By Julie Huss
---- — There is more to this instrument than Tiny Tim and his tulips.
Even as the shaggy-haired musician sang his signature song about tiptoeing through the fragrant flowers, it was his ukulele helping put this unique singer on the music map.
The small instrument is now making a mark on a local music class.
The simple, four-stringed instrument is a hit with students at Gilbert H. Hood Middle School who meet regularly to learn the fine points of plucking the strings to make music together.
Hood music teacher Kate Boisvert plays the instrument herself as part of the group the N.H. Ukuladies and said the ukulele is perfect for students who want to play.
“It’s so much smaller, so much easier, more portable (than a guitar),” she said.
Boisvert began as a guitar player but found that fingering hard.
Making the switch to ukulele was easy.
“The guitar was so hard for me,” she said. “My friend said I had to try the ukulele. It’s now been a year and a half.”
Bringing the compact instrument to her students came with a generous donation from the Kala Ukulele company that offered six slightly used instruments to the school.
On one afternoon students put the finishing touches on some holiday songs and studied their fingering charts. Some students had the chords down while others studied the notations a bit more.
“The more you press down on the fret, the less it will rattle,” Boisvert said.
After some last minute touch-ups on fingerings the group strummed out a rendition of “Silver Bells.”
“Just act like you know what you are doing,” Boisvert called out. “Just smile and rock it out.”
Boisvert said she hopes her students can perform in a few months when Hood has its annual talent show.
Hood staff members are also jumping on the ukulele bandwagon. Assistant principal Susan Gualtieri asked for one for Christmas. Others are interested in learning the ukulele, Boisvert said.
Students who have taken lessons on other stringed instruments, find the ukulele a good choice.
“I catch on very easy,” sixth-grader Sareenah Spirdione said. “I really like the sound it makes.”
Sigourney LaVoie, 13, said she once played the violin. The ukulele skills came easy.
“It’s really fun to play,” she said.
It’s not just Derry students loving the ukulele. The instrument has made a popular comeback in recent years with musicians. Ukulele clubs are scattered all over New Hampshire.
There is also a Ukulele Hall of Fame paying homage to those who play.
Hall of Fame spokesman Tom Walsh said the instrument is a perfect choice for students who want to learn about music.
“It is relatively easy to play, compared to a guitar or even possibly a recorder,” he said. “It’s small and easy for schools to store. Plus you can sing and play at the same time, something you can’t do with a recorder.”
Walsh said students can also gather and learn at different skill levels.
Boisvert said the ukulele is a perfect instrument for teaching the basics of rhythm and melody while helping students learn an appreciation of music.
“It’s also an opportunity for me to practice,” she said.
Walsh said having the Ukulele Hall of Fame helps people learn about the instrument, its history, and those who mastered the four strings in the past.
“And recently it has become cool again to play the ukulele,” Walsh said. “With more and more rock musicians playing ukulele like Eddie Vedder, Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney, it’s becoming hip again.”
To learn more about the ukulele visit ukulele.org.