weekend Part 1

Actually, the title of the song is “Stormy Monday,” the blues classic that will serve as the foundation for this 2-part workshop by Daniel Ward. Learning to play the blues provides such a solid foundation for any player’s repertoire, that we recommend you take at least one of our blues workshops, even if you don’t take anything else.  In this one, developed for more experienced players, Daniel will cover both familiar and advanced chord shapes in time with the changes, as well as the pentatonic and blues scales in major and minor for soloing.  You can count on some good right hand attention too, exploring the strengths of finger-style, strumming, and using a pick.  By the end of the second workshop you will be “trading chords and solos” as partners and come away with a whole set of new skills to help tackle any blues song on your own. Part 1 is highly recommended if you want to take Part 2.

Stormy Weekend Part 2

This is an extension, primarily for more advanced players of Stormy Weekend, Part 1, focusing on the more advanced chord shapes and right hand technique, including  finger-style, strumming, and using a pick.  The blues classic “Stormy Monday” will serve as the foundation.  By the end of this workshop you will be “trading chords and solos” as partners and come away with a whole set of new skills to help tackle any blues song on your own. To get the most out of this workshop, you should take Stormy Weekend, Part 1.

All of Me!

Why not take all of me?  It’s a wonderful opportunity to explore and learn this iconic tune with Daniel Ward and discover all its lovely jazz changes without getting lost! And, since the tune itself travels through several different keys, you’ll start to get a feel for how the dominant chord can take you places you didn’t know you wanted to go!  And you’ll be learning some basic jazz strumming techniques at the same time. By the end of the session, you’ll not only have a new tune under your belt, you’ll also have a pocketful of tricks to apply to other songs of the genre. Can’t you see?  You’re no good without this.

Do the Fandango!

  1. 1. a lively Spanish dance for two people, typically accompanied by castanets or tambourine, or 2. a foolish or useless act or thing. For our purposes, we’ll go with the first definition, a 12-count rhythm that requires some thumb work and fancy strumming, with temolo,  scales, and rageuados for the right hand, to get that traditional flamenco sound. And who better to give it to you than Daniel Ward, a professional flamenco guitarist for the past 30 years? With a traditional flamenco fandango under your belt, you’ll be set to play on your own for hours and sound simply amazing…not a foolish or useless thing at all. A low G is a plus if you have one, but skills and techniques learned here will work well with re-entrant tuning, as well.

(Heidi and Daniel don’t always refer to themselves in the third person, but when Heidi and Daniel do….  Thanks, Elaine DeMann for writing up such lively course descriptions!  Too good not to steal!)

Subversive Fun-Sukey Jump!

The Sukey Jump Band will be celebrating Summer’s end with shows in four and a half states- Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and California: Northern and Southern.  We have a passel of scheduled performances we’d love to see you at.  These are officially classified as “Kids Shows”, but that is a classification we love to buck.

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Kids show…

grown ups show.  You tell me which is sillier!

grown ups show. You tell me which is sillier!

...I rest my case

…I rest my case

The Sukey Jump Band has a simple mission- to share the joy making music brings with all ages.  That’s how we came by the name SUKEY JUMP!  In the “old days” people would gather and sing, dance, holler and laugh at gatherings known as play parties or sukey jumps.  Musicians would play, leading songs everyone could enjoy and participate in, whether they danced to a call, following directions or just stomped and jumped.  Songs often familiar, inviting response and welcoming chorus.

I have a favorite quote from the film  State and Main (2000) by David Mamet: “Everybody makes their own fun. If you don’t make it yourself, it isn’t fun. It’s entertainment.”  There is a lack of opportunity to “make fun” for all ages.  We are fast becoming a society doped on the true opiate of the masses: corporate media entertainment.  To quote another film “we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take this any more!”.   Although I won’t be throwing my Mac out the window I will be throwing caution to the wind and inviting you to join us in our subversive acts.

 

August 3  2-3 PM  South Coast Botanical Gardens 26300 Crenshaw Boulevard  Palos Verdes Peninsula, California 90274

September 4, 5:30- 7 pm    Wine Country Ukulele Festival   SPECIAL KID’S SHOW AND ICR CREAM SOCIAL! Umpqua Bank, 1065 Main Street, St. Helena, CA

September 12 6:30 PM   Plaza Library, Kansas City, MO

September 13, 10 am  Wonderscope Children’s Museum     Kansas City, Kansas

September 14th  1pm   Wiggle Out Loud   Children’s Music Festival Oklahoma City, OK