Christopher Kurt explains how you can become a Ukulele Ninja like him. Besides being quirky, fun, and astonishingly on trend at the moment, ukuleles have a lot of value to add to your choral or general music classroom.



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Show Notes:

He’s from Iowa. Not from Colorado. And that’s important.

Christopher teaches 6th-8th grade general music classes and directs 3 choirs. When he began his job at Aldo Leopold Middle School he found he had inherited ukulele lab, including 35 instruments that had been there for 20-30 years. Having access to the instruments inspired Christopher to teach himself to play.

Ukulele makes a great classroom instrument because the 4 basic chords are easy to learn, the instruments are cheap, accessible, and provide an immediate win for students. Multitasking is hard for middle school students (and for Christopher, who falls up stairs). Singing and playing at same time lets them multitask successfully.

A little less than half of his time with 8th grade students is spent on the ukulele unit. They start off by covering the ground rules; how to hold it; c maj chord; how to strum; strumming patterns. He follows the teaching/modeling pattern: I do, we do, you do.

Music literacy concepts include: what’s a chord, a triad, learning individual (plucked) notes, note value/rhythms.

Composition concepts include: writing lyrics, chords, creating strumming patterns.

Choral applications include: use as accompanying instrument instead of piano, talent show, pops concert, encourages listening, self-accompany solo singing

Ukulele playing allows students to make a song their own, molded according to their own creative vision. Students might not keep playing ukulele once the unit is finished, but the practice habits and work ethic they learn are widely applicable.

Christopher has written classroom ukulele curriculum on edmodo; it’s a badge achievement system with leaderboard to encourage competition across classes. Contact Christopher in the Choir Nation Facebook group for more info about his curriculum (being used in a collegiate level class).

3 Key Takeaways

  • Ukulele is an affordable classroom addition that can teach a wide variety of music literacy concepts. Several concepts cross-apply to choral education: listening, recognizing chord changes, steady rhythm.
  • Ukulele offers a different path to success for some students who may not achieve elsewhere. Because it is fun and accessible, students can create their own music.
  • Even if students do not continue to study ukulele after the unit is over, the concepts of good practice habits and work ethics will apply to many future pursuits.

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Christopher Kurt is in his third year of teaching 6-8 General & Choral Music at Aldo Leopold Middle School in Burlington, IA. He graduated from Wartburg College in May 2014 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education with a Vocal Emphasis. In his first two years of teaching, Christopher has been nominated twice for The Hawkeye’s “Teacher of The Year” Award. This past fall, he was a presenter at the Iowa Technology & Educators Connection Conference.
Christopher is passionate about music, fantasy football, warm weather, human rights, froyo, and Netflix. He has watched the series “How I Met Your Mother” ten times through within the past three years and states his vast knowledge of the show is one of his greatest attributes. At school, he wears fun and unique socks each day that often match his brightly colored shirts and manbun hair-ties. Though he has never gotten past the first round, he has tried out for American Idol three times and The Voice once, but did see Ryan Seacrest at one of the auditions and screamed like a 12-year old at a Justin Bieber concert, so that counts for something, right?
IG: @topherk44
Facebook: Christopher Kurt