jump to navigation

Welcome to USnMe – Ukuleles, School and Me May 1, 2013

Posted by Al Upton in : ukuleles , add a comment

Please note that ukuleles are one aspect, and one aspect only of my professional and personal life … and a happy one at that. :)

This blog is where I’ll document some of what happens with ukuleles in my life, mostly at school and other times in the ukulele community.  It’s also a site for networking and sharing resources.  Cheers, Al

birdseye uke circlebird’s eye view – click to enlarge

Disclaimer: Click this link. It begins …
This is a personal weblog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer/s …

John Butler Trio ‘Zebra’ with Ukulele Link June 8, 2013

Posted by Al Upton in : ukuleles , add a comment

I love the way John Butler and the John Butler Trio’s music makes me feel.

Through some happy banter on the Adelaide Ukulele Appreciation Society (AUAS) Facebook page,
I was reminded of their song ‘Zebra’

and, I’m pleased to say,
there are some very useful ukulele tabs and lyrics here

Since this video is 2007 I would say that this is John Butler, Shannon Birchall (bass) and Michael Barker (drums/percussion) The trio are Australian and began in 1998. John Butler was a busker and now owns his own recording company – and has had different members in his trio. Source Their styles are worth checking out as is the way they combine. Good inspiration and listening.

Another useful link is to a playlist in YouTube. I often go to playlists and play all the videos in it. This only one playlist example.
When I feel like listening to John Butler, I put a playlist on in the background while I do something else.

And if you want a treat (my opinion)
Keith Urban & The John Butler Trio – Aria Awards 2007

The Arts Australian Curriculum Resources June 2, 2013

Posted by Al Upton in : ukuleles , add a comment

The Australian Curriculum in The Arts nears it’s final manifestation.

I can’t wait. I’m keen to see the changes and just how it has increased in size and complexity.
I thought I’d share some of the resources I created from ACARA previously and am currently programming and developing lessons from.

Hyperlinked DRAFT Aust Curriculum The Arts F-10 In 16 hours, I hyperlinked and copy/pasted this document to make it easier to navigate from one area/year level to another. It includes all 5 Art subjects Dance, Drama, Media Arts, Music and Visual Arts and is indeed F – 10. If needed, I’ll do something similar when the final version comes out. This download is 89 pages long.

The links below cover the areas I’m in charge of – Dance, Drama, Media Arts and Music. They are each one A4 page.

Performing Arts 2013 Outline 01 R-2 Early Years

Performing Arts 2013 Outline 02 3-4 Primary Years

Performing Arts 2013 Outline 03 5-6 Primary Years

Performing Arts 2013 Outline 04 7-8 Middle Years

From the above 4 outlines here is just Music as it is the most relevant to this blog.
They demonstrate why we need Music teachers and that it’s difficult to teach it effectively in the classroom perhaps?
And what a privilege it  is to have a dedicated Music teacher. Congratulations to the schools who have managed to do this.
Any music teachers out there who would like to share how you meet outcomes please comment and consider sharing.
The same goes for anyone using or are interested in using ukuleles to meet Australian Curriculum outcomes.
Comment or use the ‘Contact Me’ form on the page/tab above.

Early Years R (F) – 2
Students will learn about and participate in the different roles of composer, performer and audience member. They will explore and experiment with voice, instruments and sound to create their own music. They will sing, play instruments and found sound sources, and move to a range of music. They will develop a repertoire of chants, songs, rhythms, rhymes and melodies. They will invent and explore ways of recording musical thinking through symbols. Students will begin to use music terminology. They will listen and respond to a range of musical works and develop their aural skills. They will learn to respond and comment on their own music making and that of others.

Primary 3-4
Students will use their developing aural skills and musical terminology in composing, performing and responding to their own and others’ performances. They will build on their knowledge, as they use and select elements of music to structure simple musical compositions, which they will record using invented and conventional notations. They will sing, play instruments and move to music, demonstrating an understanding of musical concepts. They will use a range of technologies to record and communicate their musical ideas, and access those of others. Through performing, listening and composing, students will identify the use of musical elements in performances and share opinions about the ways these create meaning and musical effect in their own and others’ music.

Primary 5-6
Students will use their developing understanding of music concepts and elements to arrange, compose, improvise and perform music. They will use a range of technologies to plan, organise and record their musical ideas and access those of others. Students’ musical practices will be underpinned by a developing use of music notation, aural skills and music terminology. Their music making as arrangers, composers, and improvisers will demonstrate an increased awareness of a range of musical styles and genres. They will perform an increasingly diverse musical repertoire of songs and instrumental compositions. In responding, students will identify key features in music that they perform and listen to, and make some informed judgments about musical preferences.

Middle 7-8
Students will develop the skills and understanding to engage in music as knowledgeable music makers and audience members. They will arrange, compose, improvise and perform for various purposes. They will demonstrate knowledge and understandings of musical elements, materials, ideas, styles and technologies. They will sing and play instruments to realise their own and others’ musical ideas and works. Students will respond critically to their own and others’ musical works and practices, using the concepts of music and terminology to communicate their understandings. Through listening, performing and composing they will begin to identify cultural, social and historical contexts of music.

Join a Group – It’s Fun May 26, 2013

Posted by Al Upton in : ukuleles , add a comment

I cannot repeat enough the importance of practice, playing with others … and having fun!

I also want to be able to make a point of (and try to role-model) lifelong/ongoing learning, having a go, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been playing (just over a month for us both) and jumping in the deep end/dipping your toe in. Many thanks to Selim for suggesting doing a duet in front of our group the Southern Ukulele Strummers … and the challenge (for me anyway) of ‘Hey, Soul Sister’.

Another challenge was (I should have simply tapped the tablet’s touch screen) using (for the first time) an automated scroller. There are so many advantages to using scrolling lyrics (larger font size, chords in different colours for a start) and having a set list of all the songs you plan or might want to play/sing. The application is Lyric Paddemo. Get from Google Play

Our chord and fingering A4 sheets May 17, 2013

Posted by Al Upton in : ukuleles , add a comment

We have 33 coloured and laminated sheets of the learning sheet below (more commonly called a cheat sheet)
These are in front of each student and rest on an angle against their swags for quick and easy viewing/reference.
They can also be used in groups. I wanted to design a single A4 sheet that can be as flexible in the early stages as possible.
I traced a student’s hand then one of the ukuleles and quickly put in what I thought might be useful, hence …
it’s a bit rough but I think I’ll keep it that way. Time to do other things plus …
the phrase ‘rough and ready’ has the word ‘ready’ in it .. and that’s what we want.

Updated Learning Sheet









click to enlarge image

then right click ‘save image as’ if you want a copy



Students put their left hand palm up (can see the wrinkles) and the ukulele neck on top of it dot side up.

They try to get their thumb somewhere on the back of the neck … not throttling it … with space between  left hand and neck.
Insist on left hand and same numbered fingers for all students and all ages EG ring/3rd finger on red dot to play C chord

Uses same colour code as the dots on the fretboards. Same numbering as on ukuleles for C, G7 and F.
For more view this post ‘Enhanced ukulele fretboard dot system’
Additional chords have best finger choices eg ‘1’ on A7.
Chord choices at top include …
Most common chords for many, many contemporary songs C, G, Am, F (and often in that order) eg Hey, Soul Sister – Train
plus Em and D – both handy formations to create other chords elsewhere on the fretboard.
C, G and D are next to each other. C, G7 and F easy to find and recognise because of their prominence on fretboard.
G7 under G as it’s easier to play at first eg C, G7, Am, F. Not easier when it doesn’t sound quite right if the song uses a G chord.
A7, D7 and E7 next to each other (and in that order) for blues/12bar etc … note that D7 uses the same fingering as E7 hence my choice to also use green dots to help explain it. After only two weeks I’ve already had some students playing those three chords and the uke seems to take on new meaning for them :)
The C scale is there and is referenced by dots … shown under the smiley. String names are also on the sheet.
There’s more to what I’ve put together here but these are my top 10 chords to teach at first (but teach others as they are needed)
Please – any and all feedback, ideas and suggestions welcome. Also how are you teaching ukulele to your students?

More pics and discussion on this post ‘Welcome the GuleleS and our chord board’ 

Welcome the GuleleS (and our chord board) May 16, 2013

Posted by Al Upton in : ukuleles , add a comment

Student decision making (R-7) at work. The favourite name.
Oh so important to have a name.

It’s even been suggested by students in a couple of classes that (paraphrased)
You don’t say the words like ‘Glenelg Ukulele School’ …just say something like

“… and now … welcome onto the stage …

The Guleles! -Glenelg Primary School.”

So cool :)

Our chord board – a work in progress. Coloured magnets relate to fretboard dots. Click photo to see larger image.
Follow this link for a free download of the printouts I used and modified.

The four ‘main chords’ that can be used in so many contemporary songs.
I’ve written in  the fingering using shiny textas … all ones are in gold, twos/threes are in silver.

Adding G7 into main four chords …  easier as  G7 is shown by the green dots on the fretboard.  Add Em and Dm for C chord family.

Blue circles show the ‘full’ chord fingering on the same chart as the easier alternative.
Put A7 down here and look at the blues and other combinations.
The magnetic blue dots bring A7, E7 and D7 together. They are easier to play and get the students into a blues/rock&roll/12bar  feel in a fun and funky way.
The full barre with the number 1 index finger in D7 and Bm are important for moving chord formations up and down the fretboard .. good way to get to Cm for example.

Enhanced ukulele fretboard dot system May 14, 2013

Posted by Al Upton in : miniLegends , add a comment

A handy reference I put out in front of the kids (screen and on grass) which links string names, chord names, chord family (most common/’easy’ C, F, G7), finger positioning, which finger to use where, open/closed notes, how to spell ‘ukulele’.



First ‘damage’ happened in week 1. I saw it all, total accident and took quite a hit for this tiny bit of paint to chip away. Can’t be precious but good reminder to do what you can to keep them well looked after. Good opportunity to remind students that the ukulele is a genuine, musical instrument and deserves respect as such. The dolphin doesn’t look too fazed so why should I be? OK, OK! At first I was … a bit. And the finger prints! Don’t talk to me about the finger prints.



It can be daunting to work out exactly where to place the fingers etc. ‘Easy’ chords doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot to learn and coordinate when beginning. In all classes (7 – 13 year olds) of about 30 students the vast majority were able to find and play the C chord well. I was able to walk around the centre of the circle to check and help them when needed. A test class of Year 5 and 6 students worked out C and F in their first lesson with no visual aids on the fretboard and by helping each other. Other students’ learn more effectively plus their enjoyment and sense of immediate accomplishment benefits from visual aids on the fretboard. All students can benefit.


Here’s what I used for the fretboard “dots”. Firstly one of Mike Jackson’s books and the way he promotes the use of these coloured dots for these three chords. Thanks Mike for all your contributions to those learning the ukulele. From Office Works (readily available and they can order in if they run out) 8mm assorted coloured dots (red dots have 3 written on them – permanent marker, yellow have 1 and 2, green have 1,2 and 3), lighter coloured smilies and stars. Also a plastic kiwi fruit cutter/spoon (or something similar) to more easily put the dots on the fretboard under the strings. Thanks to my wife for that idea. x


Fretboard dots assist the teaching and language of navigation for correct finger placement. EG It’s important to insist on using the ring finger of the left hand behind the 3rd fret on the first string to play the C chord. If you can see only one red dot with the number 3 on it, it makes it so much easier. More importantly is the need to be able to create new chords from the existing reference dots eg F to Am, F to Dm. Teaching over 650 students of varying ages and abilities (considering Australian Curriculum outcomes) I also wanted to have a visual reference for other chords, fretboard positions/progressions, notes and melodies etc. It was so important to only write the numbers for C, F and G7. Now for playing and singing the songs the kids want to do, I realised I need to quickly be able to get to C, F, Am, G/G7 plus Dm and Em – the C chord family …. so important to be able to play those chords you can play “any” song with – C, Am, F and G.

Woah! Looks too busy? At first I thought so too (during the design of it) but it’s easy to forget that these kids are experts at finding Wally and visual references help so much with location, navigation, explanation and understanding. See previous picture for part of the rationale and I’ll post (plus create resource/s) how I plan to teach and play with this enhanced reference system on my blog -http://alupton.edublogs.org/. I acknowledge again Mike Jackson for his establishment of setting out the 3 basic chords and have followed the same colour and choice for consistency .. plus, hey .. it’s C, F and G7 

To help understand this enhanced dot system, I’ll include some examples here;

(“Play C, move your ring finger onto the smiley, what fingers can you easily put down on two green dots?”)

A7 (blue dot, what finger would you use? Go from C6 – all strings open – to A7 and back again, repeat … hammer on/pull off … finger strength and muscle memory exercises.)

Em (middle finger on the smiley, index on green, ring on the star. Move that diagonal line formation up and down the fretboard. Where does it sound ‘right’?’)

Bb “Index finger across both smiley and red dot, middle finger on the star, move up and down, move down behind the first fret … ring finger on white dot)

Advance Australia Fair (start with ring finger on smiley, discover the song in your group/pair/self using only open G string, open A string, smiley, red and other dotted markers on the top/first/A string .. what fingers did you use? Hint there is one note not marked, which one is it, what is it called …?)

Scales (C scale … open C – root note – 2 on green dot, open E, 1 on green dot, 3 on smiley, open A, 1 on space, 3 on red dot then back down to open C … practice, compose a melody, play with C, F and G7 chords)

Play/sing student choice for a cover (‘….’ by ‘….’ What chords are used? G/D/A/Em/Bm … O.K… G … learnt that one … D … middle finger on yellow 2, ring on green 2, move them across so index/1 can go on yellow 2 … A … index on blue middle on yellow 2 … + Em or Bm (learn/revise/practice as needed)

Tuning (what note is the star, what open string is the same as the star, what does this mean for tuning ‘by ear’?)

Barre (right across from white dot to the red dot, can you get your first knuckle over the white dot? move the barre up and down .. this leads to the full D7 (barre behind 2nd fret, index/3 on red dot) as well as discovering ‘Smoke on the Water’)

Music styles and genre (Blues/12 Bar Progression, I IV V, A7 – index finger on blue dot, alternative D7 middle finger on yellow 2 dot, ring finger on space 2nd fret, E7 – 2 and 3 green dots plus index finger first fret/space on g string. Even a solo … 3 strums across C, E and A strings for each descending note -> index finger behind 5th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st then open on E string. Then E7 and back to the beginning A7 or finish on single strum A7 or the ‘big finish’ roll strum!

Similar positioning to above (with index and middle fingers) leads to learning of Jake Shimabukuro’s ‘Crazy G’ .. great fun and develops speed while reinforcing much that needs to be covered from allowing open strings to sound clearly to hammering on with the 4th finger. A simple and flexible adaptation to allow all years and abilities to be engaged.

There is so much more. I’ve designed the extra dots so we can get to all basic chords as quickly as possible or when needed.

Think of the chord families,
the D family now needs F#m (easy with that blue dot) and Bm (bit more difficult but alternatives abound),
F family need Gm and C7 (that space on first/top/A string … the four separated SPACES are so important to this design),
A chord family (D and E7 – we will probably need to be able to play these early in our learning chosen songs. If adding in Bm and C#m then maybe just play C/E/A string at 2nd and 4th fret respectively),
Bb family (Cm barre top 3 strings at 3rd fret – the white dot fret … F7 – play F and put ring finger on space on C string, Gm is F7 moved aross and visa versa.

There is so much more with unlimited possibilities. Of course, diagrams for each individual chord need to accompany this learning. I’m planning to create a coloured resource/s following this system that can also be used for chord families as well as song creation and playing. I’ve begun a ‘Ukuleles, School and Me’ board on Pinterest. Simply find and click it then click what you are interested in eg “Ukulele chord diagrams and families ‘cheat sheet’. Excellent book and resource.” (Look in the board with the grass circle of ukes on the cover) http://pinterest.com/alrupton/ Other shortcuts can be found in the About page.
These pictures with notes can also be found in a photo album of mine in Facebook – Go to the ‘About’ page for links. Cheers, Al

Getting started with the ukes May 13, 2013

Posted by Al Upton in : miniLegends , add a comment

Double Performing Arts rooms at Glenelg Primary School. At the back I’ve used a great deal of recycled materials and set up a stage with wings, lights and a control desk with sound mixer plus heaps more. In the front room you can see our astro grass circle with 30 ukuleles on ‘swags’ … easy to quickly pick up to tune and play, respecting the instruments at the same time. More details on the ukuleles elsewhere – I.E. with the other pictures. All questions and suggestions welcome.





Makala Dolphin ukuleles (about $40AUS) are great for kids to start with giving a wonderful sound and few problems such as the action and tuning once strings have settled in. If a student already has a uke, that is wonderful so long as it isn’t an obvious toy I suppose. If they are going to purchase a new one, I would recommend a Makala. The ‘swags’ are my creation so that the ukes can be quickly, safely and respectfully handled without knocking them especially the tuners. I later put rubber bands around the masking tape to hold these foam squares covered in neoprene (used for stubby holders/wet suits) .. In 2005 when I was a class teacher, I asked one of my student’s parents to make these to put on the back of those uncomfortable plastic chairs we expect kids to sit on all day.




My amp (bought from a wonderful AUAS member – Adelaide Ukulele Appreciation Society) is just on loan from home for now although the effects and rhythm box are a bonus … an excellent book I recommend for beginners to intermediate and I can see so much for more advanced players .. and our awesome UBass. We have two amps (plus cables etc) still on their way, an acoustic and a bass for use with the electric ukuleles.





The Makala Concert and Kala acoustic/electric tenor. This is where I sit and often teach from when I’m not up and about on the move. I can use the computer and project up onto the larger TV screen next to it. I’m trying to set things up so we can get to the instruments safely and with ease .. so we can get on with creating and sharing music … having fun learning. To the right looking at this picture is a small magnetic whiteboard we use in so many different ways. The latest example is “What sort of songs would you like to learn to play on the ukulele? What do you watch/listen to?” Not surprisingly I’m getting lists (from Receptions – aged 5 – to Year Sevens – aged 13) that much more resemble the covers put up on YouTube. The same songs they would like at their disco next week. Relevance and their personal taste is the secret to engage kids I’m sure.


It’s not all about ukuleles. I teach Dance, Drama, Media Arts and Music. The instruments need to be stored safely and securely .. this is one side of my office where I can double lock the doors. I can also sit on a swivel chair and quickly tune them all plus students can orderly get and return them here. I’ve used recycled library shelves and jean cushions that a grandmother of one my students made many years ago for those uncomfortable plastic chairs. Schools are not always the best environment for learning .. but don’t get me wrong … we are so fortunate to have the Performing Arts so highly valued here at Glenelg Primary School.



Another parent donated this basket. How perfect to store all 30 swags right next to the grass circle which we use every lesson .. even if it’s just coming in and sitting around, say hi and talk about what we what we plan to do that day. Thanks to everyone for their ideas and contributions. Like the ukulele world .. it’s a real community effort and who knows where we are destined?





I used this rubber band ball from Office Works to tidy up the swags. The masking tape was temporary and ‘proof of concept’, many of thin brown rubber bands snapped.


Looks more attractive and better for quick storage. The dots are on now as well.

Ukes4Troops May 13, 2013

Posted by Al Upton in : ukuleles , add a comment

Here is a wonderful idea from an amazing South Australian teacher – Rick Whitehead.
Rick works at a northern school in Adelaide and teaches his Year 5 and 6 class the ukulele.
He is a strong advocate of ukulele playing especially by our youth.
Rick’s another one who combines learning with fun.
His idea has already travelled to other countries demonstrating the power of social media.

Well done Rick. Let’s see how much further your idea travels and how soon it becomes a reality.
We need someone to drive the ‘Ukes4Troops’ cause and/or sponsor it.
It wouldn’t cost much to get a few ukuleles together and ship them over to our troops.
Any governments listening?



spotted by Richard Tonkin via Twitter.

Richard is a joint (and generous) owner of  The Governor Hindmarsh Hotel – The GOV – which is THE venue for live music (including ukulele) and host of Adelaide’s umbrella ukulele group
Adelaide Ukulele Appreciation Society
“AUAS is the enthusiastic group of Adelaide uke players who meet on Tuesday nights at the Governor Hindmarsh Hotel. Bring a uke, a smile and $2 for costs
First Tuesday – beginners and novices
Second – workshop
Third – picking and strumming
Fourth – workshop”

I’ve shared this on my ‘UsnMe – Ukuleles, School and Me ‘ Pinterest board and my Twitter and Facebook accounts – #Ukes4Troops (add this hashtag to your messages)

EG “Check out this idea by Adelaide teacher Ukes4Troops Alleviate boredom n bring happiness They deserve it
http://tinyurl.com/Ukes4Troops #Ukes4Troops

Will you also share with your networks please? Feel free to use this post ….