U for Ukulele:
A New Classroom Method for Young Children
B. A. Wilfrid Laurier University, 1985
B. Ed. University of Western Ontario, 1986
M. Ed. Acadia University, 2003
A project in education
submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for
the Degree of Master of Education (Curriculum)
Spring Convocation 2003
© WARREN DOBSON 2003
Table of Contents
Appendix A - evaluation tools
U for Ukulele has evolved from my Kodaly training in vocal music education at the University of Western Ontario, and my experience as a teacher of classical guitar. Influences in developing it have been my mentor and guitar teacher, the late Tibor Puskas, and two authors whose works I have admired - J. Chalmers Doane, the dean of ukulele teachers, and John Barron, author of Ride With Me - A Journey from Unison to Part-singing (Barron, 1993). Doane's slim volume, Teacher's Guide to Classroom Ukulele, has impressed me greatly with its wealth of suggestions on everything from classroom setup to practical psychology (Doane, 1977).
I wish to extend my appreciation to the children of Mill Village and Brooklyn, Queens County, Nova Scotia, many of whom were unwitting subjects of my research and study in developing this method. I hope that they gained enjoyment and satisfaction from learning to play the ukulele. Thanks to my wife, Karen, for her understanding and support during the many hours I spent in developing this project.
W C D
The purpose of this project is twofold:
1. to provide, for music educators, an online teacher’s guide to a new classroom method for ukulele instruction.
2. to provide, for students and parents, an online learning resource supporting daily practice at home.
This project is important because it introduces a new method for ukulele instruction specifically designed for young students. U for Ukulele provides a practical synthesis of modern music pedagogy and contemporary learning theories. Inspired by the work of Kodaly, Orff, Dalcroze, Suzuki, Montessori, and Gordon, the project builds on Chalmers Doane’s method for ukulele, (Doane, 1977) and the classical guitar pedagogy of Tibor Puskas (Puskas, 1968). U for Ukulele incorporates Bruner’s theory of constructivism with contemporary insight on information processing in the sensory-motor domain, and recent findings about music from the field of neuroscience.
Distinguishing features of the project are its emphasis on the ukulele as an extension of the singing voice, and the use of tonic Sol-fa in naming the notes. It treats the ukulele primarily as a melody instrument and aims for a relaxed playing technique that builds left-hand coordination sequentially. The method is designed for use with elementary school students (aged six to eight) and includes a sequenced repertory of twenty-four songs.
A feature of primary importance to students and parents is the publication of U for Ukulele as an online resource. With increasing access to the Internet in Canadian homes, (Statistics Canada, 2001), on-line informational resources are being widely used. This project makes the twenty-four lessons available on the Internet where students and parents can see and hear the music, and find suggestions to support daily practice at home.
An added benefit to music educators is free access to the project material to support their teaching. All songs are in the public domain, and permission for downloading and photocopying the lessons is granted to public educators. E-mail exchange with the author provides an option for further support.
The ukulele has been included as a classroom instrument in most Canadian music programs where, typically, it is introduced at age ten or eleven as a rhythm instrument. Students are expected to memorize chord formations and strum to accompany singing. Most existing ukulele methods focus on teaching chords to beginners, but according to traditional classical guitar pedagogy, this is a harmful practice that encourages dysfunctional tension in the left hand (Puskas, 1968).
The most successful ukulele method in Canada is the Classroom Ukulele Method by J. Chalmers Doane (Doane, 1971). This comprehensive method teaches chords and melody, as well as theory and ear training. It relies on traditional notation, referring to pitches by letter names (e.g., F#, G), and rhythms as quarter notes, eighth notes, etc. One of the strengths of the Doane method, as described in his book, Teacher’s Guide to Classroom Ukulele, is the teacher’s insistence on students singing while playing:
If the singing gets weak or stops, eliminate the ukulele until the singing is strong enough to add it again… The singing comes first in this kind of musical experience… Singing is the best known way of training the ear (Doane, 1977 p10).
In my opinion, Doane is an expert teacher. His method has been very successful with junior and senior high school students, especially in Nova Scotia and British Columbia. His slim volume, Teacher's Guide to Classroom Ukulele (Doane, 1977) should be required reading for anyone attempting to teach ukulele.
However, in trying to use Doane’s method with classes of seven year old students, I met with mixed results – only a few seemed to grasp the technique. It was through trying to improve on student learning and success with young learners, during a ten-year period, that U for Ukulele was developed.
The Kodaly Method. The Hungarian composer, Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967) believed that training the voice using relative Sol-fa was the best way to obtain a secure musical footing. He cherished the folk songs and styles of his culture and developed his ideas for early childhood education around them. In particular, the emphasis on pentatonic scales was thought to make in-tune singing easier to achieve. He believed in using only music of the highest quality in providing musical experiences for all students. According to Kodaly, singing, dancing and playing musical games in early childhood develops a sense of inner hearing that must be established before any work with notation commences. He helped to create a child-centered learning sequence that develops musical independence through literacy. Today, inspired by the prodigious accomplishments of educators in Hungary, Kodaly's philosophy of music education has been embraced in many countries around the world (Sinor, 1997).
Orff Schulwerk. Carl Orff (1895-1982) was a German composer and music educator. His 5-volume text, Das Schulwerk (1930-54), outlines a child-development theory of musical growth. It is built on the idea that a child must be able to feel and make rhythms and melodies before being called on to read and write music. In keeping with his belief that a child internalizes and develops ownership of concepts by experiencing them first, Orff students are led through imitation and exploration to literacy and improvisation (Scholes, 1974 p730).
Dalcroze Eurhythmics. Emile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865-1950) was a Swiss educator and composer who originated a system of musical training through physical movement. He emphasized the experience of music, through listening and performance before introducing notation, theory and analysis (Scholes, 1974 p532).
Montessori Method. According to the philosophy of Dr. Maria Montessori, children learn best by being active learners, not simply passive receptors of knowledge. Teachers create multi-age classroom environments where students "learn by doing". Rhythm instruments and singing are taught to pre-schoolers, while soprano recorder is introduced in grades 1,2,3. Montessori music teachers have incorporated the "Suzuki Method" where students first learn all basic notes by rote before reading music. Music is viewed as a language, and is taught in 3 corresponding phases of comprehension:
1. early absorption through listening;
2. imitation, rote-learning;
3. written and read language (American Montessori Society, 2003).
The Suzuki Method. Shinichi Suzuki's method has come to be well recognized for producing outstanding young violinists. Considerable emphasis is given to passive learning through watching and listening. Recorded music is played for hours a day at low volume to create an immersion medium wherein students develop a mental image of the music to be performed. The language acquisition model is extended to the learning of music:
Just as one would never teach young children to read before they have learned to speak, Suzuki violin teachers defer reading until there is a technical mastery of basic skills for playing and musical memory has been developed sufficiently. As a result, students learn to express music with ease and fluency. Suzuki teaches that students can more readily develop technical mastery if the student's attention is not divided by learning to simultaneously read and play (Coff, 1998 para.8).
Music Learning Theory. Edwin E. Gordon is Professor of Music at Michigan State University. He is a respected musician, researcher, teacher, author, editor, and lecturer. His Music Learning Theory attempts to explain what occurs when we learn music. The term audiation refers to a skill also known as "inner hearing". Before learning to play an instrument, students of his method build a strong audiation foundation through singing, chanting, and rhythmic activity. Each song is first learned through singing, and then given new expression through instrumental technique. Gordon believes that learning the letter names of notes is a skill that should be preceded by much experience with tonic and rhythmic Sol-fa (Gordon, E. E., 1999).
Constructivist theory and Mental Models. The notion that learners actively build or construct knowledge by forging new concepts based on pre-existing ideas and information is known as “Constructivism”. According to Jerome Bruner, the task of the instructor is to translate information to be learned into a format appropriate to the learner’s current state of understanding (as cited in Kearsley, 2003a). While this is an important consideration in designing instructional methods, it is crucial that pre-existing knowledge structures or ”mental models” be recognized when teaching a completely new skill to beginners. In this project, the pre-existing knowledge structure is an internal kinesthetic art – how to make music with the voice; the new knowledge is an external kinesthetic art – how to make music with a ukulele. By naming the notes on the ukulele as do-re-mi, we interpret the instrument in terms of the learner’s pre-existing mental model (i.e., tonic Sol-fa). Understanding the ukulele, thus, becomes intuitive, especially when we use familiar songs and familiar terminology as a scaffold from the existing knowledge to the new.
Sensory-motor Domain. Musical performance skills are primarily sensory-motor in nature. As such, it is wise to consider what is known about knowledge and learning in this domain when designing instructional methods. From the work of behavioral psychologists, Guthrie, Hull, and Skinner (as cited in Kearsley, 2003b) we know that long-term retention of motor skills depends upon regular practice. Thus, U for Ukulele focuses on daily practice at home and reinforces it with an online resource for parents.
We also know that learning and retention of sensory-motor skills is improved by both the quantity and quality of feedback (knowledge of results) during training (Kearsley, 2003b). In U for Ukulele, the use of familiar songs and tonic Sol-fa contributes to the quality of feedback because students have pre-existing knowledge of what results to expect. Furthermore, the method’s recommended procedure of singing and playing the melody at the same time, affords students the opportunity to qualitatively compare the sounds they make.
Marteniuk (1976) suggests two ways in which learning/teaching of motor skills can be facilitated: (1) by slowing down the rate at which information is presented, and (2) by reducing the amount of information that needs to be processed. Both of these goals were addressed in designing U for Ukulele: (1) by learning to play a number of well-known songs to reinforce each new group of notes being studied; and (2) by using the familiar tonic Sol-fa syllables to name the notes on the ukulele.
In my twenty-five years experience at teaching classical guitar, I have observed that it is at the very threshold of learning to play an instrument that learners most often despair. When we use the conventional letter names (C#, D, etc.) for notes, a new layer of abstraction is added to the learning process at a critical moment. It becomes much easier to learn the conventional note names later, after the sensory-motor skills are secure.
The notion that music influences cognitive development has support from the field of neuroscience. Practitioners believe that:
Neurodevelopment is dependent upon the presence, pattern, frequency and timing (of) experiences during development, The more patterned activity (e.g. music, reading, conversation), the more the brain regions responsible for these tasks will organize and be functionally 'healthy' The implications of this are profound. Patterned repetitive activity results in patterned neural activity that actually changes the brain (Perry, Hogan and Marlin, 2000 p7).
Neuroscience may provide insight into the process of developing musical aptitude in children. Recent research suggests that musical aptitude is both innate and developmental and that, by age nine, whatever level of developmental aptitude a student has achieved remains the same for life (Gordon, 1999). This indicates that it is wise to begin learning music early in life, while developmental aptitude is still plastic. People often ascribe conspicuous musical aptitude (or lack of it) to the notion of "talent", as if the whole matter were settled at birth (Roberts, 1990). But music educators know that more than genetics goes into the equation - quality teaching, active participation, and early formal and informal experiences in music are critical (Demorest and Morrison, 2000; Gordon, 1999). While some may have reservations about teaching instrumental music to very young children, the work of Gordon on musical aptitude, and Perry et al. (2000) on neurodevelopment, suggests that we have a window of opportunity for raising student potential to achieve.
Broca’s Area. Widely-held beliefs about specific language-processing sites in the human brain have been called into question by a recent study (Maess, Koelsch, Gunter, & Friederici, 2001) that indicates musical perception may also be situated in a region known as Broca’s area. Using magnetoencephalography (MEG) to measure magnetic fields, Maess and his colleagues were able to show correspondence between brain activity and musical discrimination in an area of the brain previously thought to be exclusively devoted to language processing. This supports the general agreement among eminent contemporary music educators that language acquisition and learning music are analogous. As Edwin Gordon puts it: “My best recommendation to music teachers of the next century… Follow religiously the process of the way we learn language." (as cited in Pinzino, 1998 para.18).
To summarize the literature review, I will reiterate the following main points:
· Traditional methods for teaching the ukulele have not always explored the full potential of the instrument nor have they always been successful with young children.
· Many fundamental ideas emerge - almost in unison - from the work of Kodaly, Orff, Dalcroze, Suzuki, Montessori, and Gordon. Among them are the beliefs that music should be experienced early in life; that active participation encourages skill development; that singing is important in developing inner hearing or audiation; that movable tonic Sol-fa is a useful means for conceptualizing pitch; and that, as with language acquisition, musical literacy is a process that requires much preparatory work.
· Contemporary learning theories provide insight for designers of instructional methods. Constructivists believe that learners build new knowledge on pre-existing mental models. Effective learning in the sensory-motor domain requires regular practice and quality feedback during the training period. Efficiency is increased when new information is presented at a slower pace and in smaller doses.
· Neuroscience suggests that the brain is influenced during development by repetitive patterned activities such as conversation or music. Gordon asserts that there are two kinds of musical aptitude: innate and developmental, and that a window exists, from birth until age nine, during which developmental aptitude can be increased.
· Broca’s area in the human brain, once thought to be only for language processing, has been shown to be active in processing music. This may indicate, as some music educators have long suggested, that language acquisition and learning music are analogous processes.
These points provide evidence of the need for a new method of teaching ukulele to young children, and serve as a framework for instructional design. U for Ukulele seeks to embody them in introducing young children to playing the ukulele as an extension of the singing voice. The method builds on the learner’s pre-existing (from early music education) mental model in using tonic Sol-fa as a scaffold to achievement in instrumental music.
Chapter 3 examines the general methodology for the project, including principles of instructional design, as well as practical and philosophical rationales for making the choices that define U for Ukulele. Profiles of the learners and roles of the teacher and parents are discussed, and a sample lesson is included. Specific details of the methodology are contained in the website U for Ukulele, available online at http://ssdsbstaff.ednet.ns.ca/wdobson and on the CD accompanying this report.
The ukulele is an ideal classroom instrument for six to eight year olds. Like the piano, it has the potential to be used in a melodic or harmonic role. Portable, inexpensive and easy-to-play, it is the right size for small hands and fingers and makes a delicate and pleasing sound. Furthermore, it needs little maintenance or adjustment other than tuning, and can provide a lifetime of enjoyment. Students should have their own ukulele, whether provided by the parents, or on loan from the school. This will allow the best likelihood for daily practice - a sine qua non for achievement.
The process of learning music is complex and closely resembles the acquisition of language. As with learning a native tongue, it is a natural and almost effortless process for most children in families where music is part of the fabric of daily life. Such children arrive at the classroom door already possessing many of the skills necessary to become proficient as musicians. For them, music lessons become a process of refining those abilities and, for the music teacher, one of meting out challenges and timely opportunities for expression.
Sadly, many children, lacking a culture of musical “immersion”, are faced with a number of obstacles to learning music, not the least of which is overcoming fears or inhibitions that may impede musical performance. For them, learning music is akin to learning a foreign language. I believe that success for these learners is optimized where a supportive classroom environment is maintained, and group performance is punctuated with opportunities for solo and small group expression. Students who are reluctant singers will often overcome performance anxieties and find they have a voice through instrumental music. I believe that children have a great potential to rise and meet the level of expectation a teacher maintains. U for Ukulele sets the bar high for young learners, but provides a gentle grade, and a rolling start.
Method design. In the design of U for Ukulele, the first principle is to interpret the instrument in terms of the learner’s current mental model. For Grade Two students in Nova Scotia, this means incorporating tonic and rhythmic Sol-fa, hand signs, clapping, singing, and imitation or “rote learning”. The sequencing of songs is guided by two additional considerations: (1) establishing a relaxed technique, and (2) controlling the rate at which new information is introduced.
To develop left hand coordination, it is necessary to begin with songs that require only one finger to play. When sensory-motor skills are secure, we then challenge the student to play the same song using a different left hand finger and, from there, progress to songs that require two fingers to execute, and so on, always minimizing the amount of new information needing to be processed. In terms of minimizing new information, familiar songs are the first choice in selecting repertory; and in terms of motivation, favorite songs are given precedence.
A matter that has to be considered carefully is the question of tonality - which note should be called “Do”? Should “Do” be fixed or movable? Briefly, let me say that I believe movable “Do” is the best system; but, after a great deal of analysis, a compromise was made by fixing “Do”, temporarily, as the note D. The advantages to this include: 1) providing a comfortable singing range for the child’s developing voice, 2) affording ease of fingering, and 3) keeping the need for new information to a minimum. This is discussed more fully in the website, U for Ukulele, available online at http://ssdsbstaff.ednet.ns.ca/wdobson and on the CD accompanying this report.
Website design. Applied principles of instructional website design include:
· a clear and consistent navigation system for all pages in the site.
· modified linear design - sequenced, but with flexibility for the learner.
· use of colors and fonts kept to a minimum so as not to distract the viewer.
· text-based, but with graphic and audio content to support student learning.
· personally relevant context for the learner provided through choice of songs.
· ease of contacting the author by email from any page in the site.
· clearly indicated content areas for students, parents, and educators.
Students in Nova Scotia’s second grade (where this method was developed) are typically seven years old. Most will have had two years of music instruction (thirty minutes/twice weekly) based on Kodaly principles. The majority of children will know many of the songs in the 24 lessons and be able to sing them alone or in a group, both unaccompanied and with accompaniment. They will be familiar with hand signs, Sol-fa syllables and rhythm time names. It is not the age of the learner that is so significant - it is the preparing of the learner through active participation in musical activities that creates the readiness to learn. I am confident that U for Ukulele could be adapted to teach even pre-school children, given such preparation. This might be an interesting topic for further research.
The teacher will be expected to know Kodaly hand signs, Sol-fa syllables and rhythm time names as well as the 24 songs in the lessons. The teacher will arrange for the students to be provided with a standard (low A) soprano ukulele, whether purchased by parents or provided by the school. The teacher will also tune the instruments at the start of each class. It is the teacher’s responsibility to ensure that the classroom is set up properly with chairs and music stands. Music books or folders will have to be assembled for each student. At present, this will involve downloading the 24 lessons from the website and photocopying. All songs are in the public domain and permission to make copies is granted to public educators by the author. The teacher will demonstrate the songs and facilitate students in singing and playing them. It is also the teacher’s role to evaluate student progress. (See Appendix A for assessment tools.)
It is the role of the parent(s) to support and encourage the student in the learning process. It may be requested of the parent(s) to purchase a ukulele for their child, or the music teacher may provide a ukulele on loan from the school. Regardless, it will be expected that the parent(s) help the child to find a safe place to keep the ukulele, to treat the instrument with respect, and to practice regularly. To assist in this, an online resource is provided where parents and students, who have Internet access, will be able to see and hear each lesson and get tips on daily practice.
Tips on Technique:
· this song is played on two strings - the (mi) string and the (la) string. Use the right hand thumb to play the strings.
· The note "so" is created by pressing the (mi) string down to contact the third fret. Learn to press just hard enough to make a clear sound.
· Try to play the note "so" with the ring finger of the left hand. Use the tip (not the pad) of the finger and place it on the (mi) string just behind the third fret.
· Remember to SING the song as well as play it. If you make singing a habit, eventually you will come to know what each note sounds like BEFORE you play it.
This free resource has been published in a website on the South Shore District School Board's Ednet server as U for Ukulele: A Classroom Method for Young Children, available at http://ssdsbstaff.ednet.ns.ca/wdobson and on the CD that accompanies this report.
audiation - Audiation takes place when we hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present. Audiation is not the same as aural perception, which occurs simultaneously with the reception of sound through the ears. It is a cognitive process by which the brain gives meaning to musical sounds. Audiation is the musical equivalent of thinking in language.
Kodaly - Zoltan Kodaly was a Hungarian music educator whose philosophy and methods are widely used in the musical education of children.
register - This refers to a portion of the range of the singing voice, for example, the high (or head) register and the low (or chest) register.
Sol-fa (solmisation) - For about a thousand years, a method of teaching scales and intervals by singing syllables has existed in Western music. The syllables used in this method are do re mi fa so la ti do'.
time names (rhythm names) - Part of the Kodaly system is the use of descriptive names for the rhythmic value of notes. These names, when spoken to a steady beat, provide an accurate description of the rhythm of the music. Rhythm names were adapted from the French time-names system developed by Paris-Chevé and Galin. Some of the time names used in this method are:
Note Value.............................Rhythm Syllable
American Montessori Society (2003). Music in education. [Electronic version]. Retrieved March 27, 2003, from http://www.americanmontessorisociety.org/positions/music.html
Barron, J. (1993) Ride with me: A journey from unison to part-singing. Teacher's book. Oakville, Ontario, Canada: The Frederick Harris Music Company.
Coff, R. (1998). Suzuki violin versus traditional violin: A Suzuki violin teacher's view Teacher lounge: Teaching articles. Retrieved April 11, 2003, from the World Wide Web: http://www.musicstaff.com/lounge/article17.asp
Demorest, S. M., Morrison, S. J. (2000). Does music make you smarter? Music Educators Journal, 87 (2), 33-40.
Doane, J.C. (1971). Classroom ukulele method. Waterloo, Ontario, Canada: Waterloo Music Company Limited.
Doane, J.C. (1977). Teacher's guide to classroom ukulele. Waterloo, Ontario, Canada: Waterloo Music Company Limited.
Gordon, E. E. (1999). All about audiation and music aptitudes. Music Educators Journal, 86 (2), 41-44.
Kearsley, Greg. (2003a). Constructivist theory (J. Bruner). The Theory Into Practice Database. George Washington University Online. Retrieved March 27, 2003, from http://tip.psychology.org/bruner.html
Maess, B., Koelsch, S., Gunter, T., & Friederici, A. (2001). Musical syntax is processed in Broca's area: An MEG study. Nature Neuroscience, 4, 540-545.
Marteniuk, R. (1976). Information Processing in Motor Skills. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Perry, B., Hogan, L., & Marlin, S. (2000). Curiosity, pleasure and play: A neuro-developmental perspective. The HAAEYC Advocate, June 15, 2000. Available from the Houston Area Association for the Education of Young Children, Houston, Texas.
Puskas, T., (1968). Gitariskola. Budapest, Hungary: Editio Musica Budapest.
Richards, M. H., (1996). Hand Singing and Other Techniques. New York: Harper & Row.
Roberts, B., (1990). Social construction of talent by Canadian university music education majors. Canadian Journal of Research in Music Education, 32 (3), 62-73.
Scholes, P.A., (1974). The Oxford companion to music. Ely House, London: Oxford University Press.
Sinor, J., (1997). The Ideas of Kodaly in America. Music Educators Journal, 83 (5), 37-41.
Statistics Canada, (2001). General social survey: Internet use. The Daily, Monday March 26, 2001. Retrieved March 27, 2003, from the World Wide Web: http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/010326/d010326a.htm
Ukulele Performance Rubric
Name ______________________________ Date: _____________ Grade: ____
Selection: _____________________________________ Score: _____________
Rhythm: correct duration of sounds and rests in relation to the beat and to each other.
Notes: correct pitch and fingering.
Articulation: observation of staccato, legato, accents, dynamics, etc..
Tone: good sound production, no buzzing notes.
Steady Beat: even, appropriate tempo (speed) throughout piece.
Posture: sitting up straight, holding the ukulele properly and using correct hand positions.
5 = Excellent: no errors or irregularities; continue on present course.
4 = Very Good: no more than 3 errors or minor irregularities; practice performing the song at home.
3 = Good. no more than 5 errors, but skills need refinement; pay closer attention to details while practicing.
2 = Fair: skills need significant work; more consistent practice time is needed at home.
1 = Needs Improvement: significant problems with skills; daily practice and private instruction may be a solution.