What Learning the Ukulele Has Taught Me About Teaching Piano
A few years ago, my dad learned to play the ukulele, and he found that he absolutely loves it. It makes him extremely happy to sit down and strum that instrument. And he’s gotten pretty good at it. Some of my siblings, seeing my father’s enjoyment, asked him to teach them to play the ukulele too. Over the years, two of my brothers, two of my sisters, and one of my sisters-in-law all learned to play the ukulele, and they would have so much fun playing together when our family got together. So many members of my family were now playing the ukulele, that I was beginning to feel very left out. They had even formed a band called “Ukulear Explosion,” and how could I not be a part of something like that? So I began to take ukulele lessons from my father, and, to my surprise, the experience taught me a lot about teaching piano lessons.
Firstly, my hands felt so extremely awkward as I tried to figure out how to hold the ukulele and where to place my fingers to form the different chords. I couldn’t understand how my dad could look so natural moving his fingers up and down the neck of the ukulele. But then I suddenly realized that this must be how my beginning piano students feel. Since I started learning to play the piano when I was five-years-old, I have basically no recollection of what it felt like to learn how to use my fingers at the piano. As a result, I’m afraid I haven’t always been the most understanding or compassionate teacher in this regard. I have to admit that it hadn’t even really crossed my mind that pushing down keys with fingers might feel awkward and not natural at all. Since learning to play the ukulele, I think I’ve become a lot more sensitive to that fact.
Playing the ukulele has also taught me to be more understanding as students are learning to recognize finger numbers. Ukulele players use a different finger-numbering system than we do at the piano, and it is still taking me awhile to get used to it, which is helping me remember to have patience with piano students who struggle to remember that their thumb is their first finger. Additionally, ukulele players use a form of tablature (which is a way of writing down music that shows the player where to place their fingers). I wasn’t very familiar with tablature, and I think I have felt somewhat similar to a new student learning to read music. It’s hard! Hopefully, I’ve become a little more sympathetic in this regard too.
While playing the ukulele is extremely fun and satisfying, I think the biggest benefit that has come from learning it is the increased understanding, compassion, and patience I now have for my new piano students who struggle with the same things I struggled with as a beginning ukulele student.
My dad, sister, and I playing at a family party: