Mele Kalikimaka is the Thing to Say!

When Rosewood music teacher, Karen Ambs, told fellow teachers she was thinking of starting an elementary Ukulele Club, she was met with a fair amount of skepticism.  But she knew something they didn’t: the ukulele is hot right now and she was right. She was at capacity with 33 students that first week in March. And now, eight weeks later, while they have lost a handful of students to Little League, the Ukulele Club is going strong with 26 students!

Last fall Karen attended a music education conference at Hope College and learned about the benefits of using the ukulele to teach instrumentation to young students. She learned that it is an easy instrument to teach and learn and students see a relative amount of success early on. But rather than introduce the instrument for classes right away, Mrs Ambs wanted to familiarize herself more thoroughly with the instrument and test it out in a club setting first. She saw that ukulele’s were catching on with students so she started asking students what they thought of meeting as a club. She only received positive replies, so they kicked things off in March!

Students were able to learn quickly. “If you know four chords, you can play 100 songs” and Mrs Ambs adds that one of the great things about the club is that everyone is able to play at their own level when practicing songs together. Sixth grade ukulele club member, Molly Jones says that the club is “so much fun” and because “we’re all learning together, if you make a mistake, it’s no big deal.” Fifth grade ukulelist, Conner Van Dam, joined because he wanted to add another instrument to his repertoire which currently includes the viola and next year, the baritone. He, along with Gavin Louckes [also 5th grade] say that, even though they didn’t know how to play the ukulele, they weren’t worried about trying something new. “If you never try it, you never know!” they said.

The club is open to 3rd – 6th graders at Rosewood and Mrs Ambs says that when students were learning chords in the beginning, it worked out well to have the younger students sit near the older students to watch and learn. This mentorship happened organically and Mrs Ambs was very pleased to have this be a byproduct of the club experience.

While some students were able to purchase ukulele’s in order to be part of the club, that isn’t an option for everyone. In order to give everyone an opportunity to learn the instrument, Ms Ambs is seeking grant funds to help out. A few years ago we told you about the great work of the Jenison Public Education Foundation and Mrs Ambs is hoping for a grant from them in the form of a complete classroom set. The potential for this grant, along with other possible resources will ensure that Rosewood student has the opportunity to learn ukulele in music class!

If these curious and talented students have inspired you to learn to entertain family and friends with this Hawaiian classic, Mrs Ambs has some words of encouragement for you! “It’s a very, simple, easy way to pick up an instrument and be successful with it. Yet, if you want to make it more challenging, you can go beyond four chords and learn picking patterns and melodies”. Still feeling unsure? Molly reminds everyone to “do something you enjoy!” and that just might mean picking up a ukulele!

Thank you, Mrs Ambs, for finding fun, creative ways to engage our students in learning about the wonderful world of music! Congratulations to these awesome Rosewood students for trying something new! We hope to see you at the Talent Show!

4 comments on “Mele Kalikimaka is the Thing to Say!

  1. There are SO many reasons to love this! Countless Life lessons illustrated here. Karen Ambs is a master at allowing beautiful things to come bubbling up.

  2. Many years ago (1939) I learned to play a ukelele at the Alpena, Michigan Girls’ Club, my favorite of all places. The ukeleles each came in its own cardboard box and were furnished by the club! We learned to tune them by the ditty, “My dog has fleas.” Today, at age 89, I have a very nice ukelele of my own– in a hard case, mind you. I play the piano at a local nursing home once a week and intend to start singing and playing my ukelele there one of these days, too. Listening to music is a favored event for the residents. Congratulations to this teacher who knows the value of learning to play an instrument! It lasts a lifetime.

  3. Aloha, If anyone in the area is looking for more opportunities to use their ukulele skills there is an ukulele club that meets year-round. We are the Happy Ukulele Group of Grand Rapids HUG-GR. We meet the first Saturday of the month from noon until 2 pm at Marge’s Donut Den on 28th Street SW. All skill levels are welcome. We have a mix of difficulty levels, but most are less challenging once the player knows the basic chords. I lead a second monthly strum on the second Thursday of the month. This is held in the youth room of Hager Park Church on Bauer Road in Jenison. The time is 6:30 to 8:30 pm. The music selections are from the same material we use for the Saturday strum. Power Point slides are projected for all to see. We have a Facebook group for up to date information, search Happy Ukulele Group of Grand Rapids. ~Mike

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