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THE HILO ukulele (around $45)
I have about 15 Hilo ukes that I purchased back in 2006. These are durable instruments and none have broken after many years of use, so that is a positive point. However, they do not have Aquila strings, so they take a lot of stretching and tuning before they will stay in tune. This may be a concern for you if you don't have lots of time between classes, or if you are new to tuning. Because they are not high quality strings, they do not sound as bright as the Kala. The finish on this ukulele looks like it was airbrushed with a wood color and finished with a little gloss. If this is what fits your price point and you don't mind the extra tuning, it is a nice uke.
When your new class set of ukuleles arrive, you will have to tune them, which means stretching strings.
When I purchased my class set of ukuleles I had open boxes of ukes piled up in my living room for a week. My husband helped me as we stretched and tuned each ukulele several times a day until we finally noticed that the ukes were staying in tune. With the Kala ukuleles this will happen much faster because they have higher quality tuning pegs and the more expensive Aquila strings. I found this blog on tuning and stretching strings that I thought you might find helpful.
Colored stickers make it easy for kids to remember how to play their first three ukulele chords.
I see my students only once a week, sometimes less than that. It was no wonder that before I started using stickers it took forever for my kids to remember where to put their fingers. Since I started using stickers, the kids feel more confidant and happy, knowing right away where to put their fingers. After several lessons, when my students are comfortable playing the three first chords (I do C, F and G7) I find they quickly pick up other chords without any need for stickers. I first tried the paper stickers from the office supply stores, but found they faded or fell off. So, I have my own stickers made and now sell them. These ukulele stickers are vinyl stickers and laminated so that they stay on forever and do not fade. 35 sets of stickers for only $15 including shipping.
I teach ukulele at two different schools. I have five different brands of ukuleles at each school and the kids really know which one they prefer. As an example, frequently a student with one of the cheap ukes will be adamant that their uke is out of tune. I have to assure them that it is in tune, but is just a cheaper uke, so it doesn't sound as nice as the others. Below are the five ukes that I have at school and they are listed in the order of my students preference. I'll let you decide what works best for you.
THE KALA KA=15S (around $65 - $75)
This is the number 1 choice for both my students and myself.
I have several of these ukuleles in my classroom. What impressed me most is the how fast the strings were able to stay in tune, and how nice it sounds. My students have noticed how nice they sound and prefer to play them rather than the other ukes. This Kala uke comes with geared tuners (a must) and Aquila strings which are my personal favourite for uke strings. The strings started holding their tune after a few days, so I was able to complete a full lesson without having to tune them. After a few weeks, I found them staying in tune on a day to day basis. The nice mahogany body has a beautiful wood tone to it which makes this a real nice looking uke.
Felt picks are a great tool to help your students feel great about playing ukulele.
I remember when I first started playing ukulele, how much my finger tip hurt before I fingered out how to strum properly. That is why I let my students decide if they want the challenge to strum there ukulele with their finger or if they want to use a felt pick for part of the lesson. You can buy perfectly shaped picks from traditional music stores for 1.50 each. If you don't mind hand cut squares, you can buy your felt ukulele picks from my store for only 40 cents each. 50 for $20 shipping included.
THE KALA WATERMAN ($56 - $69)
I wish I had a couple of the Waterman ukuleles. I tried this ukulele out last month summer at a ukulele festival. The booth owner had just received it and asked my opinion. I was at first skeptical because it is a plastic ukulele, but when I tried it I was sold! It has a nice sound and seems to be quite durable, especially for us uke teachers who are in portables or basements where wood is affected by humidity. It has a great sound and I plan to buy some next time I need to replace a class uke.
I personally do not like this ukulele. Nor do my students like the Mahalo ukulele.
I have 5 of these ukes and I always feel sorry for the student who gets this one. Frequently a student will tell me that their uke is out of tune, when if fact it is in tune. The Mahalo ukulele just sounds really cheap. It appears to be made out of a pressed cardboard and then painted with a thick coat of acrylic paint. I tell my kids that if this is all they can afford, it is better than nothing, but if they can, save a bit more money and buy a Kala. Also, these ukuleles take forever to stay in tune. The gears are really cheap and add to the problem of not staying in tune.
THE BUSHMAN JENNY ($269)
This is not your average classroom ukulele. I used to own a music store in town and so after leaving the store and returning to teaching full time, I was lucky enough to have kept several of these ukes. I keep them in the class as rewards for kids to play. If you are looking for a special uke for yourself, this is a really nice uke to buy. Beautiful sound and workmanship.
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Ukulele lessons for your classroom