Friday, April 14, 2017

Why I Play My Ukulele At Storytime

Librarians with ukuleles - it's a craze! When I mentioned at a job interview that I play an instrument, the Director interviewing me said, "let me guess: ukulele." Who knew?

There's a reason for this: they're fun, easy to learn, and add a little extra zing to your storytimes. (Also: George Harrison's favorite instrument was the ukulele, and if it's good enough for a Beatle, it's good enough for me.)

My Story

A few years ago, my library started circulating some unusual items, including a telescope, American Girl dolls, and two ukuleles (complete with tuners and how-to books). I checked one out and had so much fun that I ended up buying my own, and have been promising myself that I would play it at storytime. I had the best of intentions, and every so often I would pick it up and start to learn a couple tunes, before neglecting to pick it up again for weeks at a time. (Note: You can't learn if you never practice.) When it came up in my Time Hop that I've had it for four years and still couldn't really play, I decided that it was time to take the plunge and really learn to use the thing.

I joined the Librarians with Ukes Facebook page, bought myself some how-to books, watched a lot of YouTube, and - yes, started playing at storytime. I'm loving it! Honestly - what took me so long?! Once you know a few chords, you can play tons of songs, and the kids love it! All it takes is a little practice.

Why It's Awesome

I try to play one song a week on the ukulele, and the kids always get really excited when they see me unzip the bag. The first few times, I made a point of saying how, "I'm just learning, so I might not be very good yet. That's okay, because you can't be good at everything right away, and I'm having fun, which is the important part." I quickly learned - they have no idea if I'm any good or not, but they don't care, because it's music!

Some of the first ukulele-playing librarians I met were Jessica Lamarre and Noelle Boc, who are both amazing librarians even without the music. Ms. Lamarre enjoys uke storytime because it "gives plenty of opportunities for audience participation." 

Some testimonials from other uke-brarians:

Ronda Kirkbridge commented, "I played because the kids loved it! The ukulele is such a happy sounding instrument and that translates back to my little ones as joyful, hand clapping, dancing, fun music!"

Susan Perry also commented, "The first time I brought a ukulele into storytime, I wasn't really very good, but at the first chord I strummed, I will never forget the faces of my storytime kids--their eyes went wide, their mouths dropped open and they were completely mesmerized. I knew then I'd found something special to add to my storytimes. That was about 2 years ago. Now I play 3-4 songs each week and the children are still totally enthralled by it."

I love this article on the ALSC blog, "Music and Libraries: A Magical Combination" by Tess Goldwasser. She explains exactly why she loves it, and the wonderful ways that music can transform a library. (I would paraphrase, but she did an excellent job writing, so please take a read.)  Ms. Goldwasser's article inspired many people, including Lisa Taylor, who wrote her own article in response.

How To Get Started

First, you need to buy yourself an instrument. I got mine at a local music store, but you can get them online from Amazon very inexpensively - some as low as $20. A super cheap instrument won't be the best quality out there, but it'll give you a chance to try your hand at playing without a huge investment.

Now that you have it, let's learn! There are some amazing YouTube tutorials out there! We particularly like:
Cynthia Lin's YouTube channel 
The Ukulele Teacher
Ukulele Cheats
Ukulele Storytime

I also use an app on my iPhone called "Yousician," which teaches ukulele, guitar, bass, and piano. It's free for 30 minutes of lessons a day, and you can get unlimited lessons for $9.99 a month. (No, they didn't pay me to say this. And I use the free lessons, anyway.) It listens to you play with the microphone in your phone, and lets you know if you're doing well or need more work.

There are also lots of books that will help. The Hal Leonard books, like this one, are incredibly helpful. I also enjoy The Daily Ukulele, which even tells you at the top of each song which chords you will need.

Once you're comfortable with a few chords, be sure to check out the Storytime Ukulele Blog, written by April Ens, who posts classic (and new!) storytime songs with their chords. (Side note: I was actually going to mention this one before I found out she was a member of the Facebook ukulele group - April, you rock!) is also extremely helpful.

Librarian Melanie Ramsey recommends joining your local ukulele group. She was able to partner with the Allegheny Uke Club.

For inspiration, be sure not to miss Jake Shimabukuro's version of "Bohemian Rhapsody." It's amazing!

Special Thanks!

Special thanks to the members of the Librarians With Ukes Facebook group, especially Rhonda Kirkbridge, Tess Sparky Goldwasser, Lisa Taylor, Susan Perry, Jessica Lamarre, Deanie Michelle, April Ens, Kris Embry, and Melanie Ramsey.


  1. Just got a ukulele for my bday this year from my husband. Had it about 3 weeks now. I hope to be able to use it in the library some day but probably not for a while. . .

    Thanks for all the great ideas for places for lessons and such. :)

    1. So glad you like the article! I hope you have as much fun playing as I do. :)