My youngest son Max is now 7 years old which I think is a great age to start learning to play ukulele. There are challenges that come with learning to play ukulele at such a young age, here are some of the ways that I’ve found to work when teaching him. hopefully they can work for your children too…
You can press the play button above to listen to the audio version of this article. Or if you’ve like to subscribe to the podcast you do so here.
One String Riffs
Learning riffs is a great starting point, especially if you stick to a single string, there’s no need to overcomplicate things. When it comes to learning, I think it’s always good to leave a practice session having achieved something – this is even more important for newcomers. Having a positive experience goes a long way toward wanting to do it again.
Here are some really good one string riffs that are great for kids to learn. I find it really useful to play the song for them on Youtube so they know what they’re learning.
All of the riffs below can be played on any string. It will mean that you might not be playing in the correct key but that isn’t important in this stage.
I tend to let Max play them on the A string initially as he finds it easier to fret notes here, then when he gets more comfortable we slowly move up the strings. All the riffs below have been tabbed on the A string.
Smoke On The Water – Deep Purple
Yes it’s a classic and it’s hugely overplayed but there is a reason for that. It’s a catchy riff that is super accessible. Here’s the tab…
Seven Nation Army – White Stripes
This super recognisable riff from The White Stripes is a little more tricky than some of the others listed here so I’d recommend breaking it down into sections to help your children learn it.
Louie Louie – The Kingsmen
Another simple one that is really catchy.
The thing I like about all of the tunes above is that although they’re relatively simple to play, you really need to get the timing right. The way I help my son get the timing is by getting him to sing the notes as he plays – I think anything beyond this at a young age when it comes to timing can be a little off-putting.
You can grab my sheet with all of these on for your kids to learn by hitting the button below (I’ve laminated the one that Max uses to make sure it will survive a little longer).
It’s really important that you make practice sessions with younger children really fun and engaging. If they’re not really into it, I’d recommend trying again at another time.
Max is a little too young to be able to fret chords that require a lot of finger dexterity so I came up with a way to let him strum along and make his own songs without having to fret full chords.
What we do is fret a single note on the A string (the bottom string) and he then strums all of the strings. I tell him which frets will sound good and which ones won’t work too well and let him just play around with that. It really helps him to get to grips with the idea of strumming and fretting at the same time.
In the audio clip above I’m strumming down and simply fretting at the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 7th and 10th frets of the A string (the bottom string) oh and I also threw in a strum without fretting any notes.
Guess The Note
This is a great little game that is geared towards ear training. I will play a note on my ukulele without letting him see what I’m fretting. To help him out I’ll tell him which string I was using and I then ask him to find the note on his ukulele. Max really enjoys this game and it will really help him understand how the fretboard works at the same time as developing his ear.
You can make this a little more challenging by firstly not giving away exactly which string you’re playing on. You could even ask them to find the same note on another string. You also have the option of moving beyond a single note.
For those that don’t have a second ukulele, I’ve created an MP3 below which will help you to play this game.
Just hit the play button, then pause after the note has played let your child try and find the note (I used the A string).
The notes in the above MP3 are found on the following frets 2, 7, 4 , 10, 4.
This is a good one, and perhaps it’s something that I should practice myself a little more. I get Max to play with his eyes closed. I’ve noticed in his practice sessions that Max really focuses on looking at his hands as he’s playing. Because he really focuses his eyes on either his strumming hand or his fretting hand, he struggles to do both at the same time. I get him to play either with his eyes closed or staring at a distant object instead.
This is a great exercise which helps you to really get a feel for the fretboard but also helps with ear training too as you have to hear your mistakes rather than see them.
Do you have any great tips for teaching kids ukulele? Let me know, I’d love to hear from you!