Marcy Marxer, along with her musical partner Cathy Fink, are trailblazers in the field of children’s and family music.They have won two Grammy awards and have eleven consecutive Grammy award nominations. Moreover, they have taught over two-million people worldwide how to yodel.
1. Are there special challenges to teaching children ukulele?
There sure are. Both size and strength are factors to consider when teaching children. Kids also need good quality instruments. The ukuleles need to tune well and the fretwork needs to be accurate. The most reliable company I’ve found making instruments that are built well, low priced and sound good is Kalaukuleles. Their Makala line is perfect for kids. Kids have no chance of learning to play on ukuleles that aren’t playable.
Many people think that attention span is an issue for young players. I find that kids have a wide range of interest in playing which directly affects their attention span for learning the ukulele. Some kids are happy to play a few chords and sing while others get intensely interested in going deeper into the instrument. Both sides of the spectrum have great benefits and offer a unique learning situation for children.
I have a 7 year old friend/student who is playing the version of The 12th St. Rag that I learned directly from Roy Smeck back in the early 1980s. He had seen our concerts that feature the ukulele and got inspired to learn that particular tune. He has been working on it for about a month and he almost has it ready for a performance. Roy would be grinning from ear to ear!
2.What songs work best when teaching children to play ukulele?
Kids and adults have a much easier time getting started on an instrument if they like the music they’re trying to learn. Familiar melodies are also very helpful.
3. Is teaching music theory to children important as they learn to play the ukulele?
I love theory and try to slip some basic concepts in as often as possible both with children and adults. Most people learn music on fretted stringed instruments by learning song after song or tune after tune until they get comfortable on their instrument. Often a new song or a new key can feel like starting all over to students. Teaching a little theory along the way provides a mental picture of the ukulele that is more clear and focused than just teaching by rote. It’s easier to reach any destination with a map.
The types of roadmaps I provide are the same for kids and adults. Most of my teaching is for adults in group situations. I’ve been teaching ukulele and guitar at week long music camps for adults for about 25 years.I usually throw in a renegade ukulele workshop at all camps for anyone who is interested. These workshops often happen in the middle of the night and are always hilarious. Many participants take ukuleles home to their kids when they see how much fun the little instruments can be.
Working with kids in individual lessons works best for me. I have a couple of wonderful young students right now who are so self motivated that group lessons might hold them back from reaching their full potential. That said, I love group lessons for kids and have taught many classes in the past including workshops for kids with special needs. I’m happy to talk with anyone who is interested in teaching group lessons to kids. Some people use my instructional materials as an easy guide for teaching classes. I’ve made it as easy as possible for parents and teachers to put in a DVD and start tuning up and playing. Parents and teachers have so many things on their plate the least I can do is make ukulele lessons easy and accessible to them.
Teaching kids to play music is so rewarding it’s hard to describe. I’ve started meeting 20 to 30 year old musicians who tell me that my instructional DVDs on Homespun Tapes for ukulele and guitar were their first musical experience. Many of them now have working bands or performance careers and some have gone to Berklee College of Music and Juilliard.
Life as a musician and teacher doesn’t get much better than that!