Why the ukulele is so much more than a toy guitar.

It might look like a little guitar, but there is so much more to the ukulele; it is an instrument in it’s own right and here’s why…

Uke, I am your father…

We’ve stolen this line off a t-shirt but it’s actually a bit of a misconception to think that the ukulele developed from the acoustic guitar. In reality the ukulele is descended from the Portuguese Machete, a similar looking four stringed instrument which was brought to Hawaii by sailors in the 19th Century. Over time ukulele makers have borrowed features from the guitar, but they’re more like distant cousins really.

It doesn’t have as many strings…

No it doesn’t and even worse they’re not in the right order. The ukulele has re-entrant tuning, where the strings aren’t in pitch order. This quirky tuning is a feature it shares with the five string banjo and makes the ukulele perfectly suited to several banjo style playing techniques and, as a result, great for folk music. Check out our own Adam playing a banjo style tune here…

As for having only four strings, the violin, viola, cello and double bass have four strings each and it doesn’t make them any less of an instrument.

It’s easier?

To be honest we mostly hear this one from people who can strum a few chords on the guitar. Unsurprisingly, these same people find it reasonably easy to strum a few chords on the ukulele. We do find though that new learners struggle with all the same issues you find on any other instrument from changing chord shape quickly enough to playing with the correct technique. Here at The Ukulele School we have been careful when writing our complete course to ensure that we introduce new ideas at a steady pace with enough exercises and pieces to consolidate new learning before moving on.

It’s smaller…

Okay so you’ve got us here. Of course it’s smaller but that’s all part of its charm, portability, easier storage and it’s own unique sound, what’s not to love?

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It can’t play everything the guitar can…

The guitar has a wider range meaning it can play both higher and lower notes. The lack of bass notes is particularly noticeable to guitarists picking up a ukulele for the first time. However compared to a double bass, a violin is lacking in bass notes it just means that they sound great when you play them together. The ukulele is a sociable instrument; put it with other instruments or voice or even just more ukuleles and you have great playing experience.

It’s fun…

The ukulele hasn’t always been the most serious of instruments (yes, we mean George Formby) but fun isn’t a bad thing and it is versatile enough to play anything from Mozart to Miley Cyrus.

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10 reasons every school should have ukuleles.

1 Ukuleles are fun

Ukuleles let you play all sorts of great music. Pop stars have been turning to the ukulele, both to look a bit quirky but also because it’s just such a plucky, happy little instrument. Children love them, even my four year old son can play a few chords. At the same time we meet adults all the time who have caught the ukulele bug. Pub and village ukulele clubs are springing up all over the country with everyone from children to pensioners playing together.

2 Yes they are a real instrument

Okay, so they do look a bit like a toy guitar and George Formby hardly did anything to help the ukulele’s image. Search on youtube for ukulele stars such as Jake Shimabukuro, James Hill, Kalei Gamiao, or Taimaine Gardner to name just a few. You will quickly realise that this a real and highly versatile instrument with its own history and playing styles. Check out James Hill playing one of our all time favourites here.

3 Ukuleles are versatile

Many ukulele teachers stick to strumming some chords along to a few songs but there is so much more to the ukulele. Like the guitar, ukuleles can be used as a melodic instrument too. This means they can play just about anything from Tchaikovsky to Taylor Swift. They also make a great introduction to other instruments showing the basics of harmony, melody and ensemble playing which are all great transferrable skills.

4 Ukuleles are cheap

It’s sad to say it, but at a time when school budgets are squeezed and many pupils can’t afford expensive instruments, a reasonable quality ukulele can be found for £20-£30. Obviously the professionals still have the option to spend thousands on an instrument, but we still love that moment when a pupil with no prior musical experience proudly brings their own ukulele to a lesson. Music services and suppliers can also help with purchasing and hire instruments for a school needing whole class sets.

5 Ukuleles come in funky colours

We don’t want to knock other instruments but the colour options for ukuleles just can’t be beaten (black clarinet, or brown violin anyone?). They also come with designs on them from smiley faces to the notorious Spongebob Squarepants uke. Nothing says school pride like a whole class performance featuring pupils with matching uniforms and ukuleles.

6 Ukuleles are portable and store easily

Ukuleles are small. They won’t take up a whole classroom to store between lessons and hours of heavy carrying them around the school building. Top tip – you can conveniently fit 15 soprano ukuleles in the large blue bags provided by a well known Swedish furniture store.

7 You can get playing quickly

Music theory can be a dry business and no class wants to sit through a long lecture on chord construction. The ukulele lets you learn as you go – by playing. Learn just a few notes or chords (even open strings) and you have a song that children can enjoy playing. This means music history, theory and even other non-music subjects can be taught with a quick song.

8 Ukuleles sound nicer than recorders

Okay so this one may be a bit tongue in cheek but seriously, that overblown squeaking sound! (Apologies to any professional recorder players –  we know they ‘can’ sound nice.)

9 Teachers can learn alongside their pupils

With The Ukulele School, teachers don’t need to have any prior musical experience. You can have all the fun of picking up a ukulele and learning at the same time as your pupils. You can see where they might encounter challenges for yourself and maybe even see your pupils learning experience from a whole different perspective. That said, if you are a professional musical genius already we still have a load of pieces, cartoons, activities and resources for you to make use of in your own way.

10 Ukuleles are fun!

Yes we know we’re cheating and this is the same as number one but it just can’t be said enough, ukuleles are seriously good fun.

There are loads more reasons we love the ukulele. If you can think of any, let us know.

More from The Ukulele School

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Whats the best way to draw a chord?

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A Quick Note On Chord Diagrams

What is the best way to draw a chord?

When learning a new chord on the Ukulele, it can often be helpful to see a picture showing you  where to put your fingers. These pictures are known as chord diagrams.

Here at The Ukulele School we choose to draw our chord diagrams a little differently from the standard approach.

Recently I was teaching some students how to look up and learn some more advanced chords for themselves, using a simple google search. There was some obvious confusion as they discovered that the images of chords they were finding didn’t match those they had been using previously.

Whilst we don’t want to cause unnecessary confusion  I am going to try and explain our  approach to diagrams and the reasons why we draw them this way.

Here we have an F Major chord written in the standard way (as you might find with a simple google search). The thick black bar at the top represents the nut of the ukulele (the raised area that separates the head from the neck). The strings are shown going downwards with G on the left working across to A on the right. 

The two dots show where to place your fingers. The small Os above the diagram mean that those two strings are left open.

Whilst this isn’t too difficult to understand for most pupils, it doesn’t help that the ukulele is orientated in a way that we would never actually play it.

When we take into account pupils who may be struggling to hold a ukulele the right way round, or have difficulty telling left from right, we have found that drawing the ukulele this way can be really quite disorientating.

For this reason we have chosen to draw our diagrams side on, so that the ukulele is held in the same position that you would normally hold it to play. We also add some additional details such as parts of the head of the ukulele in order to further show which way we are holding it. 

There are still some issues with showing chords like this and here at The Ukulele School we have had lengthy (and honestly quite dull and geeky) discussions around whether we should use a face-on perspective or a mirror perspective. Eventually we settled on showing the neck as if you are looking at a teachers ukulele being played, rather than a mirror image of the pupil’s ukulele. Inevitably we have found that some of our pupils would rather a mirror image and some would even prefer the more traditional upright diagrams. When learning an instrument no one method will work for everyone, but this is the system we have found works for the largest number of pupils.

In your lessons you could try experimenting with using different diagrams and you may find that you disagree with our method. As always we would much rather you used what works best for you and your class.

Do you disagree with us or have an even better way of drawing chords for your pupils to learn, please let us know and join in the discussion on the forums, or on Facebook, we are always open to hearing new ideas.

Learn more about The Ukulele School.

Learn More About The Ukulele School

The Ukulele School is a unique resource designed for Primary Schools and Music Services. We aim to provide a comprehensive one year curriculum, offering 37 lessons, comprised of a mixture of specially composed pieces and songs,  video tutorials and whole class ukulele activities. It’s perfect for music teachers and non specialists alike.

If you want a taste of what we offer, check out these four free sample lessons.

Our key goal is to provide teachers with as much help as possible in delivering their lessons.If you’re a seasoned musical pro then have a load of great pieces and activities. If you are less comfortable with music lessons, then our teachers are on hand both in the form of videos to show your class or on our facebook group or email: admin@theukuleleschool.com to help with as much advice  and support as you need.

For more information on how to sign up for either a term or the whole year click here.

As well as our main site we also have a The Ukulele School youtube channel, which we will keep stocked up with loads of great free resources. Content like the “Uketionary”, our growing encyclopedia of musical terms, and our new “Ten Second Chords” series, perfect for when you just need a quick reminder.

You can also join the Ukulele discussion on The Ukulele School Facebook group.

Finally, you can sign up to our mailing list to keep up to date with developments and  receive a free pack of over 50 rhythm teaching resources!

Staff Notation

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Staff Notation

Staff Notation


The most common way of writing notation for western instruments is staff notation.

This form of notation is written on five lines known as a stave. Think of the stave like a ladder the higher the note is up the stave the higher its pitch.

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Staff notation is usually accompanied by a clef. Depending on which clef we use the notes appear in slightly different positions on the stave.


Lines and Spaces

The most common clef is the ‘Treble Clef’ used for melodic instruments such as the flute, trumpet, violin and the right hand of the piano. 

Many musicians prefer to view the notes as either on the lines of the stave or in the gaps between. 

The notes in the spaces helpfully spell the word FACE. The notes on the lines are EGBDF. There are many mnemonics to help you remember this pattern.



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A scale is a series of notes going either up or down in pitch. we can use them as a way of organising notes together according to pitch.

Musical notes are named after letters of the alphabet from A to G. When we reach G we start again from A. This means if we go up or down from one letter we will eventually reach that letter again.

To play a C Major scale we would play each note from C to the next C. 


The notes of a C Major Scale
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There are Several different types of scale the most common being Major and Harmonic Minor.  Other types of scales include:

Melodic Minors


Natural Scales

Whole Tone Scales

Chromatic scales.

Jingle Bells Here

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Merry Christmas.

We’re starting to feel all Christmassy here at TheUkuleleSchool.com so to get you feeling all festive, here is Jingle bells for you to do with your class. It features a tricky picked melody especially in the verse but the chords are just C, F and G Major throughout. The melody is also not too hard in the chorus if you are feeling brave.

Click here to go straight to it or find it in our new additional pieces menu. We have more planned to appear here in the new year

Merry Christmas from TheUkuleleSchool.com!