Music Theory on Ukulele: Q&A with Peter Luongo
Few have been as influential to the world of ukulele instruction as Peter Luongo, whose thirty year tenure as Musical Director of the Langley Ukulele Ensemble helped to earn the Langley community’s reputation of the “Ukulele Capital of Canada.” Since his retirement from his role as a teacher and administrator for the Langley School District, Peter has turned his passion for teaching ukulele to working with adult learners. Between his new web seminar series with the NAMM Foundation and his own Ultimate Ukulele Program, we had the chance to get some updates on all of Peter’s latest projects in the world of ukulele:
After decades with the Langley Ukulele Ensemble, how often do you see past students of yours that have gone on to play or teach music?
Prior to COVID, I was constantly running into former students and their families in the community. Of course, social media is great for staying connected with past students and there are a number with whom I stay connected that way. Several have become educators (a few who are school administrators) and a number are now prominent members of the business community. The Langley Ukulele Association continues to be a connection and I see many former students at Langley Ensemble concerts. I love following my former students’ successes and it brings me great satisfaction to see how many of them introduced their children to the ukulele.
James Hill -- your most recent guest in your NAMM Webinar Series -- was actually a pupil of yours as well. What is your relationship like now that you both teach?
Because of our travel schedules and the fact that we live on opposite ends of the continent, I think that we both thoroughly enjoy the occasions when we’re in the same location at the same time. Whether he’s out in Vancouver or I’m in Halifax, or if by good fortune we are both presenting at the same festival, our visits have gone into the wee hours of the morning as we’ve gotten into philosophical discussions about teaching, playing, entertaining, etc.
James is, and always has been, a great friend and we have remained in contact throughout the years. I have great admiration for his entire family: his dad was a colleague when I was an administrator in the Langley School District. His mom was a teacher stationed at my school for a number of years, and his sister, who is also a fabulous musician, was in the ensemble as well. James is close friends with our children and during his years in my ensemble I thought of him as ‘another son’.
He is an extremely capable teacher and whenever we are together we love getting into deep philosophical discussions about teaching pedagogy and techniques. There are a handful of former students who have become music teachers and I consider all of them colleagues and love to engage in discussions about effective teaching practice.
Could you tell us a bit more about this NAMM Series -- the International Ukulele Teaching Symposium -- and why it's so valuable?
The NAMM International Ukulele Teaching Symposium was an idea that I’d been thinking about for sometime. Given the need to switch The NAMM Show to an on-line format because of COVID, we were presented with an ideal opportunity. Clearly there is great worldwide interest in learning to play the ukulele. What is also clear is that players are wanting instruction and teachers are seeking guidance in effective teaching practice. The NAMM Symposium series addressed both of these issues through a series of webinars.
Effective instruction is key to providing learners with the skills, knowledge, and motivation that will lead to successful learning. With the support of The NAMM Foundation, Kala Brand and Kamaka Ukulele Companies, and Aquila Strings, we were able to bring together a panel of experts from Hawaii, throughout North America, and Europe who could speak with authority about the state of ukulele teaching.
As the series continued from January through July, we were able to offer insights from some of the world’s most recognized teachers and facilitators of ukulele instruction. Thousands of interested educators and players tuned in each month and The NAMM Foundation declared this series to be one of the most successful webinars that they had ever offered.
In addition to James, already this year you've had the likes of Jake Shimabukuro, Roy & Kathy Sakuma, and Chalmers Doane on as guests. Who can we expect to see next?
First of all, allow me to remind everyone that the Webinar Series wrapped up in July, but all 8 of the Symposium Sessions remain available on the NAMM Foundation’s website. Now that we have been able to share a number of teaching models (Toronto USchool, Roy Sakuma Studios, Langley Ukulele Association, and James Hill’s UKETROPOLIS) the next step is to offer some ’nuts and bolts’ opportunities for educators. Plans are in place to have demonstration lessons and follow-up discussions that offer practical insights for teachers (and players).
What makes the ukulele unique as a tool for teaching music?
It has all the components of a program oriented towards learning to make music. It gives the learner the opportunity to play melodies, provide accompaniment to both their singing and playing, easily learn about harmony and rhythm, and it’s easy to handle, portable, affordable, and fun to play! No other classroom instrument provides this level of flexibility!
If a player is interested in learning to play by ear, to read music notation, or to develop an understanding of music theory, the ukulele allows all of this learning to occur easily because it is right at the player's fingertips …. AND it’s COVID friendly!
What advice would you impart on a music teacher that is considering introducing the ukulele into their curriculum?
- Get informed about what the ukulele offers your students.
- Get a uke for yourself and learn to play it.
- Get trained so that you can teach it with a sound, pedagogical approach.
- Pitch the advantages of the program to your school administrators, your parent groups, and your students.
- Contact Kala to purchase class sets and start teaching
*** And for more advice and or direct support contact me (Peter Luongo) through Kala Brand Music.
You're also offering a year-seminar for players to learn the ukulele directly from you! Could you tell us a bit more about that?
The Ultimate Ukulele Program offers & models a comprehensive approach to teaching music and music literacy using the ukulele. Instruction will allow participants to develop music literacy while enhancing their ukulele playing skills. Skills will be presented sequentially and applied to song materials. Instruction will focus on teaching players to strum and play chords, play by ear, and use correct singing technique. Participants will painlessly gain an understanding of music theory and learn to read music notation.
The Curriculum Includes:
What are some of the things that make your methodology for teaching the ukulele unique?
First and foremost my approach is fun and easy to learn so players are able to have a successful experience right away. The other key element to the methodology is that I teach the brain, NOT the fingers. Players develop an understanding of the skills presented so that they are able to apply these concepts to independently evolve as musicians.
We loved hosting the Luongo Ukulele Experience at the Kala NAMM booth these past few years! Can we expect to see you again in 2022?
I wouldn’t miss!!
My affiliation with Kala has been one of the highlights of my ukulele involvement. The staff and leadership group are amazing. The folks are always friendly, customer focused, and committed to providing a quality product. I love my Kala Brand instruments!
I am very much looking forward to being at the Kala Brand booth at NAMM Show 2022 in January! I look forward to providing some performances, answering questions, and to talking about teaching and playing the ukulele.
Peter Luongo’s new complete virtual ukulele program, The Ultimate Ukulele Experience, consists of 12, 2-hour sessions (once per month) that cover all aspects of playing: chording, finger picking, playing by ear, and singing. For further information, you can email Peter directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also keep up with Peter on his Instagram page.