Meet the Teacher: Cynthia Kinnunen

pedagogy corner Jun 02, 2019
 

This month, Cynthia Kinnunen shares some thoughts on using the Ukulele in the Classroom methodology with her adult students.

As you know, one of the beautiful things about the ukulele is that a wide range of people – from children right through to the elderly – are learning to not only make music with it, but also dive deeper into their understanding of music itself. While I use a number of different approaches in my personal teaching, the Ukulele in the Classroom (UitC) series has been a terrific methodology and I use it with students of all ages. But I’ve often had people ask “Can it can work with adults?”

I offer a resounding Ukulele Yes! to that question. Fundamentals of music literacy, musicianship, ensemble playing, and listening are just as important for adult learners. This series, although directed at a younger audience, addresses these skills wonderfully. Here are a few thoughts based on my experience specifically using it in a group setting with adults.

“This series, although directed at a younger audience, addresses these skills wonderfully.

The Adult Learning Orchestra

In my 30-member ukulele orchestra adult learning program, we work up a wide range of repertoire throughout the season with occasional performances as milestones. Each week, as part of our two-hour class, 20 minutes is devoted to UitC specifically. It’s affectionately referred to as the “spinach” in our musical diet and a 20-minute dose seems to work well and be quite manageable without being overwhelming or frustrating.

With three books in the UitC series, Level 1 and 2 members have their 20 minutes before and after the full ensemble class. Level 3, for those who are interested in pursuing it, is a separate – and optional – 45-minute class each week. Completing Levels 1 and 2 is mandatory for participation in the ensemble but a number of people take the opportunity to continue to Level 3 once they see how much they accomplish after the first two levels. It’s not nearly as intimidating after they see their progress! 

Differentiation and Repertoire 

As with teaching youngsters, differentiated teaching options that are built into the material are ideal for a diverse group of players, both in terms of ability and interest level. In every piece and learning section of the series, you can provide challenge to the more advanced players while continuing to support the rest of the class.   

The repertoire in UitC also keeps adults engaged because it’s diverse and interesting. These aren’t just children’s songs! I’ve found many of the adults I teach curious about the pieces we’re learning and in many cases, they ask more questions and want to go even deeper into the context and history of the repertoire, from the classical pieces right through to the folk songs and world music.

“In every piece and learning section of the series, you can provide challenge to the more advanced players while continuing to support the rest of the class.   

What You Provide is Important  

Teaching adults requires a combination of solid content, appropriate challenge, and of course, fun! Adults are not obligated to attend your classes, they choose to. So at the end of the day, you need to be mindful of what you’re providing to them. Every community, teacher, and ukulele group are different. The sweet spot is to stay true to what your goals are with your teaching but be attuned to what works (or doesn’t work) with the groups you teach. You are the conduit for them to access an even deeper experience with music making and that’s an amazing thing!

To expand your teaching skills even further, you might also consider checking out the James Hill Ukulele Initiative teacher training institute.

Cynthia Kinnunen is a music educator based in Guelph, Ontario. She’s also Director of Engagement for Ukulele in the Classroom. www.cynthiakmusic.com

 

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