The beginning of the school year marked Grades 3-6 starting their musical journey with our now favourite little stringed instrument, the ukulele. The enthusiasm for this tiny lesser known cousin of the guitar hasn’t always been popular amongst Richland students. In particular, in September and October, some students complained of sore fingers and the youngest of them asserted a fear that they’d never be capable of play a song.
“There’s something wrong with my ukulele. It just won’t make the right sound!” -A. in Grade 3
“Ouch! That really hurts!” M. in Grade 3
Soon though, students were coming in on Monday morning, proudly showing off their callused finger tips and battle scars (otherwise known as tiny white blisters on their thumbs), as proof that they’d worked hard and pushed through those beginning weeks when it all felt so foreign and uncomfortable to them.
“Look Ms. Pitt! I have a blister! Listen, I can play a G chord now!”-A. in Grade 3
“Is this right? Wow, I didn’t think I’d be able to play an actual pop song!”- X. in Grade 3
The Grade 3/4 class has come a long way. They are playing different picking and strumming patterns, and will be playing a song on their ukuleles during this year’s Spring Musical.The Grade 5/6 class picked up the ukulele a little faster and most of them were eager to delve right in from the start. They’ve demonstrated their confidence by playing and singing at every opportunity this year, from Remembrance Day to Black History month Assemblies.
The Grade 6 class has recently completed their finale project using the ukulele called “Cover Songs”. Each student worked independently to create their own original cover version of a favourite song. Students performed their arrangements solo, with their classmates as audience members.
“My heart’s beating so fast! I don’t like when everyone’s staring at you and watching everything you do. It’s hard! ” – T.S, Grade 6Each performer was given constructive feedback in the style of a constructive criticism “sandwich” as we call it (something great-something to improve upon-something great) by peers and myself. Feedback included notes about pitch, dynamics, emotional connection, style, lyric changes, strumming patterns, key choice, and chord execution.“If you forget the words, just play the strumming pattern.”- J.D., Grade 6
“Good musicians keep going.”- A.T., Grade 6
“I thought the song was the perfect pitch for you”- J.D., Grade 6
“I’d like you to come back and sing it for us an octave higher on Friday. This octave is too low for you and the pitch isn’t bang on. It’s your choice but I’d love to hear it up high. I know you can hit those awesome high notes so show us what you’ve got!”- Ms. Pitt, Performing Arts Teacher
“Your version was scarier than the original and I liked that.”- C.B., Grade 6The Grade 6 class came back a few days later to perform their cover songs again, this time with the suggested changes offered by their peers and myself. Many students really used this time to improve their craft and draw us in as an audience. There were moments we all claimed having chills and a couple of times I caught myself with tears in my eyes.“I’ve heard that many times before and you changed the whole song completely. It was happy and sad…it kind of sounded like you were talking. It was really cool!”- C.B, Grade 6This independent creative project has really pushed students’ boundaries, taking them out of their comfort zone. I’m so very proud of them for treading gently with their guidance and support of one another, and for taking feedback on to improve their performances. Only in a peer community where children feel real safety and compassion from those around them, can a project like this really come to life the way it did for us.
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“Do you know how much courage I got from this?”- O.B., Grade 6
Some students express building self-esteem through their experience with their cover songs where as others now attest to knowing their voices or vocal ranges more intimately. Some of them stretch their musical muscles by learning many new chords for their performances or making up new strumming and picking patterns.
Ultimately, my hope for students going forward is that they maintain their passion for playing music throughout their lives and forever recognize that they have beautiful music in them to share, music that’s unique to them and the distinctive gifts that only they can offer. The ukulele has been an important tool for us to appreciate and learn that there’s great power, self-esteem, and courage found in giving it your all, doing your very best, and persevering even when things get tough, even painful. This is of course, not something that is unique to playing great music, but living our very best lives. Who knew such a little instrument had such big lessons to teach?