I started bringing my ukulele into the library about four years ago, and over time I’ve been steadily increasing my repertoire and confidence. But all you need to get started is a couple chords and the courage to try. Storytime is a very forgiving space. Here’s how I play:
I can only sing and play in front of a crowd if I keep it simple and don’t bother with fancy strumming. Once in a while a toddler detunes the ukulele in between songs, and no one cares. Sometimes I fumble a few chords, and we just keep singing. I like to think that imperfect music teaches the listeners that they don’t have to be perfect themselves. They can explore music without worrying about how they sound to others, and most importantly to their own child.
If you can, I encourage you to memorize your songs before playing them in public. But if I made this a prerequisite, I’d never play my ukulele. I only have a few songs completely and confidently memorized, so I practice enough to be very familiar with all the transitions and chords, and I print myself a cheat sheet to set at my feet. I make the text nice and big so I can just glance down whenever I need a reminder.
To Signal a Transition
Strumming an instrument signals to the audience that it’s time to pay attention. And if you have a large crowd, it’s a lot easier on the voice than trying to speak over everyone. Lately, I’ve started singing the first opening song before I even introduce myself, and its been a great gentle way of bringing everyone together.
I don’t play my instrument every time we sing. It’s one of many tools on the storytime shelf. I love to use puppets, felt stories, shakers, scarves, song cubes, and other props during my programs. There isn’t room for everything in a 30 minute toddlertime. I find that if I play too many songs on the ukulele it detracts from the interactiveness of the rest of the program, which is counter to my entire storytime philosophy.
I use the same general structure for my storytimes every week. Repetition and routine are comforting to children, and help their amazing brains learn. These days I include the same opening and closing songs played on ukulele, with the possibility of another song or two in the body of the program.
Repetition with variation strengthens early literacy experiences. With this in mind, I might present the same song in multiple ways over a storytime season, using felt stories, puppets, ukulele, shaker eggs or singalong books. Often I’ll play the ukulele alongside the felt story to create an enriched environment and appeal to different learning preferences.
And what about you? How do you use the ukulele at storytime?