Every year someone always asks me why I use the ukulele. Here are my 5 main reasons I not only use the ukulele in the classroom, but why it is like no other instrument:
1) The ukulele is extremely inexpensive.
Depending on the ukulele that is purchased, the cost between a good ukulele and a great ukulele is only $10-20 at most. My first ukulele I bought was around $30, and 7 years later, the instrument still plays beautifully. Especially in districts where money is getting tighter, the ukulele is worth the investment. The cost for a great classroom set of 30 ukuleles is roughly $1,800. The cost for a lower end, but still good classroom set, is roughly $900.
2) The ukulele easily engages students because of how "cool" it is.
According to the book, The Ukulele: A History, the ukulele is currently in its 3rd/4th resurge in pop culture. More frequently, we are hearing songs of all genres adding the ukulele to their ensembles, causing a natural interest for students to learn it. I know those who grew up with Tiny Tim still have that unsettling memory associated with the ukulele, but thankfully, the students that are starting to come through our schools don't know that reference. Instead they associate the ukulele with popular music acts such as Jason Mraz, Twenty-One Pilots, Eddie Vedder, Vance Joy, Train, and many, many others.
3) The ukulele allows for quick results.
Due to the simple nature of how the ukulele is designed, students can easily learn to play a song in less than 5 minutes. Whenever I meet someone who has never played a ukulele, I always tell them that. Not only do I tell them, but I give them my ukulele and literally teach them a simple song in less than 5 minutes. My favorite part is always the individual's smile that beams from ear to ear when they finish the song. Often their next comment is, "What else can you show me?" In a society where we are always looking for quick results, the ukulele is one of the few instruments that keeps students who are less likely to stay on task and practice motivated to stay focused and continue learning.
4) The ukulele teaches every NAfME Standard (NCCAS).
Incorporating the ukulele in the classroom naturally gets students creating, performing, responding, and connecting. Most everything already in a typical music room gets students creating, performing, and responding, but the connecting aspect of the standards is sometimes harder to achieve. The ukulele is one way to fill in that missing piece. By using an instrument that is connected to pop culture, students are given more of a chance to share from personal experience. They can also easily open a dialogue with relatives based on the memories triggered by the ukulele.
5) The ukulele is a metaphor for hope.
This point, I would argue, is the most important out of the five. Students are growing up in a world where if they turn on the news, there seems to be fewer stories of hope. For myself, the ukulele helped me find who I was. It gave me a way to express myself like nothing else I have ever tried. Whenever I am upset, sad, or mad, I play my ukulele and am filled with peace. No matter what genre of music I try to play, it always sounds hopeful. What a great metaphor for students! That no matter what happens in your life, or what you may be feeling, there is always hope. This is the reason why music is so powerful, and why the ukulele positively impacts my students.