Emily Arrow loves the ukulele, and she loves teaching it to kids. Like many people who play a musical instrument, she started with piano when she was 6 or 7 and then picked up guitar.
It wasn’t until she was in college that she picked up the ukulele and realized the benefits of the instrument. It matches her voice well, and it’s a lighter instrument that’s easier to wrap your hands around than a guitar. It’s also got four strings instead of six, and it doesn’t take as much pressure from your fingers to make a chord.
“For kids learning to play,” she says, “it makes a nice sound.”
Parents whose children have picked up things like the trumpet, clarinet or tuba know what it sounds like when an instrument doesn’t make a nice sound for a beginner: painful.
It’s also great as an instrument for a beginning singer, she says. There are also different sizes of ukulele, so you can take on the next challenge when you feel confident in your first one. Ukuleles are fairly affordable, too. A good one ranges from $40 for a soprano to $100 for a tenor, Arrow says.
Arrow has written the book “Kids’ Guide to Learning the Ukulele” to share her love of ukulele with kids, ideally those who are in early elementary school.
She’ll be at BookPeople on Jan. 25 to show kids how to use the book.
Arrow, 29, grew up in the Midwest and then went to college in Boston at the Berklee College of Music. She was an elementary school music teacher in Los Angeles and moved to Nashville to open up a children’s bookstore and music space. Then she moved to Houston, and now, after her BookPeople appearance, she’ll be moving to Portland, Ore.
Arrow says this whole journey of writing a book began when she was an elementary school music teacher and was shooting video and posting it on YouTube.
There are plenty of adult books on how to learn the ukulele, and those might be better suited for high schoolers, or maybe even middle schoolers, but Arrow’s book is really for the elementary schooler.
The book uses a color-coded system that shows kids where to put their fingers. You can re-create that by putting colored stickers on the neck of the ukulele. Some ukuleles also come with colored dots already on them. “You’re not having to learn every bit of theory before you can get to the instrument,” she says.
As the book progresses, the songs get more difficult, but are still doable for the beginning player. The book only teaches four chords: C, G, A minor and F. A second book would go into more complicated chords.
She’ll also be launching videos on her website, emilyarrow.com, to extend the experience of the book. You can play along while you learn songs.
How do you know if your kid is ready to take up an instrument?
Often kids will show an interest in music or a song. They might even ask for an instrument or to take a lesson.
Before you go head-first into buying an instrument, borrow one or rent one to try it out. If you are going to buy a ukulele, she recommends a tenor that is waterproof because it will stay in tune longer and you don’t have to worry about ruining it over lunch or a trip to the beach.
The trickiest part, Arrow says, is tuning the instrument.
Arrow sees the ukulele as a gateway instrument to others such as piano and guitar. The ukulele teaches accompaniment, she says. “If you can understand chords,” she says, “it translates to piano.”
Arrow is also working on a children’s picture book, “Studio: A Place for Art to Start,” which will be about creating visual art. It will be available March 3.