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Starting a Ukulele Program in Your Classroom: Part 2 of 6
By Sam Marchuk - West Music Education Consultant
10/10/2017 3:27:00 PM  

Starting a Ukulele Program in Your Classroom: Part 2 of 6: What Size Ukulele?

ukulele sizesIn Part One of this series we discussed the many benefits of bringing ukuelels into the classroom. In part two we go over the four sizes of ukuleles available and which might be best for your students. Continue reading, or download this printable PFD version.

The first thing to know is that there are 4 different sizes of ukuleles to choose from: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. The smallest of these, the soprano, is the most common for beginners. This is due to it having the lowest cost of the bunch, making it the best value when purchasing a classroom set. It is also considered the “standard” ukulele size, dating back from its original roots in Hawaii in the late 1870s.

Children and adults alike can enjoy soprano size ukulele and will be pleased with the bright, signature sound, portability, and cost. But what about the larger concert or tenor sizes, which feature the same tuning? If your budget allows, there can be several advantages if you decide to use a larger size ukulele in your classroom.

Advantages of Using a Larger Size Ukulele

Fuller, Deeper Sound

A larger resonator body allows the lower tones to resonate, providing a fuller, deeper sound. This creates a more well-balance and pleasing tone over the soprano model.


The larger body and longer neck may be more comfortable to hold, which may put the instrument in a more natural playing position for some students.

Less Cramped

More frets and space between them. This will allow for easier finger positions when moving up the fretboard as fingers will become less cramped.

More Range

This may be more useful if you are offering advanced classes where you will play beyond the first position (past the first 5 frets). Concert and tenor ukuleles typically have a higher range with 17 or more frets to a soprano’s 12. The extra frets may come in handy and add more interest when playing with a ukulele ensemble.

Student's Perception

Students may view it as more as a true musical instrument and less as a novelty/toy. The larger ukulele size becomes more guitar-like to play and listen to.

Concert or Tenor?

Only a bit larger than a soprano, concert size ukulele may be the ideal choice for many of these reasons. For this reason the concert size is often referred to the in-between, or “Goldilocks” size for its perfect blend of characteristics of the soprano and tenor.

The tenor ukulele is also an option, with it having the fullest sound due to an even larger body than the concert size. But it can become considerably more expensive than the soprano, especially when purchased in sets, and feel too large to comfortable hold for younger students.

What About Baritone?

The baritone ukulele tuned differently to a fourth lower than the other ukulele sizes, which are the same pitches as the top four guitar strings. Therefore, the baritone is in a different key and requires different fingering from the soprano/concert/tenor. See this article for more information on ukulele tunings and size comparisons: Models and Tunings and Sizes, Oh My! How to Choose the Right Ukulele for You.

Other Considerations

For demonstrative and personal use, teachers may want to opt for a larger or different model ukulele to make their instrument stand out from the student models. That may be another example where concert or tenor may be a good choice for them, even if their students use the soprano. Check out Makala’s MK Series of mahogany ukuleles, available in all 4 sizes:


Ultimately, the deciding factors are going to come to the budget you are working with, and the use of ukulele as an introduction or advanced lessons. Contact one of our Education Consultants at 800-397-9379 to see how we can put together a set of classroom ukuleles to best suit your budget and needs!

About the Author

Sam MarchukSam Marchuk is an Educaton Consultant for West Music specializing in folk instruments and curriculum for the elementary classroom. He has been playing ukulele since 1998 and is an avid collector of vintage and contemporary ukulele models.

As an Education Consultant, Sam assists with the selection and acquisition of instruments and curriculum with teachers across the U.S. He enjoys matching up players of all skill levels and classroom teachers with the right ukulele to fit their personality, style, and budget.

Sam has demonstrated the potential of the of the ukulele at numerous state and national music education conferences, helped with the startup of ukulele programs across the U.S., and has taught beginning ukulele at the annual Strathmore Ukulele and Guitar Summit in Rockville, MD.

Tags: ukulele, music education, classroom
Categories: Guitars & Folk, Music Education
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Starting a Ukulele Program in Your Classroom: Part 1 of 6
By Sam Marchuk - West Music Education Consultant
9/20/2017 6:19:00 AM  

Starting a Ukulele Program in Your Classroom Part 1 of 6: Why Teach Ukulele?

Are you looking to start a ukulele program in your school but not sure where to start? You don’t need to be an accomplished guitar/ukulele player, or have a big budget to add ukulele to your curriculum. Here is what you need to know if you are considering starting ukulele with your students:

Printable PDF Version

Why Teach Ukulele?


School ukulele program

Ukuleles are Educational

Many skills are developed that are essential not only for creating music, but in learning other subjects while building character, and responsibility, too!  

Musicianship: Students will learn tuning, strumming/rhythm, accompaniment, melody, singing, hand coordination, sight-reading, and many other skills while learning the ukulele.

Mathematics: Students can see the string becoming shorter in length to create a higher pitch. As another example, the open A string makes the note because it vibrates at a frequency of 440 hertz. If you fret this same string exactly halfway up the fretboard, it results in the string vibrating twice as much at frequency of 880 hertz, the A note an octave above.

History: Students learn about history with the development of the instrument, how it is made, how sound is produced, and what events were occurring at the time.

Culture: Students can learn about the origins of the instrument, its history, and the culture of the music being experienced.

Social Skills: Students assist classmates with learning, develop teamwork in playing together, and creativity in making their own songs!

Responsibility: Students learn how to care for their instrument, track their practice time, and monitor their progress.


Ukuleles are Affordable

school music ukulele

Ukuleles for your classroom do not require a major investment to start and can cost a fraction of the amount you could spend for a set of guitars. With good quality instruments starting at just under $40 each, a full classroom set of 25 instrument can be purchased for under $1000. 

West Music offers discounts for classroom sets and can create a custom package to meet your specific requirements and budget needs. On leaner budgets, some teachers may have students share a ukulele, making 10 ukuleles sufficient for use among 20 students, for example. This can be a good opportunity for the students to work on movement or rhythm skills while awaiting their turn on the ukulele. 

Many educational grants and other funding opportunities are available to help teachers fund instruments for their classroom. Be sure to check out West Music’s Funding Resource page for ways to expand your classroom materials: edufund.westmusic.com


Ukuleles are Easy to Learn…and the Perfect Lead-in to Guitar

Because of its smaller size, the ukulele is easier to hold than a guitar. The ukulele uses the same fingerings as guitar, but with only 4 strings instead of the guitar’s 6 strings. This makes learning how to play chords much simpler, allowing the student to focus on individual skills such as strumming, than combining chord changes with more complex finger positions on a guitar. 

For example, the major C chord on the ukulele requires one finger to be positioned on a single string, whereas the same chord would require three fingers, all on separate strings, on a guitar. Here is an example, showing 3 fingers to make the same chord shape on guitar, versus only 1 finger on ukulele:

g chord on guitar c chord on ukulele

Plus, the ukulele’s softer, all-nylon strings are much easier on the tips of beginner’s fingers than guitar’s steel strings. All of the skills learned are transferrable too…if you can play the ukulele, you can use the same techniques to play guitar!


Ukuleles are Versatile

The ukulele is an instrument students can play alone or with a group, regardless of the skill level or genre. Plus, it can be used to accompany while singing or with other instruments, songwriting, or alone with instrumental arrangements. 


Ukuleles are Portable

With all of the fun your students will have, they will want to take it everywhere - which is easy to do with the convenient size of ukulele!


Ukuleles are Fun…for Life!

Students are enthusiastic to learn such a diverse instrument that can be used to express and discover themselves through music. Because of its versatility and similarity to guitar, ukulele players can use their skills to enjoy making music outside of the classroom and throughout the rest of their lives. 

With so many benefits, it is easy to see why ukulele is becoming a staple in classrooms across the nation. Time and time again I have heard from many of our classroom teachers, informing us the ukulele class is the highlight not only for them, but for their students as well. This level of enthusiasm has helped spawn after-school ukulele groups and other extra-curricular activities. 

Read Part 2

Don’t be left out Let us know what we can do to assist with a ukulele program in your school! Contact a West Music Education Consultant at 800-397-9378 and we can help you equip your classroom.

About the Author

Sam MarchukSam Marchuk is an Educaton Consultant for West Music specializing in folk instruments and curriculum for the elementary classroom. He has been playing ukulele since 1998 and is an avid collector of vintage and contemporary ukulele models.

As an Education Consultant, Sam assists with the selection and acquisition of instruments and curriculum with teachers across the U.S. He enjoys matching up players of all skill levels and classroom teachers with the right ukulele to fit their personality, style, and budget.

Sam has demonstrated the potential of the of the ukulele at numerous state and national music education conferences, helped with the startup of ukulele programs across the U.S., and has taught beginning ukulele at the annual Strathmore Ukulele and Guitar Summit in Rockville, MD.

Tags: ukulele, music education, classroom
Categories: Guitars & Folk, Music Education
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How To Break In New Ukulele Strings
By Sam Marchuk - West Music Education Consultant
6/2/2015 1:13:00 PM  
You get your new ukulele, tune it up to pitch and play your first chord and - it is already out of tune! Have no fear. There is nothing wrong with your ukulele or the tuners: you just need to break-in your strings.

Ukuleles come pre-strung with nylon strings which have never been brought up to pitch. They will go out of tune immediately due to the elasticity of the nylon and the looseness of the knot holding it in place. Therefore, it is imperative to pre-stretch each string and lock each knot into place. Here is how:

1. Begin by tuning the ukulele up to approximate pitch (for Soprano, Concert and Tenor: G – C – E – A). Don’t worry about fine tuning for now as you will need to do this several times until the strings are stretched a bit and broken in. You might opt to use a string winder to speed up this process.

2. Place your right hand palm on the bridge and wrap your fingers around a single string, pulling it up gently away from the body. IMPORTANT: Be sure to keep your palm on the bridge so that you are not pulling the bridge away from the body, only the string. This will help lock the bridge knot. Repeat for each of the other 3 strings.

3. Next, place your right forearm on the bridge (which will position your fingers higher on the fretboard area close to the nut), wrap your fingers around a single string, and pull up gently. Again, be sure to keep your forearm on the bridge to avoid pulling the bridge away from the body. You may wish to hold the string in place at the nut with your left hand so that it does not come out of the nut groove. Pulling on the string in this upper range will help lock the knot in place at the tuner. Repeat for each of the other 3 strings.

4. Repeat steps 1-3 until the strings remain in tune to approximate pitch after you have lightly pulled on them.

5. You can now fine tune your ukulele with a digital tuner or tuner of your choice. Note: it is always better to fine tune a string up to pitch. (If you tune down to pitch it is possible for the string tension to get hung up at the friction points, ie. saddle or nut and then slip further down in pitch when released.)

Voila! You are now ready to play. Happy Strumming!!

This article can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Have a ukulele question or comment? Contact Sam Marchuk at (800) 397-9378 Ext. 1343 or smarchuk@westmusic.com

Tags: sam marchuk, ukulele, ukulele strings, new strings, break-in, breaking-in new strings
Categories: Guitars & Folk, Conservatory, Music Education
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Models and Tunings and Sizes, Oh My! How to Choose the Right Ukulele for You
By Sam Marchuk - West Music Education Consultant
2/2/2015 12:01:00 AM  
There are so many different size models and sizes of ukuleles available in the market today. Whether you are looking to play the ukulele for personal enjoyment or looking to pick out a set for your classroom, it can be quite overwhelming in determining what model and size you should use.

In this article, I will go over the features and advantages for each of the different sizes - and take the mystery out of how to choose the right one for you. But first, a video:

As you saw, there are 4 sizes of ukuleles available. The different sizes exist not to match the size of the player - as in the fractional sizes available for violin or guitar - but to match the tone and application the player is looking for. Although the name implies different tuning, the 3 smallest sizes (Soprano, Concert and Tenor) are tuned exactly the same to g’-c’-e’-a’.
Baritone Ukulele and Its Tuning in Relation to Guitar

The Baritone is the largest size in the ukulele family and the only size that uses a different tuning. I will start with this size because of its close relation in tuning to guitar. If we take a 6 string guitar, tuned (from low to high) to E-A-d’g’b’e’, and remove the 2 lowest strings (the E and A), we are left with only highest 4 strings d-g-b-e. That is exactly how the Baritone ukulele is tuned. If we play a G chord on the guitar, we can apply the same fingering on the Baritone ukulele to make the same G chord, without having to use the lowest 2 strings on the ukulele.

Now that we know the relation of the Baritone ukulele tuning to guitar, we can see how the other ukuleles compare.

The smaller Soprano, Concert and Tenor ukuleles are tuned 5 half steps higher than the Baritone ukulele. So, if we place a capo at the 5th fret - that gives us our basic tuning (g’-c’-e’-a’), or a C6 chord. This is referred to as “linear tuning” because all of the strings are in sequence from low to high pitch.

However, the more common tuning system is to take the lowest string, the G, and tune it up one octave higher, resulting in the open strings matching the melody of “My Dog Has Fleas.” The 3rd string, the C, is now the lowest open-tuned string. This is referred to as “re-entrant” tuning because the strings are not tuned in a linear fashion, or in sequence from low to high. It is this tuning that gives the ukulele its unique, characteristic sound!

Some ukulele methods may suggest using the “linear” tuning as it extends the lower range and may be easier to comprehend when learning to read music and playing scales. As most stock ukuleles are pre-strung with the high G “re-entrant” tuning, you may need to purchase and install the low G strings separately if you plan on using these methods.

Because of the similar tuning structure, you can use the same fingerings to play guitar as many of the techniques will carry over. Therefore, if you can play guitar, you can play the ukulele (and vice versa)! Keep in mind you will need to transpose between guitar and ukulele because the 2 are in a different key. For example, a G chord on the guitar will be a C chord when played in the same fret position on the ukulele.

Soprano, Concert and Tenor Size Comparisons

The soprano ukulele is also known as the “standard” size as it is based on the traditional size and design. (The ukulele was derived from the machete and cavaquinho, similar instruments brought to Hawaii by Portugese immigrants in 1879.) Soprano is the most common size due to its less expensive pricing, portability, and application as an accompaniment instrument, requiring most use in the 1st position. It usually has 12 frets and just under a 2 octave range.

In the 1920’s, Big Band was in full swing. In order to compete with the volume and sound of these instruments, the larger-bodied Concert and Tenor ukulele models were introduced. (Banjo ukuleles were also introduced at this time, which are even louder but sound more like a banjo due to their similar construction.) The larger resonator chamber produces more volume and a fuller sound in the middle and lower tonal ranges. In addition to increased volume, the Concert and Tenor models have more frets (usually 15-20) and space on the fretboard, allowing more room for fingers when making advanced chords. As a result, the more common Soprano may appear to sound higher pitched or “plinky” than the larger sizes, whereas the Tenor may sound more like a guitar – even with the same tuning. The Concert size produces a tone somewhere in-between.

The Tenor size is preferred among many stage performers and instrumentalists as it typically has the most space between frets, the highest number of playable notes and the fullest dynamic range.

The Concert size is a good compromise between the two as it blends the physical and tonal characteristics of the Soprano and Tenor models. It has more frets like the Tenor but still retainsthe signature sound of the Soprano – albeit with a touch more volume and tone. Some players will like this size for its good mix of the other two sizes’ traits and if their fingers feel most comfortable on this in-between sized fretboard.

Choosing the Right Size Ukulele

Although you could use any size ukulele, Soprano is a great choice due to its lower cost and smaller size, making it easier to store. Plus, most students will not play beyond the Soprano’s 12th fret.

Selecting the right size ukulele for yourself is mostly a personal preference – there really is not a “wrong” choice. You will want to choose one not really based size, but on the following criteria:

Looks: You will want to pick one that appeals to your senses. Most players go for a model that reflects their personality. You are going to be the one seeing this ukulele; will it inspire you to play? Will you be dabbling in ukulele as a novelty or as a serious instrument? Are you looking for a ukulele that will be on display? Ukuleles make great conversation pieces so make it fun!

Tone: Instruments can vary quite a bit in sound and volume. You may want to play, listen to sound samples, and/or read reviews on models. Aquila Nylgut strings are the standard in the industry on most production models and can really bring out the best tone in your ukulele.

Budget: Some ukuleles can be considerably more expensive if they are crafted of solid woods versus laminate woods. However, each model may sound different and not necessarily better with solid wood.

You can have a great tone with a laminate body that will feature the aesthetics of a solid body without the price. With a laminate body, manufacturers can get a thinner top than a solid wood, which can vibrate more and increase sound, have a veneer finish to feature the beauty of wood grain, and have better durability as they are less sensitive to humidity and temperature.

Solid wood models are more expensive because of the materials used but will improve in sound over time. They also require more care and should be humidified. Larger ukuleles cost incrementally more as they require more material.

For beginners, the most common choice will be the soprano size because of its price. You may consider a larger or more expensive model for more versatility and to be able to “grow into it.” With this knowledge, you can consider these factors just like Goldilocks did in the classic fairy tale “Goldilocks & the Three Bears.” You should choose the one you like based on how it appeals to you and your budget!

This article can be downloaded here.

Tags: Sam Marchuk, Ukulele, Ukulele Size, Ukulele Comparison, Ukulele Tuning, Choose Size, Re-Entrant Tuning, Linear Tuning, Low G vs. High G, Ukulele vs. Guitar Tuning, How to Choose a Ukulele.
Categories: Guitars & Folk, Music Education
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