Using Ukuleles, Students at Livingston Avenue School Discover the Delights of Making Music

Because of a CFEE grant, Colleen McDonald’s students have an exciting new tool for discovering the joys of making music.

That tool is the ukulele—a small, accessible instrument that’s been catching on among music teachers in recent years. Since introducing them in music class, Ms. McDonald has seen the instruments enthusiastically embraced by her students, including some who opted for extra practice and instruction during recess and some who bought ukuleles of their own so they could practice at home.

“They’re all working really hard at it,” Ms. McDonald said. “They’re playing on their own, with so much intrinsic motivation.” The grant paid for 30 ukuleles that her 5th-graders at Livingston Avenue School have been using for four months, since October 2016. Ukuleles are well suited to actively making music and practicing the musical concepts taught in class, Ms. McDonald said: they’re small but durable, their nylon strings are easy on the fingers, and they’re relatively easy to master, compared with more traditional band instruments.

At the same time, however, a ukulele’s simple fingerings and chord positions can be used to perform almost any song.

“There’s so much that can be done with it,” she said. “It really allows for me to stay within the curriculum and teach these skills that are important within the field of music education, but do it in a way that the students really love and enjoy.”

She noted that the active, absorbed music playing fostered by the ukulele stimulates many brain areas, potentially boosting skills in other subjects like math and reading. The students have been working on singing while playing the ukulele, “which is a little bit harder than it looks sometimes,” Ms. McDonald said. She hopes to prepare the students to perform a song using the ukuleles as well as other instruments by the end of the year.

And she looks forward to seeing the grant’s continuing impact.

“If it inspires a few students here and there to get their own ukulele and practice it on their own, that is really exciting to me,” she said. “I feel very lucky to have these instruments, and we’re very grateful to CFEE.”

  • Students playing ukuleles
  • Students playing ukuleles
  • Students playing ukuleles

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