What’s the best age for children to start learning ukulele?

This is a topic close to my heart – my mother started me off on the ukulele at age six. The ukulele is a great instrument for kids – it’s small, inexpensive and doesn’t take years to learn.

I’ve taught lots of children and family groups, and I think the right age to start is when they show an interest in learning. From five years onwards, most children will be developing the motor skills and co-ordination that are needed for playing chords and strumming.

If you have a child under five who loves music and seems keen to learn, the best way to get them going on ukulele is to start playing yourself.

Actually this also applies to kids of any age. When they see mum and dad (or aunts, uncles and grandparents) making music they’ll be rushing to join in. Even if you’ve never played any instruments before, you’ll be surprised how fast you can learn.

See if you can find a teacher or a class where you can all learn together. I love teaching family groups.

But you’ll definitely need more than one ukulele – one for everyone who wants to play!

ukulele player

Photo by Camelle Banes, The Photo Forest

Guitar or ukulele?

Parents often ask me if it’s better to start kids off on a ukulele when they want to play guitar. I think this depends on the age.

Guitars are a lot bigger than ukuleles (even kids’ sized guitars). This is harder work for small fingers. Also, it’s harder work to manage six strings. A nine or ten-year old would be okay on a guitar, but for younger kids a ukulele is a better place to start.

However – I strongly believe in the principle of letting kids choose the instrument they want to play.

So, even when you know that the guitar is going to be harder work, if your nine-year-old really, really wants to play the guitar, give her a chance. Make a deal with her that she will commit to learning for at least six months – ideally a year.

Ukulele plus other instruments

Some families have musically talented kids who are already learning piano, and/or violin, and maybe other instruments.

If you have a child like this, the ukulele will be a great addition to their skillset. They’ll pick it up quickly, in a couple of months of lessons, and the skills will be with them for life.

The skills that you get from playing ukulele are quite different and complementary to classical music training.

Strumming, playing chord shapes, singing, learning to play by ear and group jamming are all valuable musical skills that most teachers of classical music instruments don’t include (and to be fair, most music teachers probably only get to teach each child for half an hour each week, so they have to decide what to prioritise).

Choosing a ukulele

Even for very young children it’s important to get a reasonably good quality ukulele that stays in tune. For suggestions on how to choose a beginner’s ukulele, see my post “Your first ukulele”.

Hi, I’m Alice

I’ve been in love with the ukulele since my mother, Sue, taught me three chords when I was six.

I teach ukulele to people all over the world via Zoom and Skype. If you happen to live in Hamilton, New Zealand, I also teach in-person classes.

Click this link to book online ukulele lessons with me. $US160 for six half-hour lessons.

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Alice Bulmer music

Photographed by Brooke Baker

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