Summer strumming

Kids learn to play the ukulele

At left, Ella Stacy, 7, of Ishpeming, learns ukelele basics Thursday at a workshop at the Ishpeming Carnegie Public Library. The day also was to include an interactive ukulele concert and a workshop for adults. Above, Ben Hassenger tunes a youngster’s ukulele Thursday at a workshop. The day also was to include an interactive ukulele concert and a workshop for adults. (Journal photos by Christie Bleck)

ISHPEMING — They weren’t aiming to be Jimi Hendrix, or even Don Ho for that matter. They just wanted to learn a few notes and chords.

And that they did Thursday afternoon at the Children’s Beginning Ukulele Workshop at the Ishpeming Carnegie Public Library.

Teaching the workshop was Ben Hassenger of Lansing, who is involved with the nonprofit Music is the Foundation, which brings music to mid-Michigan schools and the communities. His father, though, is from Ishpeming, so that connection brought him to the area.

Kids and ukuleles seems to go hand in hand, literally and figuratively.

Hassenger called it an “accessible instrument.”

“It’s an instrument you can have some immediate gratification with,” Hassenger said. “Pretty soon, you can learn to play a couple chords and play a bunch of songs, and it’s easy to carry around, and you can get one for a reasonable price.”

Before they got started, however, a few adjustments had to be made so a reasonable sound could be obtained.

Hassenger went youngster to youngster, tuning their instruments. He then introduced them to the ukulele.

“I like to say the ukulele is like a little baby,” he said. “So, what do you do with a little baby?”

The answer: being gentle with it.

Hassenger talked about the parts of the instrument — the body, the head and the neck, which has frets and four strings, G, C, E and A.

Those strings, he pointed out, could be remembered easily by the phrase “Good Children Eat Apples.”

The workshop continued with simple strumming practice using their thumbs or index fingers, depending on their comfort levels.

“I wouldn’t suggest using a pick right now, OK? Just because it won’t blend in with the rest of us,” Hassenger said.

The first chord they learned was a simple one: the C chord, which uses just a single finger on the A string.

Although it was an easy chord to learn, Hassenger gave them a little assistance.

“The A string is the one closest to our foot, so we’re going to count ‘one, two, three’ with our fingers, and go ‘one, two, three’ on the A string,” Hassenger said.

They then went on to master another single-note chord, the C7 chord, and a two-string chord, F, among other skills.

Learning chords is one thing, but eventually most musicians want to move on to playing songs.

Even with the few chords they learned, the workshop participants managed to strum to the song “Coconut,” known for its lyrics such as “She put the lime in the coconut, she drank them both up,” and “Electric Avenue.”

Tristan Dieterle, 9, of Ishpeming, easily caught on during the worksop.

He had a quick explanation on why he likes the ukulele.

“Because it’s just fun to play,” Tristan said. “It’s like a guitar.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is