Ernest Kaia: The Ukulele, a Hawaiian Guitar and How to Play It

The most recent edition of Ukulele Magazine featured an article on Ernest Ka’ai’s, the first ukulele pedagogue, who is also cited as being the first to standardize GCEA tuning for the ukulele in their methodology.

His first book, The Ukulele: A Hawaiian Guitar and How to Play It, was published in 1910.  This would make it in the public domain–but I could not find it available online. So I contacted some universities that had it, and eventually ordred a copy from the University of Hawaii ($25 fee).  I was interested to see how much ukulele instruction has changed in 107 years (the answer: a little).

For the sake of sharing this knowledge, I am sharing this PDF. Again, as this is a publication from 1910, I can share this with you legally.

PDF: The Ukulele: A Hawaiian Guitar and How to Play It

Now the fun begins…January through March

I divided the first three months of our school year between sight-singing (S-Cubed Method), singing, and ukulele.  With the ukulele, the students only learned C and F chords.  When you only meet every other day and have ten minutes or less on an instrument, it is amazing how slow things go (particularly with some classes of 60 students).  I think it is important to emphasize that the ukulele is NOT easy for all people.

I assessed their ability to play these chords by asking them to make an instructional video that demonstrated how to play a C and F chord, as you would see on YouTube.  The goal was to give them different options to earn a C, B, or A.  This worked reasonably well, and the majority of students went for a B.  I will use this assessment approach in the future–it is an authentic assessment that shows their ability to do the skill, and saves valuable classroom time (instead of seeing every student play the chords individually during class).

As the concert (held this past Thursday) approached, ukulele time all but disappeared as students had to learn words, practice on the risers, and so on.  At the current time, I am unable to get my students to sing in parts, and even getting them to sing a single parts can be a challenge (and we just sang “fun” holiday music).  As I have mentioned before, choir isn’t really “choir” in our school–it is general music.

We only have two concerts a year, so the next concert occurs in June.  As as result, I have three months of the year that I can dedicate to other things that deal with the study of music.  I will continue with sight-singing with the choirs, but now we can shift our focus to ukulele for a while.  I have two non-singing music classes (students that were not well behaved in choir in the past), and they will start ukulele.  My plans for the next three months include:

  1. Adding G, G7, C7, D7 (Hawaiian), D7 (Barre) (Introducing C and F to the non-singing classes)
  2. Teaching all of those chords in terms of function…example: F to G7 to C
  3. Teaching how to tune
  4. Offering a composition unit on ukulele using, either the free version or a paid version.  Single notes, with minimum guidelines, asking them to go further if they want…and assessment will include them playing their piece.
  5. Personal song choice/study.  One thing we all hear is “we don’t sing music I like.”  Well, the ukulele is simply a vessel that isn’t constrained to a single musical style.  So…choose a song that you want to learn, learn it, and record yourself playing.  I will have to determine grading for this…chord difficulty and number of songs has to come into play.
  6.  Student input on Spring Literature: I have some songs I want to sing with my students…”I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” with 7th Grade (as we did last year), Iz’s “Over the Rainbow” with 8th Grade, and Danielle Ate the Sandwich’s “Peace to You, Brother,” and an Irish folk song for each grade level.  Not sure about 6th Grade–I do not necessarily want to do “Lava” again.  With the HUGE amount of repertoire represented on YouTube, as well as 731 songs in the Daily 365 that we can work with, as well as my own ability to transcribe songs–just about anything is possible (as long as the music is appropriate for school).
  7. Back to the student personal song…also offering a coffee house/open mic to let students perform for others?
  8. Additionally, offering a parent ukulele night where parents could come in and learn some beginning ukulele?  Getting kids involved in the process, too?
  9. Faculty in our school have expressed interest in learning ukulele…so perhaps offering an after school session or series of sessions?  Again, with student involvement?

And that is likely a very FULL three months of every-other-day authentic teaching that should be meaningful for our students.  We will also be preparing the middle school music (rehearsals start in January), so it will be a busy period of time!

In late March, we will switch back to sight-singing and singing first and ukulele on the side–but hopefully students will be able to accompany me for the next concert.

Since we studied ukulele last year, you would hope that students would retain that knowledge–but even in our older grade levels, I get between 20 and 30 NEW students each year that do not have that prior knowledge–so every year is a start-over.

In fact, since our first trimester ended, 3 students have left the program, and five have entered!  We are used to a lot of mobility at our school–but it does make teaching difficult sometimes.

So…the fun begins in a couple of weeks!