I gave my first official ukulele lesson this evening. My pupil—I will call her Lily—was a spritely five-year-old who is a regular at the family programs we offer where I work. She was just fantastic—full of energy, life, and stories to share. I learned about cats named after various kinds of cheese, a dog that used to make noise called “noisy” until it stopped making noise and was renamed “quiet,” and that kindergarten starts this fall.
In exchange for this knowledge, I introduced Lily to the ukulele—how to hold a ukulele, to gently strum the strings, and to count along to a 4/4 rhythm.
I showed her how to hold the neck with her left hand, while using her thumb to maintain control and give her other four fingers free range to press down on the strings.
We strummed, played a C chord, sang, “Row your boat,” and had a short sing-a-long to her favorite song, “This Land Is Your Land.”
Then, it was time to play look for the cats and see how long we can pet them before they run away.
Despite my experiences with a Russian piano teacher, I have come to believe something simple.
A music lesson does not have to be painful.
The sharing of personal stories is important.
With Lily, there was a lot of sharing.
You have a stuffed owl? I have a kingfisher that sings.
You have cats? I have a friend who has named their cats after different kinds of cheese.
Exploring new things, be they musical or otherwise, is also important.
Clearly, the cat time for my student was as important as the ukulele time.
It seemed that there were layers of learning that happened within this 30-minute window of time. There was the dynamic between teacher and student. There was the excitement of learning how to find the cats and, when found, how to approach them in such a way as to maximize the amount of close proximity time before they ran away.
The definition of a successful music lesson, for now, seems to be when the student feels positively enough about it to want to come back.
My student’s father shared her response, which I think sums up the lesson and learning perfectly:
Lily summed up what she learned mostly with two points: If you strum in front of the hole, it makes a louder sound; and, if she approaches the cat fast, it runs away. I think that’s pretty good retention for one lesson.
I am excited to learn and share what I learn about teaching ukulele.