ukestuff

Ukulele "Stuff": Education, Technology, Play Alongs, Reviews, Accessories, and More!

YouTube Channel News

I have been working on a second logo for my ukulele work (see above), and decided to upload it to teespring to purchase a t-shirt of it. I decided that I would try to put the shirt on my YouTube page, as I have been seeing others do so. To my surprise, you have to have a monetized channel to do so.

Because of the video play alongs, I am not able to monetize the channel. While YouTube is able to tell you what content you can or cannot monetize, it labels my entire channel as “duplication” because of the play alongs. As a result, I cannot monetize any of my own content, which has increased in recent months as I am making more and more resources for ukulele and the play alongs.

The inability to list merchandise on my channel was the final straw, and I decided to split my content from the play alongs. I have started a new channel.

If you use any of my work, and would be willing to help out, I am trying to reach 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 views as soon as possible so that I can monetize my channel.

Just in case you were wondering…none of the videos that I have made have generated a penny; and very few people are willing to support you on Patreon. People are willing to deal with ads, and the ads run whether my channel is monetized or not.

So…if you’re willing, will you click on this YouTube link, watch my introductory video, and subscribe to the new channel? Thank you in advance! https://youtu.be/x5qGyqIG5tk

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Enya KUC-20 Review

If you want to buy a ukulele, where do you start? Most buyers will just go to Amazon, look up “ukulele” and buy the cheapest option they can find. They might read the reviews on Amazon–which may not be accurate.

I’ll be honest–my first ukulele was purchased in much the same way. I had done a little bit of research, so I knew that I wanted to stay away from friction tuners on inexpensive ukuleles…but that was about it. My first ukulele was a Mahalo MK1 series ukulele, and I eventually bought these for our school as our first set of ukuleles. Several years later (and wiser), I wouldn’t recommend this approach.

While price may seem to be the biggest factor in the purchase of a ukulele, what I have learned is that the playing experience is more important than anything else. As a result, I recommend a phone call or e-mail to Mim’s Ukes or The Use Republic (and no, I don’t get any kickback for referring them) to see what they would recommend as a first ukulele. These companies will set up the ukulele they sell you, regardless of price point, so that it is easier to play. On many ukuleles, string action (the height of the strings from the fretboard) is very high, making it more difficult to play notes at the first fret, and also forcing the ukulele out of tune (the amount you have to press results in enough force to make the string bend more than it should to stay in tune). You can get into an entry level Ohana or Kala from Mim’s Ukes or the Uke Republic in the $60 range (not including shipping)…which results in a $30 to $40 difference from the cheapest ukuleles you can find on Amazon. That $30 may seem a like a lot of money, but when it comes to an instrument, it really isn’t.

But what about the person that is going to buy from Amazon because of the issue of price? The ukulele I currently recommend for this purchase, more than any other, is the Enya KUC-20, which is their Sapele laminate concert ukulele kit. Concert is my favorite scale, personally, but I also like it because it isn’t as small as a soprano, nor as big as a tenor (“big” is relative, compared to a guitar). The kit comes with closed Enya tuners, Enya’s fluorocarbon strings (which seem improved to me), an extra set of strings, a tuner, a neck strap (more about that later), and a really nice gig bag. As I have suggested this ukulele, it has shifted up and down between $45 and $55 in price.

The teacher’s union in our district recently offered $500 mini-grants to members who drew up a proposal for a grant. I wanted to add ukuleles to our collection of ukuleles that I allow students to take home. I chose the Enya KUC-model. I don’t know how many mini-grants were applied for, but I received one, and the union treasure immediately ordered the ukuleles and they showed up yesterday!

You know you are a ukulele fanatic when you travel with a string action gauge…and each one of the Enya KUC-20 ukuleles came with action below .50mm at the 1st fret and 2.00mm at the 12th fret (really low action) and no buzzing. The quality standards of these Enya ukuleles–as well as the others I have bought and seen, are outstanding.*

The KUC-20 is concert scale, and comes with a manufactured ebony (I think it is really Richlite) fingerboard and bridge, with a Nu-Bone saddle. The strings are through-bridge, just as in the previous EUR-X1s that we bought two years ago during a ridiculous Amazon sale–$29 each at the time. There are no side markers on this generation of Enya ukuleles. The manufactured ebony is attractive, and I don’t know how it will react to severe temperatures and low humidity. I’m hoping our students take good enough care of them that things don’t go wrong, and we don’t have to charge them to replace them.

As it comes to the Enya gig bag, you aren’t going to find many gig bags that are as nice as Enya gig bags, particularly when included with the instrument. Sure, if you buy a $1200 Kamaka, it comes in a lovely case. Buy a $50 ukulele, and you usually have to buy a gig bag, and if you try to get a cheap gig bag ($20 or less), it is going to be a thin dust cover with a zipper. The Enya material is thick, with a single strap (you really don’t need two) and best of all, a hook on the back, which is ideal for storage…or to put on a wall hook or even a bathroom hook. There is also a small pocket. You would easily pay $25 to $35 for gig bag with similar features, such as the Kaces Concert Ukulele Bag (referral link on Amazon), effectively making the ukulele $25 or less by itself, not counting the tuner or extra strings.

I won’t say much about the Enya tuner…it is a clip-on tuner that works, and it comes with a battery.

I only have a few nitpicks about the KUC-20, and I’ll share them. All of them are meaningless as it comes to the instrument itself. First, I am not a fan of the rosette. It is a floral pattern, which in and of itself would be fine. That said, it has a place where there is a larger engraving as part of the design. I would prefer that the rosette be the same all the way around. Second, the ukulele comes with two strap buttons, but the included strap is the variety that goes under the instrument and clips into the sound hole. I love that a strap is included, but wouldn’t a two-hole strap (even made of the same material) be cheaper to make, and better with the instrument? And finally–and this is REALLY minor–the KUC box ships with yellow-discolored packaging tape, as if the instruments were stored with a chain smoker (no, the instrument doesn’t smell like smoke). The packaging tape should be clear.

Those are REALLY minor issues. I don’t think you can find a better starter ukulele package on the market at this time, unless you order a ukulele from Mim’s Ukes or The Uke Republic.** And the best part is that this is a ukulele you can keep around even after you have bought your second (and third, and fourth…) ukulele, or it could be a ukulele that you could later gift to another beginner.

Strap buttons are included, but you’ll have to buy a different strap to use them.

In a recent article that I wrote for Bonanza Magazine, I indicated that I like to suggest ukuleles without wooden fretboards for schools. I stand behind that logic because of the challenges of dealing with a wooden fretboard. These instruments are more susceptible to damage, being wood (while laminate) and severe heat (e.g. locked in a car in summer) could hurt the instrument. I’m not sure if a lack of humidity will cause the fingerboard to shrink. As a result, I don’t recommend these 100% for classroom use like I would an Outdoor Ukulele. But for an instrument that a student could take come, knowing they were responsible for its care, or for a personal purchase–the KUC-20 is an incredible purchase. You can find it at Amazon here, which is a referral link (a small percentage of the purchase price would come back to my work here and on YouTube).

Barry Maz on Got a Ukulele just reviewed the Enya EUC-X1M, which is in the same price point, and it may also be worth considering. Check out that review (link). While the potential durability of the HPL is tempting (and I do like the looks of the X1M better than the KUC-20), the missing hanging loop on the back of the case might be a deal breaker for our use, as our storage solution for our rental ukuleles (in gig bags) is a hanging rack!

*I have now heard of two EUT-X1 (tenor model X1s) that experienced a warped neck…in fact, one of those two is in my possession. With 22 Enya ukuleles at school, one that I bought at home, and two others that I gave as gifts, I have not seen any issues like this. I’m guessing there was a bad batch of necks (or green) that went on a few X1 tenors.

**You might wonder why I don’t recommend buying from your local music store or even Guitar Center, Sam Ash, or whatever. Ultimately, if your local music store will sell you a ukulele with set-up at the same price or a competitive price, then by all means, do so. Unfortunately, the ukulele is a high volume item for many dealers (at least in the terms of music stores) and most local dealers unbox ukuleles and put them on the sales floor to sell…sometimes not even tuning them. Many stores will offer set-up as an additional charge, and then you have to hope they know what they are doing. It is not uncommon for a set-up to cost an additional $25 to $50, and people will skip the set-up, and try to play a ukulele that isn’t easy to play. As a result, many people stop playing–which could have been avoided by buying a well set-up ukulele in the first place. A set-up should be for a general player–advanced players will have specific requests. Therefore, support your local music store for strings, books, and accessories–but if set-up isn’t included or is really expensive, look at Mim’s Ukes and The Uke Republic. I have also heard that Elderly Music is good and The Ukulele Site is great, but they now only deal with mid-level and higher ukuleles with internet sales.

New Video Types

I recently published my visit with Dr. Jill Reese, who started the Ukulele Video Play Along format. In that discussion, we talked about the “next steps” for play along videos. I have listened to that podcast, and will do so again in the future–there’s a lot of good content in that discussion.

One of the things I started thinking about was how to provide the “next level” of play along for people. What I have produced is something I am calling a “Lyric Based Play Along.” It simply shows chord letters with the music, and no “timing” boxes or “bouncing balls.” It can then be used by nearly any chord-playing instrument (ukulele, baritone ukulele, guitar, piano) to play along.

A member of the Ukulele Video Play Along Group on Facebook asked if someone could re-do the “Clouds” video which I had made on May 31, 2017. This was still early in my video-making process, and I was not yet using my iPad or Luma Fusion to make play along videos.

Not only was I wrong about what key the video was in, I do not like the appearance of my videos that uses an existing lyric video and placed chords underneath. I like to be able to control all the aspects of the video myself, which is what Luma Fusion makes possible.

I re-created the video with moving cloud footage (you’ll see more moving backgrounds in the future) in the new key, simplifying the Am7 chord to an Am chord. Sometimes it is an Am7, and sometimes it sounds as if it is just an Am…and the Am works in both cases and is easy to play in C.

Then I created the video in its original key…and then made it for baritone, which is all font work. I used the alternative D chord (213) as the move from D to F#m works much better than traditional D (123) to F#m.

Finally, I made two versions of the new Lyric Based Play Along, in both keys.

And in other news, I have opened up new videos to comments, as an instrument manufacturer suggested that I try to allow for more “community” on my channel. As a teacher of a percentage of students who don’t actually “choose” my class, I have to be cautious about comments, so at this time, all comments require approval.

I have only deleted one comment so far, which was left for “Lost Boy.” That comment read, “The instrument used is a piano, not a ukulele.”

I know what a piano sounds like; the point is to be able to play a ukulele along with the song–but I didn’t want to open that comment up to what could be some potentially harsh responses from other users–so I decided to delete that comment.

If you have any comments about the new formats, please feel free to send an e-mail or or leave a comment on the YouTube page!

Ammoon 21″ Electric Ukulele

While I was at TMEA in February, I had the chance to see Kris Gilbert’s J&D Electric Ukulele, and this created a need (in my mind) to buy an electric ukulele. I actually have a few ukuleles with a pickup installed, but what I was interested in was a ukulele that would be very, very quiet. A large percentage of my ukulele play along work is done at night when the rest of my family is asleep. They have frequently gone to bed (or attempted to do so) while I played ukulele, working out the details of play along videos. As an added benefit, many electric ukuleles have a way to patch audio in from another device (e.g. an iPad) and out (to headphones with a 1/8″/3.5mm jack or a 1/4″ 6.35mm jack).

When I came home from TMEA, I learned that the J&D electric ukulele was selling for $199, and the similar (i.e. identical) Mahalo EUK-200 was $216. I didn’t want to spend that much for something that might work the way I needed it to, so I began to look for cheaper options to try before committing more money. I came across the Ammoon electric ukulele in a few different locations–wish.com, Amazon, and eBay. It was selling for $60-$80, but I found an eBay listing for an instrument that looked exactly the same for $49.95, and I bought it.

The ukulele arrived from China about three weeks later–spending most of that time stuck in customs in Chicago. When I unboxed the instrument, it was indeed an Ammoon electric ukulele, 21″ long. The scale length is 13.5″, making it a soprano…all to be expected. The outward box definitely sustained damage on the trip, but the instrument was fine. The ukulele came with a light storage case, extra strings (unlabeled but likely Aquila replicas) and a tuner. No battery was included, either for the ukulele (9V) or for the tuner (2032).

The only ukulele available at the $49.99 price point was painted red, so that is what I ordered. I am actually quite pleased with the quality of the paint job on what is listed as solid Okoume wood. The matte finish looks good (far better than what I imagined) and the Ammoon logo is screened on the top in a non-overwhelming way. Overall, I like the looks of the instrument. The design is similar to my Ashbury Lonely Traveler, as well as my Jamstik 7!

The electric ukulele has sealed chrome generic tuners that are fine…no sloppiness or problems with the tuners at all. There are twelve frets on the fretboard with front markers on the 5th, 7th, and 10th frets, but there are no side dots on the ukulele. The fretboard and tie-on bridge appear to be made of rosewood (old stock?) and the saddle is made of plastic. The bridge is very small…something you don’t see very often on a ukulele. I think this may be due to the ability for the bridge to be securely screwed into the solid wood instrument, whereas traditional ukuleles have very thin wood and need to distribute the glue on a bridge (even when screws are used). The nut is 34.8mm wide (35mm). The first and fourth strings are spaced 28.2mm apart at the first fret, with 7.95mm between each string. All of these measurements are common for a Chinese-made soprano ukulele (and that isn’t a bad thing…it just “is.”).

One of the biggest problems you will face with this ukulele is the original set-up. Action at the first fret was originally greater than 1.0mm, and action at the 12th fret was greater than 4.0mm. I’m not afraid to try to solve these problems on my own, and was able to get the string action to a level that I am comfortable with–but many players who would be enticed by this instrument may not have set-up skills, and would need to bring it to a luthier to set-up, resulting in another $50 or more of labor charges. That might make this a deal breaker for some players, and trust me, you don’t want to play it in its original condition.

My purpose for this ukulele is centered around the play along videos that I create. I plugged audio into the ukulele, and then headphones into the ukulele…and was greeted by a lot of background hiss. Quite frankly, that was disappointing. Added to that, the pick-up seems to be unbalanced, resulting in a lot of sound from strings 2 and 3 (E and C) and very little sound from strings 1 and 4 (A and G). I have pulled the pick-up assembly apart, and now get sound on strings 1, 2, and 3. It is a flat piezo pickup that was probably made for guitar, and the sensor crystals are arranged in “bumps” that should sit under a guitar string. The problem is that ukulele spacing is not the same as guitar spacing. I have a different flat piezo pickup coming later this week ($6 shipped on Amazon) and will also

Saying that, when the instrument is plugged into the 1/4″/3.65mm jack, there is no hiss, and the patched audio goes through that connection, too. If the balance of the pick-up can be adjusted, all will be good with the world. I can deal with the hiss through the headphone jack.

I experienced a buzz on the E string (2nd string), and tried everything to determine what was causing it–tightening every screw, making sure the string wasn’t touching any frets, and even opening the internal cavities for the electronics to make sure that things weren’t buzzing (and even putting some foam in there to stop vibrations). As I was making videos today, I no longer heard the buzz. I don’t know where it went…but when I change strings (sooner than later), I’m wondering if that may also address the issue.

There are two dials to adjust volume and tone located on the lower left side of the instrument. They work well enough, and the range of tone is dark to bright. There is a “middle” point you can feel with the tone dial, which is where I am leaving mine. These face a right handed player. The input (top) and headphone (lower) jacks are on the lower right hand side of the instrument. I worry about these jacks because they are right were I want to set the ukulele as I am playing it on a couch, putting pressure on those connectors. If you have a 1/8″/3.5mm cable that has 90º connectors, and headphones that have a 90º connector, it might be a good idea to use those instead.

The ukulele does serve its purpose–in my case at least. Playing the ukulele as loud as I could, I generated 75.0 dB of volume. I then played my loudest ukulele, my KoAloha Opio Sapele Tenor, and registered 92.1 dB of volume. While 75 to 92 doesn’t seem like much difference, remember that a decible (dB) is a power ratio index, not a linear index. A 20 db difference results in a sound ten times louder…meaning that the difference in volume is quite extreme. If you play the Ammoon Electric Ukulele at a normal volume level in your house in another room while everyone is sleeping–you’re probably not going to wake anyone up (unless you start singing).

EleUke recently announced new versions of its Peanut ukuleles in an Indiegogo campaign, after I had bought the Ammoon electric ukulele. The new models have some changes in their design and (in the case of electric models) technology.. I decided to sponsor the crowdfunding campaign with an investment in the concert electric, which also has a bluetooth receiver (so you can send audio from a device, like an iPad or iPhone). The Concert Electric Peanut is supposed to ship in May, so I will review that instrument when it arrives. If the coming Concert Electric Peanut works out, EleUke sells upgrade kits for their older models, and I might buy one of those kits to put into the Ammoon.

In conclusion, would I recommend this instrument? The answer is: probably not. Even if you bought a model that had equal distribution of the pickup, you still would need to set up the instrument yourself or have a luthier set it up for you. Additionally, the hiss through the headphone jack as well as the untraceable (and suddenly missing) vibration on the 2nd String make me hesitant to recommend the instrument. I am impressed by the fit and finish of the instrument, but considering that the electronic aspect of the instrument is the selling point, I’d advise you to look elsewhere for a solution. Again, that is just my opinion, and you are certainly welcome to give the instrument a try, as I did. If you buy from Amazon (at a higher cost and with faster shipping), you can return an item. I don’t bother with returns when buying from eBay.

One final note: A replacement ukulele saddle, purchased from Amazon for $6.00, solved the largest problem of the instrument, and allowed vibration from all four strings to reach the electronics. That’s an extra $6.00 that you shouldn’t have to spend–and the hiss from the headphone jack is still there. So while this unit will absolutely work for what I am using it for (I used it last night to create four play along versions of the song “Wavin’ Flag”), I can’t recommend this unit for others. I wish I could!

Positives:

  • Really nice build quality–paint job is very nice with a good finish
  • Affordable
  • Closed generic tuners work well, no loose play in the tuners.
  • Comes with some accessories (light bag, extra strings, tuner)

Negatives:

  • Hiss from audio jack
  • Batteries not included (for ukulele or tuner)
  • Pickup is not sensing the vibrations evenly
  • Input and Headphone jacks are in a odd location for normal use

Korg Education Bundle

I’m back from the Texas Music Education Association annual conference, and I had the joy of presenting one session (on forScore) as well as attending a number of sessions–and ukulele sessions. I also had the chance to hang out with Andy Ramos and to visit with Kris Gilbert, and you’ll see podcasts with them on this blog soon.

As Andy and I attended various sessions, we were amazed at how many ukulele sessions are focusing on four chord songs (C, F, G[7], Am), and the need for a “ukulele: what’s the next step” session. Kris Gilbert’s session on Saturday was the only session that moved to chords and techniques beyond the first four chords. Don’t get me wrong…the first four chords are terribly important…and I know if you are teaching a month long ukulele unit, that might be all that you can cover. That said, there is a whole lot more territory to cover.

One of TMEA’s major selling points is the vendor area, which is huge…it is a convention in and of itself. I keep my eyes out for ukulele items–and it was pretty quiet as ukuleles went. My friends at Peripole had their normal line of Luna ukuleles (and sold a bunch) but also now carry KoAloha Opio ukuleles, which I am a huge fan of.

The only instrument that took me by surprise was the Korg Education ukulele bundle. The instrument itself is by Tanglewood. A similar model was positively reviewed by Got A Ukulele last year:

The kit includes a light gig bag, a Korg Tuner, a colored string method book, and a Tanglewood concert ukulele with Aquila KIDS strings on it, selling as a kit for about $80. This is a bit more than I’d like to see, but not outrageous.

I’m a big fan of the Aquila strings, so I was very interested in the package. The two Tanglewoods that I saw (a more basic model than the Got A Ukulele reviewed item) had a very high setup (at the neck and saddle) with sharp fret edges. This is common, but you would want to see if you could buy these from a vendor who would address those issues for you before you received them.

The book, however, took me by surprise, because it asked for the A string to be tuned to G, making the ukulele GCEG. Andy Ramos and I attended another ukulele session at TMEA where the presenter suggested tuning to GCEG–and while I can’t speak for Andy, I’m not comfortable with that. I would rather encourage students to play one finger chords rather than learn an alternate tuning. The book, while it uses color charts, doesn’t integrate those colors directly in the songs, and it sort of feels like a missed opportunity. I suggested to the rep that they may want to offer packages with a book that doesn’t require the dropped tuning.

So, with the ukulele package, I would instead consider it a similar ukulele to a Kala KA-C or Makala MK-C with Aquila KIDS strings, a very light gig bag, and a tuner–with a book that I know that I personally wouldn’t use with my students. Is that package worth $80? Probably, again, as long as the vendor is willing to do some set-up work before you buy them. Otherwise, I’d direct you to a flight soprano (cheaper) or Outdoor Ukulele (more expensive) for most school environments.

21 Easy Folk Songs Book Now Available on Amazon!

In the category of items that might interest you, Jenny Peters and Rebecca Bogart have released a new book (their 6th in the “21 Songs” series) entitled “21 Easy Folk Songs for Ukulele.” In addition to the “21 Songs” series, Jenny and Rebecca also wrote the “Ukulele for All” Method.

21 Easy Folk Songs for Ukulele includes the following songs:

  • Lovely Evening
  • Lil Liza Jane
  • Happy Birthday
  • Go Tell Aunt Rhody
  • Wabash Cannonball
  • Big Rock Candy Mountain
  • Worried Man Blues
  • St. Louis Blues
  • Goodnight, Irene
  • Down By the Riverside
  • Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child
  • Sakura
  • All Through the Night
  • Beautiful Dreamer
  • Molly Malone
  • Shenandoah
  • The Ash Grove
  • Take Me Out to the Ball Game
  • Turkey in the Straw
  • My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean
  • Sweet Betsy from Pike

I have two of the 21 Songs series so far (and just bought 21 Folk Songs one, making a total of three), and the new book offers tablature in addition to traditional notation. This means that you can play the melody of the songs, or you can play the chords and sing the melody yourself. Or you could use the Acappella app and record yourself doing all three! There are a few songs in the book that also include a suggested accompaniment (fingerpicking) or chord melody. This gives players a lot of flexible ways to use the book.

The book is organized by the number of chords that you need to play it, and even has some songs in multiple keys, which can make for great practice, or even help a singer (e.g. I’m a tenor, so melodies that go below C don’t work well with my voice).

Here is a screen shot of a part of one of the songs in the book. This lets you see how the songs are presented in the book.

I like the idea of including tablature–this gives beginning players more to go for than just the chords of a song. I only have three suggestions for the book. First, the Amazon listing doesn’t show any of the pages with the music, and some people want to know what they are buying. That is why I included the screen shot above. Second. I’d love to see more chord melody arrangements in the book (chord melody is a great way to get into tablature beyond playing the melody). And third, I’d love to see a “music only” version of the book, perhaps in 8.5×11 format (as a PDF) so that once you had learned from the book, you could simply use the songs as a separate book without the other information.

Interested in the book? You should be…it has a lot of uses for beginning and intermediate ukulele players. Many convention or workshop sessions could be built around this book. You can support both the authors and this blog by purchasing the book and using these referral links:

Kindle Edition: ($6.99 as of 2/5/19): https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07NBQNH7F/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=techinmusiedu-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B07NBQNH7F&linkId=7754398c12b7b00c8f6abd85b338c70b

Print Edition: ($13.99 as of 2/5/19):
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1795608358/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=techinmusiedu-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=1795608358&linkId=924272d1516a455fbb727cd197b694cc

By the way, if you buy the book before February 13, 2019, there are some bonuses, including a drawing for a Bondi Ukulele Starter Kit. See the “Bonuses” chapter at the end of the book for more information, or watch the promotional video below.

Want to know more about Jenny and Rebecca and their work? Check out their website, ukulele.io!


Flat.io, Ukulele, and Google Slides

I recently read about some improvements to the Flat.io Add-On for Google Docs and Google Slides. In terms of ukulele, Google Slides now includes the ability to write ukulele tablature. How does it work? Check out the Google Slides presentation below.

Want to click on the presentation directly? Go to: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1QsOJL1CDPIkVcOymtXzdcqkqKT7Bomsnqi7_atO_QLs/edit?usp=sharing

The Rainbow Ukulele Method…A Review

screen shot 2019-01-30 at 12.33.41 pm

If you are a music educator, and you are considering integrating ukulele into your instruction, you have some decisions to make as it comes to curriculum.

Specifically, do you want to teach ukulele as a solo instrument, or as an accompaniment to singing?  In my own teaching, as the subject is “choir” and ukulele is in addition to our choral content, I focus on ukulele as an accompaniment instrument.  This is how ukulele is used by a majority of players throughout the world—and it seems clear, from the earliest ukulele method books that I have seen (early 1910’s), that this is how ukulele was originally used as well.  Trust me…I support the ukulele as a solo instrument and play chord melody and tablature on my own, but my professional interest lies elsewhere.

That said, the ukulele can be used as more than as an accompaniment instrument, and there are a number of methods that you can use to teach melody, rhythm, and expression in addition to the instrument’s traditional role as harmonic accompaniment.  Hal Leonard and Alfred have their own approaches, as does James Hill (a renown ukulele performer and educator, see ukuleleintheclassroom.com).  You can also check out the work of my friend Paul Marchese (ukuleleforteachers.com).

One method I have been interested in for some time is Shelley Tommich’s Rainbow Ukulele, a method available on Pitch Publications (https://pitchpublications.com) and Teachers Pay Teachers.  The Rainbow Ukulele mega bundle, which includes all of the curriculum, is priced just below $60 (as of January 2019).  I’ll spoil this review early—considering the quality of the content and the amount of content you receive, $60 is a bargain.  Even if you don’t follow the method as it is laid out, any ukulele teacher could use parts of Rainbow Ukulele and have a wealth of additional content at hand.  Pitch Publications also sells printed books for students ($10, with discounts for bulk purchases), stickers for ukuleles (chords), felt picks, and other resources.

As with many methods, Rainbow Ukulele begins with a discussion of the history of the instrument and the parts of the instrument.  The second part of the method discusses musical elements such as pitch, rhythm, and notation.  These elements are embedded in the content instead of presented as a complete unit, but I expect that most teachers will have already introduced these concepts by the time a student is given a ukulele in school, so I assume this is presented as review material.

The next concept presented in the Rainbow Ukulele method is tuning, a very important aspect of playing ukulele—but something that I avoid teaching in my own middle school classroom.  If you have responsible students, by all means, proceed with caution—but do not hesitate to discuss tuning without actually having students tune the instruments.  I recently purchased the Jowoom String Tuner which tunes a ukulele by itself (you do have to move it from tuner to tuner and play a string), which has worked well in the classroom.  

Proceeding further in the Rainbow Ukulele method, the student is then shown how to hold the ukulele and how to play melodies on individual strings—including tab and traditional notation.  The teacher’s version includes a number of resources, such as audio recordings and also recordings embedded in a presentation—as well as presentations in PowerPoint and Keynote formats.  The “ukulele as melody” part of the method is covered in no more than eleven pages, which is similar to (or more than) the amount of “melody” instruction in methods published by Hal Leonard or Alfred.  As expected, this is significantly briefer than Ukulele in the Classroom which has a different focus altogether.   I think the concept of the Rainbow Ukulele method is exposure: exposing a student to the idea that a ukulele can play melody, but getting on to the aspect of the ukulele that most people want to pursue—using the ukulele as an accompaniment instrument.  Ultimately, I wonder how many teachers using the Rainbow Ukulele skip this section and move on with chords and songs.  While tablature and individual notes do not get specifically mentioned again in the method, all but five of the songs used in the rest of method stay above middle C, meaning that advanced students (or the teacher) could play the melody on most of the songs.

Rainbow Ukulele is best known as a method to teach chords, using colored stickers to show where to put your fingers.  This is a methodology which has been around for years, but Shelley came up with a standardized color system.  Every song through the rest of the method uses chords, and the student book shows the chords in both a “chord chart” (what I call lyrics plus chord names) and a “lead sheet” (what I call notated music plus chord names).  I won’t discuss the order of chords as they are introduced in the method as this is part of what you pay for, but as an example, C uses a red sticker and F uses two green stickers.

It is important to note that Kala has introduced its own Color Chord ukulele and related teaching resources, and Kala’s colors are different than Rainbow Ukulele.  Neither method fully aligns with the Boomwhacker colors, although Shelley did keep those colors in mind while choosing colors.  On my play along videos, I have made some videos that use Aquila and DR colored ukulele strings, and I have matched Kala’s Color Chords on some videos, but not Rainbow Ukulele colors, as I have not wanted to infringe on Rainbow Ukulele’s territory.  It should be mentioned that Kala offers a number of Color Chord resources free on their website, even within their free tuning app (iOS or Android).  The Kala Color Chord Ukulele only comes with four chords indicated—but you can play a lot of songs with those four chords.  I wish that Rainbow Ukulele and Kala could come to terms with a common color system.  All that said, I teach slightly older students and do not use the sticker method.  That said, I can still use materials from the Rainbow Ukulele method.

Kala’s Color Chord Ukulele: it is really a black Waterman Ukulele with decals.

The songs in Rainbow Ukulele represent a wide selection of folk music, which makes sense in a litigious world (public domain!).  These are represented both in the student book and the included presentation software files (PowerPoint and Keynote).  Each song has a number of different audio accompaniments…without melody, with melody, slow, etc.  I count a total of forty-three songs in the method, which use a total of four chords.  While the songs are standard folk songs, the recorded accompaniments offer a variety of musical styles, and I don’t think students—or adults—would be bored with the songs.  I would like to see a recorded version were there was singing in the background (to support reluctant singers).

The one area where I would want to see Rainbow Ukulele expand would be video resources for the songs.  I know the video format works, so combining the excellent resources of Rainbow Ukulele with video would be an incredible tool for teachers and create a wonderful learning experience for students.

Rainbow Ukulele also includes tools for assessment and rewards, including a plan for award beads; I think students go crazy over things like beads (even in middle school), and I wonder how I could implement such a plan with 350 students.

I also love that the fonts used in the presentation are included so that you can install those fonts and use the Rainbow Ukulele presentation on your device as it was intended to appear.  As a side note, if you use the Keynote presentation on your iPad, you can load the fonts to your iPad using AnyFont so that presentations look as they should.  I love that Keynote and PowerPoint files are included in the “kit.”

I want to thank Shelley for giving me the opportunity to review Rainbow Ukulele.  I have seen her state that the method is intended for elementary teachers, but I think it is an incredible resource for any ukulele teacher.  The audio files and songs could be used by any teacher, even if you aren’t putting stickers on ukuleles or giving away beads.  The method is attractive, comprehensive, and affordable. Most elementary teachers are utilizing ukulele as a stand alone unit, hoping to learn a few chords and to play songs with those chords.  Rainbow Ukulele is perfectly suited for this approach, and comes highly recommend by me.  Let’s face it, at less than $60, Rainbow Ukulele is a bargain for any teacher of the ukulele.

Want to buy Rainbow Ukulele? Visit:
https://pitchpublications.com/shop/ or https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Ukulele-Program-Rainbow-Ukulele-BUNDLE-Lessons-Presentation-Student-Book-1526229

Note: This is NOT a referral link!

Some updates…(1/1/2019)

A new episode (#12) of the Ukulele Video Play Along Podcast has been uploaded (find it on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, or Google Play).

I also updated the song lists today here on the blog.  This represents all songs created as of 1/1/2019, including Holiday Play Alongs (I don’t imagine there will be any additions to that list until late fall 2019).

Happy New Year, everyone!


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