All the kids in Joe Segal’s ukulele class know Good Cats Eat Ants. It’s how Segal helps them remember the notes of the four ukulele strings. Plus, it’s kid-friendly, just like the ukulele itself.
“The ukulele is a great instrument for kids to learn: it’s got four strings, it’s small, on the simple side. But it’s still beautiful and you can play a lot of songs,” said Segal. The ukulele’s smaller size means it’s easier for little ones to hold and wrap their fingers around, and it doesn’t require as much finger strength to press the strings to the frets.
These are some of the reasons Segal, a kindergarten teacher, loves teaching children how to play the ukulele. He started his after-school ukulele class at Bishop last school year and held two eight-week sessions. This year he hit the ground running and will have three rotations. Each cohort is made up of students from two grades; currently, he’s teaching 18 fourth- and fifth-graders.
Each child has a ukulele for the class; if they don’t have their own they can use one from the class set, which was donated by the Assistance League of Los Altos. Segal starts the course by introducing the students to the ukulele, its four strings, and their notes (that’s where good cats eat ants come in). He shows the kids how to hold the ukulele and teaches them the basic notes of the scale. Then they learn basic cords, and soon they are playing songs.
So far the students have learned “Monster Mash,” “Count on Me” by Bruno Mars, and “Happy Birthday.” Next they have requested they learn a sentimental song from science camp called “Shooting Star.” With that under their belts, they are sure to be fan favorites at future jam sessions.
Segal first taught his ukulele class when he worked at Vargas. He took a break for a few years when he started teaching special education, and when he moved to Bishop the ukulele class was one of the first things he talked about with his new principal, Tara Lubrano. “She was on board from the get-go,” he said.
His students are on board too. Fifth-grader Mateo N. said he joined the class because “all the other instruments are just boring, but the ukulele is old school. It’s just my style!”
Fellow fifth-grader Anshika T. also likes the ukulele. “When I grow up I want to be a singer and I feel the ukulele is a very bold instrument and very beautiful,” she said.
Meanwhile, fourth-grader Victor T.-B. noted that learning an instrument also requires work. “I’ve been learning that probably being a musician is harder than I thought,” he said.
To give more children the opportunity to experience music at school, Segal plays the guitar and ukulele every day in his kindergarten class, and on Fridays he brings out ukuleles during morning recess so the children can play them.
“Music is so enriching. I love playing it and teaching it,” said Segal.
Article submitted by Lighthouse Blue Communications Consultant Dyan Chan.