Hawaiian Music Lesson Plans

Hawaii has a rich musical tradition quite different from that of the mainland. The Hawaiian Hula Archives include clips of “mele” or chants, as well as songs and lyrics and lots of background information. Explore some Hawaiian instruments, and play along with the music clips to practice rhythm skills.

Hawaiian music includes a wide range of instruments, but one of the best for the classroom is the ukulele. If you’re lucky enough to have some at your school, you have the foundation for your Hawaiian music lessons. If not, study about the ukulele and make your own facsimiles. If you’re ready to buy a class set, consider the  Woodstock Ukulele. Like all Woodstock’s instruments, they’re kid-sized, sturdy, economical, and yet they also sound good.

  • Ukulele history
  • How to make a ukulele — really. Have students run through this clear explanation of how ukuleles are made before you start in on your facsimiles.
  • Give each student a cardboard box and a bunch of rubber bands. The perfect cardboard box for this purpose is the kind pencils come in. Beg some from your school supply store. Use a circle cutter or a craft knife to cut circles for sound holes. (This is something to do while watching a movie some lazy day, or else invite all your friends over for pizza and don’t let them have any till they cut a sound hole or two). Stretch four rubber bands around the box, across the sound hole. Now comes the challenging bit: trade out different  rubber bands until you get an approximation of the traditional “My dog has fleas” tuning of the ukulele. You can hear those four notes (G, C, E, A) at Pineapple Pete’s Uke School.  Realistically, your chances of having all the students in your class find rubber bands that allow them to be in tune are slim. Strum those ukes in cheerful cacaphony anyway.
  • Pineapple Pete’s has free beginning ukulele lessons. If you get good, you can move on to more advanced lessons here, too.
  • Check out Jake Shimabukuro for a more precise definition of “really good’ at the ukulele. Tell your students that this musician began playing the ukulele at age four, so they may need to practice a lot to catch up.

Other instruments used in Hawaiian music are the guitar, the Nose Flute (that link is not for a traditional nose flute, but for a very cheap and easy classroom version), and a variety of percussion instruments:

  • Scroll down at Mudcat for instructions on making an uli-uli, or put some popcorn kernels in a coffee can or margarine tub to get the feeling.
  • Have a look at hula sticks at the National Music Museum . Grab some lengths of dowel or search for suitable sticks outdoors. These sticks are struck together rhythmically while dancing the hula.

Hawaiian music is strongly associated with dance. Check out Howcast hula lessons. For the classroom, cue this up to “Step 1” to avoid ads, and have the class follow along for some exercise fun. This video includes both male and female dancers, and they are modestly dressed.


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