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Ukuleles in the classroom? Neligh-Oakdale music teacher Patricia Miller thought it was a crazy idea . . . at first anyway.
“After all, I’m old enough to remember Tiny Tim ‘tiptoeing through the tulips’ and thought the instrument was a bit of a joke,” Miller said. “In a very short amount of time, I have changed my opinion and become a ukulele lover.”
Miller said the decision to get ukuleles for the Neligh-Oakdale students came after much thought and deliberation.
“We were given a gift of money following our Christmas concert. It was to be spent on the music department, with the idea that it should be used to give our students something unique, something they would not be able to receive in any other way,” she said. “Well, there are four families of musical instruments: the brass (trumpets, trombones, etc.), the woodwinds (recorders, flutes, clarinets and saxophones), the percussion (can you say “drumline?”) and the strings. The only family our students didn’t have access to were the stringed instruments.”
Miller said she had not even thought of ukuleles but posed the question of what to get to a Facebook group of over 1,000 elementary teachers. By far, the resounding answer was “ukuleles.”
By means of Facebook, Miller met an Australian music teacher named Nathan Cahill, who has mentored and advised her through the experience. They have even spent several hours talking face-to-face through the amazing technology of the internet.
Miller said ukuleles are a great introduction to strings, and it has the advantage of being very affordable. If a student is enjoying their experience, they can purchase one quite reasonably. Neligh-Oakdale’s came from Midwest Music in Norfolk. Miller recommends getting one through a music store rather than a discount store because the difference in price is worth the difference in quality. Students can use the ukulele as an introduction to guitar, or it plays quite beautifully on its’ own or as accompaniment to singing.
But, ukulele isn’t just an introduction to stringed instruments, it has many other benefits,” she said.
When they begin the ukulele, the student learns four simple, easily mastered notes which can create hundreds of songs even in the lower grades. Older students can build on this as they improve their ukulele skills. The ukulele is a tunable instrument, which helps improve in tune singing and helps them learn pitch.
She said students also learn hand-eye coordination and motor skills. Ukuleles are helpful in studying music of other cultures and tie-in to other subjects.
“We are just beginning our ukulele studies at Neligh-Oakdale Schools, but we look forward to getting better and better at this exciting new instrument,” Miller said.