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The Rainbow Ukulele Method…A Review

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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!

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