Ukulele Games!

pedagogy corner May 02, 2019

This month, some ukulele games that will have your students thinking about notes!

By Suzanne Doane

Students love games and it’s a fun way to get a technique across while keeping the class light and lively. Here are some that I like to play with my students. Be sure to keep it moving!

Echo Picking

There are lots of variations for this. It’s a great way to have students playing by ear (by intelligence!) right away. Teacher plays a four beat melody – be sure to tell them which string will be the starting note – students then play back.

Create two teams and provide alternating turns with teams playing for points. At the end of game, students can challenge the teacher with something they pick. This is an optional bonus round, of course.

Power Notes

This takes echo picking one step further. Students break into pairs and take turns creating a four or five note phrase and having their partner play it back. Keep score! Teacher can circulate to make sure things are going well (e.g. not using overly long phrases) and can also partner with a student if there are uneven numbers, although a group of three can work also. 

Chord Exploration

For a warm up chord drill, every student takes a turn calling out a chord. Aside: I often arrange chairs in a circle, creating the “Circle of Happiness,” which makes it easy for turn-taking and good eye contact. Everyone keeps strumming the chord until next one is called out. Choose from a pool of known chords/class chord sheets etc. Chords may not be repeated!

If students don’t know everyone else’s names yet, you can have them say their name loudly before calling out the chord.

Chromatic Notes

Two or more teams are created to compete. Teacher picks a note on their ukulele. Everyone picks with you, challenge each team – same time or alternating – to find the note and then an octave above. This gets them listening to octaves and hearing the same quality just higher or lower. Let them notice something sounds the same. Be sure to choose notes that aren’t in familiar scales or chords, like Eb, G#, low B (Low B-Wan Kenobi).

It’s important to get your students interacting and thinking about the notes they’re playing. If you don’t like having to keep track of points, put someone in charge for each team. Sometimes no points at all can also be fun! And remember: a tie isn’t a bad ending; it means everyone was paying attention and is now smarter than they were five minutes ago!

Suzanne Doane is an experienced music educator and has published a teaching resource (USchool, Building Your Ukulele Program) that wonderfully complements the Ukulele in the Classroom method.

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