Music teacher aims to change image of the ukulele with new school

Have your say

A music teacher is hoping to turn around the image of the ukulele with his new school.

Although older generations often associate the string instrument with George Formby, it’s actually undergoing a renaissance with pop stars such as Bruno Mars helping to bring it to the fore.

Musician Steve Kyle with students, from left, Norma Ord, Douglas Arnold, Chris Ellis, David Hutchinson and John Bolam

Musician Steve Kyle with students, from left, Norma Ord, Douglas Arnold, Chris Ellis, David Hutchinson and John Bolam

Now, Steven Kyle is singing the praises of the instrument from his new Uke School at Arts Centre Washington.

The ukuleleist juggles being a peripatetic teacher at the region’s schools with his own music school, which is building up a number of pupils, from family groups to individual players.

Steve, who’s set up a dedicated studio in one of the workshop buildings at the Arts Centre in Fatfield, said: “The ukulele is actually the fastest-growing instrument in the world in terms of popularity, in part, because it’s so cross-generational. It can be an easy first step as an instrument, because of its size, but then it can be as difficult as any musical instrument to master.”

He added: “It does have an image with adults, but it’s funny because kids don’t see it that way. Adults feel like they have to defend themselves when they play the ukulele, because of the George Formby image. But you wouldn’t pick up any other instrument, like a trumpet, and refer back to a trumpet player from sixty years ago.

“But that’s changing, largely due to the hipster scene in Brooklyn who’ve been playing it. Like a lot of trends started there, such as craft ale, it’s been adopted here. It’s definitely having a rebirth and I don’t see any signs of that slowing down.”

Uke School pupil Norma Ord, 59, from Harraton, took up the instrument after retiring as a PE teacher.

“After retiring I was looking to fill my days with as much as I could, so I joined a drama group in Seaham and the Uke School here,” she explained. “I wasn’t particularly musical at all before joining here, but I come once a week and love it, it’s got a great atmosphere.”

Chris Ellis, 63, also from Harraton, said: “It was my husband who picked it up initially. Someone showed him the C chord, which was one finger on one string and I thought ‘I could do that’. My husband doesn’t come to the classes anymore but I love coming along.”

John Bolam, 73, from Concord, said “I noticed an advert for the school in Sainsbury’s and have had about 10 sessions now. Playing an instrument is totally new to me, other than a few piano lessons when I was about 10. But it’s great to learn a new skill, especially in a group. It lends itself really well to group lessons.”

Fellow Uke School member David Hutchinson, 65, said: “It’s easy to start but it’s a steep learning curve and becomes more challenging as the weeks go on. We cover a wide spectrum of music too, from The Beatles and Elvis to tracks by Bruno Mars.”

•Anyone interested in joining the Uke School at Arts Centre Washington can email Steve at or search for them on Facebook under ‘Uke School UK’.