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Ukulele Takes Off in Middle School
The halls of the Derryfield Middle School were abuzz this past year with the sound of a new instrument on campus: the ukulele. Introduced during the fall of the 2017-2018 school year by Instrumental Music teacher Mr. Bonjorno, the ukulele is the newest addition to the sixth grade Creative Arts curriculum that also includes units in visual arts and drama.
When prompted to share the inspiration behind initiating the instrument, Mr. Bonjorno shares that “I was learning to play the ukulele myself and realized that it made a good teaching tool. It’s much smaller and easier to handle, transport, and care for than a guitar.” Given the ease with which it incorporates multiple musical concepts, the ukulele naturally seemed like a good start for what is the first step in many of the sixth graders’ musical journeys. The learning process begins when “students start by learning songs on open strings (no fingers on fretboard). We quickly add notes on the fretboard and learn to play the C major scale. Close to the end of the process, we learn the F major scale and some basic chords (more than one note played at the same time).” All of the hard work is necessary for the culmination of the unit, a concert in which a variety of songs are performed.
A stroll through the Middle School or a visit to a community meeting quickly reveals that the ukulele is a big hit amongst the young musicians. Not only do the kids enjoy the process of learning a new instrument, but Mr. Bonjorno notes that “They also learn listening and cooperative skills while playing in rhythm together as an ensemble.” The collaborative nature of the ukulele is especially effective at building the musicians’ confidence and opening the door to future musical pursuits and performances, perhaps even as ensembles. In addition, Mr. Bonjorno points out that the ukulele can be utilized as a springboard for other instruments as well: “The concepts introduced with ukulele are applicable to violin, viola, cello and bass, not to mention guitar.”
It’s certainly an exciting time for the Creative Arts department as a new class of ukulele players commence their studies with Mr. Bonjorno. We’ve seen occasions where this course has sparked the beginning of a lifelong love and appreciation of music. Last year this was evidenced by the creativity shown by the students in creating their own arrangements including a Latin version of the Benny Goodman Classic “Stompin at the Savoy,” a classic swing version of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” and very complicated but fun version of “Unit Seven” by jazz guitar legend Wes Montgomery.
Located in Manchester, NH, The Derryfield School is a private day school for grades 6-12. Students benefit from a challenging academic program, fine and performing arts, competitive athletics, and a wide selection of extracurricular activities.