Is the ukulele suitable for children?

24 Jan 2011

Is the ukulele suitable for children?

Parents may well be asking themselves this question - is the ukulele a good instrument for children to learn?

Well, the short answer from this particular blogger is a resounding YES!!

Firstly, some background. I can share my experiences based on growing up in the UK (and admit, it may differ elsewhere). It's well established thinking that playing music as a child is excellent for artistic and social development. Music requires concentration, but is also fun and can be enjoyed with many others. When I was going through school, the options for music learning were mainly limited to the recorder, the piano, the violin and the guitar. I ended up playing the guitar myself, but could easily have taken up one of the others (the recorder being the natural starter for the piano believe it or not). One thing I will say now, as an adult, is that knowing a violin player, and playing a bit of piano, and lots of guitar and ukulele, the ukulele is the easiest instrument to make a start with. That isnt to say the uke is easy full stop, it isn't and takes a lifetime to master (heck, I am just a strummer, there are some real virtuosos out there). What I am saying though is from scratch, I believe the progress can be made quicker on a ukulele as a child than other instruments. Clearly the piano is more complex in view of the coordination required, and the violin requires great technique.

There are, however other reasons why I think a ukulele is great for a child.

  1. Size - pretty obvious really, but the ukulele is a small instrument, and a lot easier for a small child to hold than a guitar (and a lot smaller to store in the house than a piano)
  2. Cost - beginner ukuleles are significantly cheaper than beginner guitars, violins or pianos
  3. Fun factor - the ukulele is a happy instrument, and I believe that kids will feel that they are guitarists by holding one.  Beginner ukes also come in a great range of bright, child friendly colours.  The fact that Spongebob Squarepants plays one should also help make the childs mind up!
  4. Ease of pickup - as I say above, the early days with ukes allow a new user to make lots of progress.  A simple strum is easy to pick up, and when you consider that several chords only need one finger to play them, you can see why you can teach a child a song rather quickly.  Guitar, violin and piano will take months to master the basics - I genuinely think a child can master ukulele basics in weeks or even days.  I taught my 8 year old daughter "Baa Baa black sheep" in ten minutes...
  5. They don't require blowing - seems rather obvious, but unlike woodwind or brass instruments, the uke leaves the mouth free for singing.  Get a bunch of kids together playing "Twinkle Twinkle" and singing as well, and the fun factor goes through the roof (I strongly believe that singing when playing any instrument is a huge boost to speed of learning)
  6. The uke suits childrens songs - the nature of simple childrens songs (nursery rhymes and the like) added to the fact that you can sing when you play, makes the uke a great instrument to play.  Most simple tunes are only two or three chords, meaning a child will get quick satisfaction at having "created" something and been artistic.
  7. Transferable - As well as teaching a child the basics of music theory, the uke is the perfect instrument that will allow a transfer to guitar or violin at a later stage.

If you are a parent reading this, I would urge you to consider the uke for your child if they are wanting to play music.  Pick up a Makala Dolphin (excellent cheap beginners uke) and encourage them.  You must however remember that the ukulele DOES require practice, and I would strongly advise thinking about lessons or other form of tuition.

As the uke is now being taught in some schools the age of those classes seems to suggest that children from the age of 6 up should easily be able to start with the ukulele (that isn't hard and fast, and I would advocate letting younger children just bang and slap away on a cheap uke as a means of introduction).

So I do hope if you are reading this considering and instrument for your child, that the uke is considered further.  One very serious word of warning though.  There are many parents out there who bought ukes for their children, only to find they themselves become addicted!!

As a final point, if you have very young children, why not use the ukulele to help you with singing nursery rhymes - as well as taking on board the songs, they will see you playing and make the connection.  I have some ukulele chords for well known nursery rhymes linked below.



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