3 Easy Ukulele Songs Kids Can Play with Just 2 Chords

I wrote this article for takelessons.com, a great San Diego-based company and website for teachers of all kinds of disciplines.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo your adorable child has an adorable new uke. Pretend jam sessions were big fun for a few days, but now what? Like in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, it’s time to learn to play!

The Getting-Started Secret: 2-chord Songs

Kids can make fast progress and get hooked on their success with simple 2-chord songs in the key of C. And with you singing along, presto, the joy of family music-making begins! Deep in our collective past, music time was a very satisfying part of family life. We’ll connect you and yours to all that goodness with these 3 easy ukulele songs for kids.

C & G7Chord diagrams for C and G7 give you and your child all the info you need to get started. 1=left hand index finger, 2=middle finger, 3=ring finger. Voila! For now, make simple down strokes, or “strums”, on the beat using right index fingernail or thumb pad, whichever feels better. (For tips on tuning, check out this takelessons.com blog post on how-to-tune-a-ukulele.)

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

First up, this super-simple version of Row, Row, Row Your Boat only requires one switch from C to G7 and back to C. Bonus: it has a positive, peaceful message. So sweet and light, but actually deeply wise! The slashes after chord names show you where to strum.


C       /       /             /
Row, row, row your boat

/           /             /           /
Gently down the stream.

/           /           /           /
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,

G7     /       C       /
Life is but a dream.

Big Tip for Fast Success

Start beginners with just the C chord. Have the young player-in-training pat the beat on the body of the instrument when it’s time for the G7 chord. Kids like the percussive move, and it teaches them to do something different for a certain number of beats and then get on back to C. After C sounds good (press harder until it does), with ease in the transition from strumming to patting, and the percussive move has lost its initial pizzazz, add G7 to the mix. Sing along, re-connecting with the kid in you. Woohoo!

London Bridge is Falling Down

Next up, London Bridge is Falling Down is a great teaching tool. Its quicker tempo and multiple verses reinforce successful strumming and chord changes. G7 shows up regularly this time, moving the young player forward. Again, the enjoyment of your relaxed participation will promote regular engagement. I’m always telling kids—and their parents—that learning an instrument isn’t something you can “cram” for. It’s all about repetition, which makes the magic of skills development happen. Thus the importance of creating an environment in which regular playing time, even just 15 minutes at a time, is satisfying and fun.


C           /             /         /
London Bridge is falling down,

G7       /         C       /
falling down, falling down,

C           /             /         /
London Bridge is falling down,

G7     /     C       /
my    fair  lady.

Build it up with silver and gold…
Gold and silver I have none…
Build it up with needles and pins…
Pins and needles bend and break…
Etc. There are countless versions and verses.

Three Blind Mice

Three Blind Mice is another perennial favorite, its carving-knife drama memorable and even scandalous to 21st century kids. Encourage the practice that leads to mastery, and remind beginners that they can always go back to patting the instrument for a bit when transitions are challenging. If you’re singing along, your purposeful, expectant pause for the next chord will prompt your young player-in-training to go for it. Then forge happily ahead. Again, keep it fun!


C       /       /       /
Three blind mice,      

/        /       /       /
three blind mice,

G7     /             C     /
see how they run,      

G7     /             C     /
see   how they run.

C         G7         C           /
They all ran after the farmer’s wife,

C             G7             C           /
who cut off their tails with a carving knife.

C           G7             C                 /
Did ever you see such a sight in your life

C     G7     /       /
as three blind mice.

(And there are lots of variations on the next-to-the-last line. Did you ever see… You never did see… Choose the one you and your child like best.)

So there you have it, 3 easy ukulele songs that will get your young player making music fast. You’ll enjoy yourself, too, since what some folks say is true: the uke really is a happiness machine.


Teresa Young teaches private music students in Los Angeles and coaches savvy folks in accomplishing passion-based goals in healthy new ways. Her clients include Boomers seeking fulfillment in the second half of life and GenXers and Millennials looking for meaning from the start. She coaches by phone, in person, and via Skype outside the U.S.


Bodhi on Uke B&W


Sharing important music education research!

HuffPost MusicEd PieceI got wind of a recent Huffington Post piece on music education through my childhood friend Dr. Nancy Gamso, woodwind faculty at Ohio Wesleyan University. The short article reports on important research findings on the power of music education to close achievement gaps. I’ll share it with you here and interpret it for you briefly in this post.

A study just out from Northwestern University shows results of research on the impact of music education on the nervous systems of at-risk children and their resulting achievement gains. Northwestern partnered with L.A.’s Harmony Project after the organization contacted researchers to share their own remarkable findings:  Since 2008, “over 90 percent of high school seniors who participated in Harmony Project’s free music lessons went on to college, even though the high school dropout rates in the surrounding Los Angeles areas can reach up to 50 percent.” That statistic in itself is PHENOMENAL. Northwestern’s press release quotes Harmony Project founder, Dr. Margaret Martin, saying that “this success is rooted, at least in part, in the unique brain changes imparted by making music.”

HuffPost ResearchPiece“Researchers from the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern spent two summers with children in Los Angeles who were receiving music lessons through Harmony Project, a non-profit organization providing free music education to low-income students. In order to document how music education changed children’s brains, students were hooked up to a neural probe that allowed researchers to see how they distinguished similar speech sounds, a neural process that is linked to language and reading skills.” Continue reading

A philosophy of music education

Singing funIntroduction

Music and children have been two central themes in my beautiful life, so I’m thrilled to begin articulating my point of view as a music educator. In case you don’t know, we’re at a critical juncture, at least here in Southern California, where arts programming has been of late and remains either scarce or at best vulnerable, and where new catch phrases like “arts integration” are currently going down the wrong road, minus substantive input from seasoned arts specialists. It’s essential that we re-focus on time-tested approaches to excellence in arts programming and commit to new ones grounded in what we know. So this piece is, as much as a philosophy statement, a defense of consistent, truly collaborative models for music and arts education.

First, very importantly, my approach is, yes, fundamentally integrative. I don’t want the term to become a pejorative! My natural, joyful focus is on providing avenues through which children and young people can express themselves, build musical skills, and perhaps catch the expressive “bug”, with its happy itch for deeper musical exploration, while meanwhile benefiting from the musical elaboration of all kinds of curricular themes. This translates to endless excitement, for my students and for me.

ricardo-in-belizeI’ll also declare here that I’m a generalist, a term I was introduced to beautifully a decade or so ago by my gifted architect/artist collaborator Ricardo Accorsi. (More about the relationship between architecture and music someday, with pleasure.) As a generalist, I provide opportunities to challenge and enrich all students, not just the most musical ones. It’s a privilege, and amazing terrain: the positive energy, playfulness, openness, curiosity, and courage of children. They teach, lighten, inspire, and delight me daily. So, with this background info as context, I’ll share an overarching educational philosophy that rings true to me these days, within which I’m passionate about integrating music, the arts, and more.

Individualized Learning for Individual Learners

I think about how many times a new declaration of what to teach and test has been made in recent years. In the midst of it all, and armed with everything I’ve learned since my own early childhood, through teaching, and in raising my three grown sons, it seems to me now that everything comes down to individual learners, to who they each are and what makes each one tick, to going deep into projects that interest them as fulcrums through which all kinds of learning can occur, including critical thinking, analysis, research, synthesis, expository and creative writing, and substantive exposure to relevant technologies. Continue reading

Some Little Friends Came By

++++Some little friends came by
to play and pound
++++++++and dance around,
+++at moments in the zone
+together with a

++++Truth is, I wept
as we jammed out,
++++++++their eyes bright lights
+++like my fine boys, now men
+who rarely come this way to

++++The young ones
listened well
++++++++to they themselves hell-
+++raising; we’ll concoct
+more newbie music as it’s
++++++++ I
+++++++++ am


Reflections on Orff Schulwerk Level I Training in L.A.

First, a personal newsflash: Kevin and I got married last month! We threw a beautiful local al fresco celebration, visited our hometowns in FL and CO, then hightailed it back to L.A. in time for me to leap into some training that I’ve been anticipating since I dipped my toe into an L.A. Orff Association (LACAOSA) workshop last spring and it rocked my world.

Kids moving!This time I dove off the deep end into Orff Schulwerk Level I Training. It’s the first of three levels of study that are taken at least a year apart to allow for exploration and integration in between. Certification follows successful completion of Level III. Orff Schulwerk “levels training” is offered annually all over the world during June, July and August, and in Los Angeles through Cal State L.A.’s Extended Studies Program. L.A.’s 2013 Level I faculty included:

    • Lead Instructor Liz Keefe, composer, Orff specialist and American Orff-Schulwerk Association (AOSA) National Conference presenter from Reed Elementary School in Tiburon, CA
    • Movement Instructor William Salmon, Orff specialist and music, movement and drama teacher at Chandler School in Pasadena, CA
    • Recorder Instructor Robbie Trombetta, Orff specialist at Crossroads School in Santa Monica, CA
    • Program Coordinator Dr. David Connors, Orff specialist, Acting Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Letters and Professor of Music at Cal State L.A., and AOSA National Conference presenter

Dr. Connors led Level II training while Liz led Level I. The two groups shared him for morning warm-ups and Will and Robbie as movement and recorder instructors.

Swaying and playingThe LACAOSA workshop I attended last spring integrated music and movement beautifully, so I arrived for the 2-week, 4-unit Level I course thinking I would meet teachers there from music and movement backgrounds. Now I know it requires music education as prerequisite training. A bit of what follows may be gibberish to non-musicians, but most of my comments will make sense to educators, parents, and creative thinkers in the performing and visual arts, language arts, sciences, maths, and beyond.

As I reflect on this training now with a little rest under my belt, process comes to mind first. I’m thrilled to have received example after example of masterfully crafted creative experiences, and a wealth of culturally and historically rich repertoire and resource information that will ignite the explorations of my young students this year.

Playing recorderAnd in a big breakthrough for me, the soprano recorder and I have begun a friendship after years of reluctance on my part. I’m ready to embrace it now, as a child-friendly vehicle to 3rd grade fine motor and music reading explorations that signal a year of transition from lower to upper elementary. I’ll find some recorder “woodshed” time next, working for the musicality that Robbie modeled.

Additional breakthroughs abounded. For one, I saw through a blind spot in my thinking:  I hadn’t realized yet that I can access a variety of major and minor tonal centers on barred percussion, without resorting to accidentals, despite all those lovely xylophones and metallophones being oriented to C. (Ah, the magic of pentatonic!) And while Liz coached us one morning to simplify, simplify, I had an “aha” moment, complete with goosebumps: I suddenly physically and psychically got that Orff’s incremental, experiential approach will ground my savvy students’ musicianship deep in their bodies, voices, ears, minds, and hearts.

Boys movingA crescendo of realizations kept building in me while my post-honeymoon glow fizzled. Haha! But seriously, I was blown away by how members of our class of music teachers of all ages, backgrounds, cultures, personalities, shapes and sizes were re-energized again and again—despite varying levels of comfort with group processes, messy commutes, long days, rigorous movement segments, and nightly homework—by explorations combining music, movement, speech, story, improvisation, and small group collaboration. I confess amazement at the potency of our experiences and the energetic shift from whew to wow! that kept happening in the room. Now I’m psyched to offer my students refreshing, integrative “imagination sessions” in the midst of their own busy lives.

And the relationships I’ve begun with my fellow participants and our instructors are priceless! Our new connections within this passionate tribe can aid us in the teaching year ahead, providing community, access to a great mix of musical disciplines and cultural and generational perspectives, and support to keep ourselves healthily self-ful (to borrow an evocative term from MUSE School CA’s head of school and self-efficacy expert Jeff King). Maybe those of us who are local will even get together for a little folk dancing!

Children clappingAs an educator and mother, I’ve always believed that compelling arts experiences in childhood aren’t just preparation for adulthood, but are unforgettable life events in their own right. While, yes, they engender self-confidence and appreciation for differing gifts and interests, grow and connect critical neural pathways, teach planning, practice, teamwork, and completion processes, and help “set the stage” for dynamic relationships and passion-based work in any field.

Today I’m vibrating with energy, like Orff Level I training plugged me into a 500,000-watt circuit board. As I enjoy facilitating all kinds of collaborative, integrative, music-centric experiences this year, I’ll be anticipating the pedagogical fruits of Orff Schulwerk Level II. I predict from watching our instructors work that it includes saying less and less when facilitating music learning and creative exploration, and eliciting more and more. Inspired by their quiet educational artistry, I’ll seek to emulate it as my students sing, play, move, imagine and create their way through 2013-14.

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