By Angela Dwyer
It’s September! Here in Canada it means that beach days and bar-b-ques are replaced by school days and sweater weather. As music educators we are starting fresh with new students and we are full of excitement, anticipation and hope for the upcoming teaching year. Along with our new crop of beginners we also welcome returning students for another year of making music.
One of the challenges with returning students after a lengthy break is to review past material while at the same time moving forward with new skills. There is a need to re-ignite the skills previously learned without the feeling of regurgitating the same old stuff! Thankfully, if you’re using the Ukulele in the Classroom series, Book 2 (the Red Book!) is structured to do just that.
If you were to think of teaching as building a house, then Book 1 is the frame and Book 2 is where the structure starts to take shape, creating new rooms and beautiful spaces that fill in the spaces around the frame. The lessons give the teacher a great opportunity to review concepts covered in Book 1 and expand upon them to create new knowledge and skills.
In Book 2 Lesson 1, for example, students will build upon their existing knowledge of the C scale and three chords from Book 1 by adding the concept of harmonization. Right away we can move forward in a way that is gentle yet engaging. As you move through the exercises you will discover that one of them sounds like Hot Cross Buns. You might take this opportunity to teach a little interlacing solo by alternating single notes with harmonized chords:
Pick the first note (e) and then strum the root chord (C+)
Pick the second note (d) then strum the dominant chord (G+)
Pick the third note (c) then strum the root chord again (C+)
The “one a penny, two a penny” part can be single notes picked for some variation, or pick the first note and strum the accompanying chord three times before repeating the “hot cross buns” section again to finish.
There you have an introduction to playing a simple yet rewarding solo!
There is also a bonus piece in Book 1 called the Flower Drum. If you haven’t already tried it with your students, this can be a great sight-reading piece to begin with in year two. If you have learned it before, you can ask your students to harmonize it using what they have learned in Lesson 1 in Book 2. Even though it is not harmonized in the book in order to preserve the traditional character of the piece, you can still have some fun playing around with it. Though some of the rhythms are a little tricky, the piece is based on a simple pentatonic scale so it’s accessible to your students at this level.
Making simple exercises a little more complex and building on what our students already know is a smart way to get your students back in the groove with immediate success. Don’t forget that the UITC forum is a great place to connect with other teachers around the world for more useful ideas, too! Let the new year begin!
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