Learning to Strum Along

fundraising efforts to bring more ukuleles to Flynn Elementary music class

Barbara Arnold, photos by Andrea Paulseth

IT’S A STRING THING. Flynn Elementary students strum their ukuleles. The Eau Claire Music School and Morgan Music are working to get more of the instruments into the school.
IT’S A STRING THING. Flynn Elementary students strum their ukuleles. The Eau Claire Music School and Morgan Music are working to get more of the instruments into the school.

When Liz Soules, music teacher for Flynn Elementary School, starts her two fourth-grade music classes with 25 to 26 students in each room, there’s a lot of moving around. But not for rhythmic reasons; rather, ukulele-sharing reasons. And there simply are not enough to go around for each child to have his or her own.

When the fourth graders are playing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” they almost look as if they are actually rowing a boat with the ukulele serving as a musical paddle. Each row plays and when finished, the student stands up, hands off the ukulele to the student behind them, and then that student picks up the body, places their fingers on the frets, and away they go, strumming and singing at the same time.

“The ukulele is an instrument that students can get excited about.” – Nick Poss, owner of the Eau Claire Music School

“These are my biggest classes so I need about 20 more,” says Liz. She took up the ukulele last summer for the first time, and wanted an instrument to supplement the recorder. 

Enter Nick Poss, owner of the Eau Claire Music School, who partnered with Morgan Music and Liz to create a GoFundMe fundraising page to bring more ukuleles into her classroom. They reached their initial goal in a couple of days, and have extended the goal to raise money for additional instruments, according to Poss.  

Liz and Nick aren’t going to stop. Both former Blugolds graduated from UW-Eau Claire with majors in music education. Liz is a self-admitted band geek. Her main instrument is the euphonium, and she picks up the trombone from time to time. She is one of three identical triplet sisters from Menomonie. Her sister Theresa Soules is the band director at North High School. Her other sister Becky works at UW-Eau Claire and plays the tuba.

And Nick?

His main instrument is the piano followed by the banjo, and ultimately the ukulele. He is also the one who started the ukulele classes for adults and children at the Eau Claire Music School. During the summer, he holds ukulele camps. And this fall, he plans to start a ukulele orchestra.

So, why the ukulele?

“The ukulele is an instrument that students can get excited about,” says Nick. It’s fun to play and culturally relevant to them. They can learn melody, harmony, rhythm, and music theory while playing with an ensemble and contributing to the swarm of singing voices. The skills they learn in school can be used in the future to learn guitar, banjo, or any other fretted string instrument. Really, learning the ukulele in school is preparing students for a lifetime of music making.

Students will learn skills that they can use to play the kinds of music they like. Because ukulele is so versatile, students are more likely to be able to play the kinds of music that interests them.

To learn more about the fundraising effort check out www.gofundme.com/ukesatschool. And if you’re interested in ukulele lessons through the Eau Claire Music School, visit their website at www.eauclairemusicschool.com.

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