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Strumming Along

Featured Photo from Strumming Along

Ukulele programs at Wilson and Woodlands elementary schools are introducing students to the classic sounds of this iconic instrument

The Woodlands Ukes - Woodlands Elementary

Woodlands Elementary music teacher Josh Brink can attest to the positive impact the ukulele has had on his students. His ukulele club, the Woodlands Ukes, is into its second year, and the club is growing fast. This year, 71 third- through fifth-grade students are enrolled in the club – 41 beginners and 30 students in the advanced program. The kids rehearse once a week and perform at various school events. They play everything from nursery rhymes to pop songs to movie soundtracks. 

“The impact of this group has been discovered in more places than I could have imagined,” says Josh.

He knows of more than 100 Woodlands students who received musical instruments over the holidays or on their birthday, and some parents of Josh’s ukulele players have even purchased their own instrument so they can play along with their kids. Josh has also seen students teaching others new songs they’ve learned, using their ukuleles to audition for other ensembles and competitions and even composing  original pieces. 
“Having an instrument that is so accessible and hot right now gives these students an outlet to express themselves in ways they couldn’t before,” says Josh, who wants to instill in a full appreciation of music in every Woodlands student.

Looking ahead, Josh hopes to eventually expand the Woodlands Ukes program to more than 100 students and develop a curriculum that allows him to regularly use the ukulele in every student’s normal music class.

Unique Ukuleles - Wilson Elementary

When Wilson Elementary music teacher Dianna Riehn learned about the Populele, a new smart ukulele that connects to an app via Bluetooth to teach beginners how to play, she did a bit of research and decided she had to try one out. After purchasing a Populele for herself last summer and falling in love with the new instrument, Dianna wrote a grant for 20 Populeles so her music students could share in the enjoyment, as well.

“A lot of schools have adopted a ukulele program, but this goes one step farther with Bluetooth technology,” says Dianna, who introduced her third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade classes to the instrument right after winter break. “It captures the students.”

The smart ukuleles are the first stringed instruments to be played at Wilson. The kids are starting with the basics, like how to properly hold the tiny guitar. When ready, kids will fire up the Bluetooth connection to learn new songs and collect achievements in the accompanying app. The Populeles include LED lights in the neck to show students where to place their fingers as they learn how to play a song. 

“Learning chords is not the most exciting thing to do, and kids really want that extra pop,” says Dianna. “Now they can have music at their fingertips and get a musical experience at the same time.

In addition, Dianna says the smart ukuleles give her students yet another tool for learning. 

“All children learn differently, and some are more physical,” she says. “There’s also a lot of science that is mixed in with the technological aspect of the Populeles.”

Students are also soaking in some Hawaiian culture and learning to read tablature, the special sheet music for ukuleles, guitars, and other fretted instruments.

For the remainder of this school year, Dianna’s goals are to help all her students master the basics of the ukulele. She hopes that by next school year, students will be able to break into some individual groups and play together.  

“It will be neat to have some duets and trios and informal performances,” says Dianna. 

This is Dianna’s 11th year teaching at Wilson Elementary. Her music program currently offers fourth- and fifth-grade chorus in the fall and second- and third-grade junior chorus in the spring. She has also created recorder clubs, and her students participate in the All County Elementary Music Festival each year.  

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