I had written a lengthy piece here which much to my chagrin the Weebly program unceremoniously deleted without reason or warning when I went to post it.
I wrote two blog posts about ukulele brands in the classroom. (Part I & Part II) Since then I have learned some new things and found about two new ukulele options for the classroom. Click the "read more" to continue.
If you were at my session at NCTCA, you might remember that I promised to publish Smart Notebook slides here. If you are here, please check back in about a week, I need to vet them one more time before I publish them here.
Here is an article that I submitted for the Alberta Kodály Association's publication, Ephata. Just for all of my blog readers (if there are any!) I will add some other information that is a little more casual in tone that wouldn't really fit in a traditional newsletter format. Kind of like my car pic to the left! I am so ashamed that I did not take any better pictures. I guess I never thought to bring my camera and I just sort of forgot about my iPhone and left it put away in my rucksack. This trip happened a while ago now, but hey why not post it anyway! Never to late!
Here is my article:
Last summer I had the pleasure of participating in Doug Goodkin’s Jazz class. It is a week long and follows a workshop/seminar format where no formal homework or assignments are required. The class takes place every year in July at the San Francisco school where Doug Goodkin teaches music. The class happens in the very music room for that school.
I would like to write a short article about something that isn't ukulele related for a change. Song based picture books, everyone loves them. There are a million articles about them. Here is one such article on the topic. I don't really have anything new to say on this topic academically, however, I wanted to show this idea of how to share some of these books with your students.
At my library, I signed up as an online user. I was able to create a list of song based books on my profile and share it with my students on the teacher webpage. Here is the example. If a student were to see this list, they could go and seek out these books at their own local library.
I just thought that was kind of cool thing.
Over on the website, ukuleleyes.ca there is an excellent article that describes the different choices of bass instruments that you could add to a ukulele ensemble. One of options mentioned was the upright bass which has also been considered a must-have for many classrooms. I have one where I teach that has been around since before I came along.
The thing about the big upright bass is that mine isn't the highest quality bass and I find it quite difficult to play. With D6 tuning, you can do a lot of I-IV-V chords in the key of D by playing all open strings. However, since I made the switch to C6 tuning, the open strings aren't a viable option anymore. In the ukuleleyes article I link to above, the authour Steve Boisen mentions the Kala U-bass as another alternative for adding a bass to a ukulele group or classroom.
Kala Brand Makala Waterman
Advantages: Durable, easy to clean sounds pretty good for the price. It can easily be converted to have a low G (or low A) or to be left handed.
Disadvantages: It sounds good, and fairly loud but probably won't sound quite as good to most people's ears. The action is also a little higher and now that I am working with them I am discovering that many kids can't hold the strings hard enough to get a clean sound.
Advantages: The top wood is Agathis and the back/sides are plastic. Sounds is fairly decent and in my experience pretty consistent.
Disadvantages: I wouldn't say it is cheap, but getting towards that end of the spectrum.
Advantages: The most common teacher standby. Proven itself very well in the past. It has a decent price. The company who sells them knows all the different ways to string a ukulele so you can order them in C or D and with or without the Low G/A.
Disadvantages: You will probably want to restring your low G/A with a wound normal tension Classical Guitar D string cut into two halves rather than use the low G/A that ships with this uke. The manufacturer sometimes changes the basic construction of the model so it isn't always what you expect. They are often sold out from the single one place you can buy them, so unless you can work the timing (as I could not), you might be out of luck if this is your only choice. In my case, it wasn't an option because I had to buy before the end of the fiscal year and they were out of stock at that time.
If you know of any others that you think make the grade, let me know and I will add it to my list. There are many commonly purchased brands that are purposely not included on this list that I think are sub-par for school use.
Over the past year I have had the opportunity to research the many different choices for classroom ukuleles available for teachers. I was given the "OK" to buy new ukuleles for the school and replace the older models that have been on the wall for quite some time now.
Check out this article that lists a few commonly used options.
When working with other teachers, I have heard many who are reluctant to add the ukulele to their program. One of the reasons that often came up had to do with the challenges surrounding tuning. Many of the least expensive ukuleles can have tuning problems. I believe the ukulele can make an excellent addition to any music program and so I went out looking for something that would sound better and stay in tune better than the average ukulele.
My idea was to spend a little more money for a better ukulele. For example, with regard to another popular classroom instrument - handbells - I have yet to hear of a teacher saving money by buying aluminum bells instead. They are quite expensive, yet no one balks at the price if they are willing to seriously do handbells in their program. I wanted to apply the same theory to ukuleles.
I had planned to buy a more expensive ukulele for the classroom. I wanted that better sound and better ability to stay in tune. Unfortunately, that presented some challenges. As it turned out, the company I dealt with would not honour warranty issues if they were not humidified. In a flash of horror, I bgan to imagine 30+ grade 5's or 6's all standing in the hall filling little humidifiers in water fountains after a half hour class. I didn't think that work very well. Why do they need to be humidified? I wondered, what is the real risk here?
An article on ukuleleyes.com suggests that changes in humidity are OK as long as they are not too drastic. Are the cold northern winters that drastic? Maybe, although I have personally owned hand-built classical guitars in the 5 to 6K dollar range that I neglected to humidify and they seemed to make it through the winters without a problem at all.
I asked an expert. What I was told made sense: he stated that ukulele companies will make these instruments very quickly, so quickly in fact that it is difficult to maintain the supply of wood necessary to meet demand. Usually, a fine luthier - like the one who built my first fine concert classical guitar - will dry the wood out over a period of several years. Failing that, a larger company that is a little more on top of things will dry the wood in a kiln. That is difficult to do correctly if you are making instruments at such a speedy pace. Therefore, humidity is a bigger issue than it should have to be.
More expensive ukuleles are more likely to have problems with humidity. Those in the 60 dollar range are great but won't stand up to our dry winters. Get them only if you can humidify your storage room!
Still wanting something that sounds decent, and stays in tune, I have therefore decided to explore plastic ukuleles. Less expensive ukuleles are made with a cheaper wood material made of a laminate of woods, which unfortunately are still quite a bit more susceptible to humidity than I would like. After careful consideration, I am not sure the sound quality difference between that cheaper ukulele's laminate and plastic is enough to choose wood over plastic. So to stick with something that will not change, and because upgrading to a more expensive ukulele would take more time and care for maintenance than we can give, the plastic ukulele will be where we go in my classroom. After all, plastic recorders seem to work great, so why not a ukulele?
There are two different plastic ukuleles on the market: The Beaver Creek Ullina and the Makala Waterman. I have gone with the Waterman. I will let you know how they work out.
Happy Canada Day! (One day early)
I would like to share with you two renditions of O Canada I have arranged for ukulele. One of them is in C tuning high G and one is in D tuning low A.
There are likely still a couple of mistakes in there. I have been working on it for a while but it was only today I decided to push through and get it ready for Canada Day even with the rough spots. The recording is meant only to give an idea of what it sounds like. I did not have the time to create a truly polished performance and it is also a bit difficult to switch between playing C tuning and D tuning without getting a little confused! My printer has also ceased working so I wasn't able to print this for myself. Instead of looking at it all at once, had to "splice" the recording when my iPad would need adjusting to zoom in on the next phrase.
The reason both are in the key of D is that I find it to be closest to the most common key of Eb. At least I think Eb is the most common and D is only a semi-tone away. I considered G and F but some of the higher notes seem to get a little too high for many people. I decided against transposing it down to C for C tuners because that key just doesn't do it for me for O Canada. Maybe it's just me!
C tuning is in the left ear and D tuning is in the right ear.
The summer before last I made the trip to Salzburg, Austria to take part in the International Summer Course at the Orff Institute. Participants in attendance came from around the world including places like Brazil, Taiwan, Argentina, and the USA. I thought I was the only Canadian there however, others told me there was another Canadian around even though I sadly was unable to find them. Many more participants there were from Austria, and neighbours Italy and Germany.
The learning experiences offered were diverse and informative. From courses built around rhythm to others based in Orff drama, something was there for almost everyone. Once I was there I decided to switch into the dance classes entirely. One of the reasons I decided to go that way was so I could focus my studies into an independent study for my Graduate degree through the U of A. While I never did quite finish that independent study in favour of other ventures, I was happy I changed to the dance courses anyway. I feel I made a special connection to the early days of Orff-Schulerk and connected to the source of what makes it the "schulwerk."
There is something that is quite satisfying about dancing for about 8 hours a day in the Orff way. The freedom and creativity of movement is inspiring and influenced my own practice. As a result of my experience, I now build in quite a lot more free movement and dance. When I first started with music education, the dancing was what made me the most uncomfortable but because of my experience with the Orff philosophy and dance, I have completely changed my feeling about the subject.
I believe it is important to remember how important movement and dance is to helping children achieve musical understanding, and how important dance is for the sake of itself. Indeed, I believe that there are two essentials: singing AND dancing.
One of the things I particularly found inspiring about the Orff way of doing things was how the dances were inspired in an organic way. They seemed to grow naturally from the most innocent of beginnings, Turkish bowls, objects collected from nature, seemed to inspire the most fascinating movements with so few words.
It has been a while since I have been there and many of the memories have begun to fade but I will certainly always remember the artfulness of the place.