Who here has started a/your local uke group?

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I’m in the process of starting one, and I posted on a local FB page for what’s going on here, as well as Reddit. Looks like I have up to 20 people interested! Now the hard part of logistics is next. Any advice is welcome!
 
Good for you, should be fun. When you say you have about 20 people interested, does that mean 20 people with ukes and some level of strumming skills (I hope) or 20 people who want to learn? That's 2 different plans (I've done both). I'll assume you have 20 players who want to have a Uke Jam. You'll need songs to play, the Daily Ukulele books is an easy way to have a big selection quickly. Many strummers may have a copy already, if not Amazon can get you some quickly for about $30 couple bucks. If people want to bring a song have them make 25 copies to pass out. Over time you may create your own songbook as many clubs have, load them up on an iPad with ForScore, but you got to get going first.
Set up a circle of chairs/stools, and go around the circle with introductions the 1st couple meetings. Then after that just go around the circle and let everyone just say their name except new people who should do a short intro. Hopefully you are a good strong singer/leader, as many beginner strummers are mostly focused on changing chords and can't do much singing along yet. Have some beginner songs picked out to warm up the group and gauge their skill level. And maybe a longer list of songs if your group is shy so you can keep the momentum going. If they're not shy go around the circle and let each person pick a song. If your group has a lot of new strummers in it, look over the song before you start in and talk about any "unusual" chords, maybe show how to make them. And remind everyone when they get to a chord they haven't learned or can't change to quickly, just "air strum" through it and keep singing. Then they can come back in with the next chord they know. No-one will know the difference and it will help them to see what new chords they need to learn next.

Ask how long people want to gather for. Typically 1 1/2 to 2 hours for an active group. Maybe start with an hour and grow it. Ukers like to talk and share ukes so there will be some of that starting each gathering. Also ask what's the best day/time for the group to meet.

Keep it fun, ukers are usually social by nature so hopefully it will gel quickly. Good luck!
 
Ironically, I think a majority of the respondents were either beginners, or total beginners who know nothing. BUT, I'm a teacher, so I said I would be happy to teach them all and get them up to speed. I asked my principal if we can use my room at school (which would instantly solve so many logistical issues) but we shall see how that goes. Plus, if we do use my room, anyone without an instrument is welcome to use one of my 20 tenors in the class set.
 
You will need a place and a time. Many places charge rent so that may deter some of the 20. They also may not be available all for the same time and date. I manage FB group for existing circle with almost 300 "members" . Before pandemic up to 30 showed up each month. Since then we have lost the founder of our group and the original location. We have started to meet again for the last year or so at new and free location. If 20 people indicate interest on FB about 4 or 5 actually show up. Still great fun for sure and worth the effort.
 
Ironically, I think a majority of the respondents were either beginners, or total beginners who know nothing. BUT, I'm a teacher, so I said I would be happy to teach them all and get them up to speed. I asked my principal if we can use my room at school (which would instantly solve so many logistical issues) but we shall see how that goes. Plus, if we do use my room, anyone without an instrument is welcome to use one of my 20 tenors in the class set.
Looks like you are well set up. It helps to have a curriculum and post ahead what you intend to show them each time.
 
Some observations and tips about starting your new club, based on things I like and don't like about our own group:


Location: parks with covered pavilions are great places to do this in good weather and daylight, if you can't lock down an indoor site. Some are free, some need to be booked or rented. When we did this the boss never paid the rental, meaning if a paid party showed up with a claim to the spot, we'd have to move. But lawn chairs are not hard to take along to the park.

Some libraries have conference rooms available to book, as does the local YMCA. Our club started out in a sandwich shop, then a pizza place's back room "party room". It was cramped, with terrible lighting, and got less conducive to music-making when they added a bunch of coin-operated gambling machines in the corner, with sound effects. We didn't have to pay for the room, as long as someone ordered at least one large pizza, so the leader of the group would buy one or two large cheese pizzas each time. I wouldn't partake too often because I didn't want to get grease on my uke, lol. Also, singing and eating at the same time can be... unsightly.

Seating - wise, some clubs project the song on a wall or projector screen, and everyone faces that wall. Laser-based pico projectors are now pretty bright, affordable, and very portable, so this could be an option. I've tried places using this projector approach twice, and though I thought I would like it, I found I frankly don't like it as much as being in a circle or across a long table from each other. The wall thing feels like twenty people playing independently and the circle has eye contact and a sense of group to it. I also found it harder to shift my eye focus from my fretboard to the distant screen and back, versus having the music right in my lap, so to speak. The wall method has one big advantage in that it means nobody has to print out or bring song books, just their ukes, and since the projector is fed by a tablet or laptop, you can have thousands of songs available at your fingertips, using something like chordify.net or uketabs.com.

Where we meet now is a cozy coffee and tea place with multiple couches and tables, good lighting and great acoustics. And no gambling machines. The coffee grinder sometimes interrupts a song, though, lol.

Book vs. tablet: For the first year of your new club, printing out a song book of ten songs to hand out gets you started, but won't sustain you long term. Used to be that tablets were considered unaffordable for a club, but over time, paper books are way more expensive to print, they become unwieldy, and the continuing costs inhibit growing the catalog of available songs over time. This has been a big problem I see in my club: because it costs a person about thirty dollars here to go to Kinko's and print up fifty songs, that's six hundred bucks in printing costs to equip twenty members... and it eats up expensive inkjet cartridges at home, so these costs mean the book stays pretty stagnant year to year, and after a year or two, you're going to get sick of the same songs getting picked from the small selection, just like a radio station with too small of a playlist. You can make everyone buy a commercial book, but again, that can be limiting, if you want the barriers to entry to be low. And the book only contains so many songs.

So what is the cheapest tablet you could use for uking? A Used Kindle paperwhite could be found between fifty bucks and eighty bucks, I have two RCA Maven Pro chromebook type laptop/tablets with remove-able keyboard that were eighty to a hundred bucks each, and the tablet screens on them are the same size as a regular US 81/2 by 11 letter page, like in a printed book. They are basically a giant Android phone. So it's not just iPads as your only choice. The tablets all come with a PDF file reader and a catalog system of some kind. In my tablet, I list some songs with multiple title variations, so I can quickly find Take me home country roads by looking for country roads or take me, less fumbling required. The batteries last for three hours. Screen brightness is good.

If you print out three, thirty-dollar song books over time, you have spent more than the cost of one of these tablets - and the tablet doesn't need you to throw away older songs, like the book does. So your available choices can only grow and grow, something in there for everyone's taste. When you have been playing Wagon Wheel and I'll Fly Away for five years, that's a Godsend, lemme tell ya.

About time structure: our club runs a two-hour session monthly, first hour is supposed to be focused on the beginners, so the songs are very basic two - and three-chord choices, picked for simplicity and designed for group singing versus a leader/chorus. It helps to find songs that have good harmony singing parts if they are otherwise simple, and you want to have a selection of songs in various singing keys, to fit everyone's range, as well as songs with various gender perspectives and tempos. Not everything has to be boot-scraping 4/4/ time signature, and not every song needs to be in an "island strum" pattern. Have reggae, ska, rock, latin and waltz tempos.

The second hour of our sessions is is anything that's in the book, any difficulty level, or, some people bring in copies of a new song to share and teach, and there's also opportunities for someone to solo. The halfway point of the two-hour session should have a ten-minute break, so people can stretch their legs, have a conversation, access snacks and drinks, etc. it's also a good time to have a prize raffle for things like tuners, picks, music stands, little percussion devices like egg shakers or tambourines, instructional books, cleaning kits, uke hangers, etc. If you don't put a break period in, the session is going to devolve into a lot of noise and disruption as you go.

Something I think my club should have is a "no noodling rule"; Tuning-up time should be before the session or in the ten minute break, not when the group leader or anyone else is talking. Members should practice polite listening, so things don't have to be shouted across the room. We waste many minutes between songs getting organized because of all the din; everybody's asking: "what's the next song again?" because they can't hear the leader over all the noodling and side conversation.

A little tradition I started in our club is to hand out plastic flower leis to every new first-timer, welcoming them to our "ohana". This not only makes the new person feel welcome and special, it signals the rest of the group to make a special effort to welcome and talk to the new person so they keep coming back. A bag of fifty leis is dirt cheap on Amazon. Get the nicer, more realistic ones.

A tradition in our club is to start each meeting with a particular beginner-level song, and end with a special song. In our club that's "This Land is Your Land" and "We'll Meet again".

If I was starting a club from scratch, I would structure the first hour as the beginner/group sing portion, a hard ten-minute break, and the period after the break as open mic opportunity time for up to an hour. That way people who don't care for solo singing can just leave if they want, or stay and enjoy and participate. But the opportunity to do a solo in front of very supportive fellow ukers is how you grow a beginner into someone more accomplished, with advancing skills. In that open mic time you can also give group lessons on various things like ear training, new strum patterns, new group songs and chords, etc.

Another idea we've tried a time or two is to alternate the song choices so it's beginner, then advanced, then beginner again. This has an advantage in that the intermediate and advanced players don't get bored, waiting an hour for a good song they want to play.

Think about your strategic vision for the club as you put it together: some clubs concentrate on getting new players up to speed, but don't have anything much in the way of follow-up, so some people will hit a plateau of participation and then fall away from boredom. If your point is just to service raw initiates and you don't care if they fall away after that, just know that is what you're doing. If your goal is to keep them with you for years, growing skills and bonds of interaction, you need a path of incremental steps towards mastery. One way to do that is to plan events outside the regular venues. In our club, we have sub-groups that go entertain seniors at day centers and nursing homes, but also at fund raisers like ALS walks, church picnics, etc. We do that at various levels of professionalism, from random simple sing-alongs to a structured, dedicated semi-pro band with PA system and etc. Our club also occasionally brings in outside uke teachers to hold classes. We've had Stu Fuchs and Jim D'Ville and Li'l Rev come entertain and teach us. If you spread the costs around the membership, it's not all that expensive to arrange once a year.

I'll wrap up with a discussion about your marketing: old school things like posters in the YMCA or school or library bulletin boards, coffee shops and music stores, do actually work. Social media like NextDoor, Facebook pages for the club, and a youtube channel can make a huge difference in participation. The youtube channel doesn't need to be fancy, but it, like the facebook page, or a wordpress site, can be a hub for attracting and retaining membership, community, and public awareness. I shoot our monthly club meetings and occasionally post videos of really good performances. I also give a monthly video challenge topic on the facebook page and those who want to, post their videos in response. There's no prize; it's not a "contest", it's a "Challenge", so it's as low-stakes as you can get, but it encourages new folks to try. If you have a free weekly entertainment paper in your town, spend the time your first year, putting in a monthly notice for club meetings, you won't believe how many folks stumble into clubs that way.

I did.
 
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see if you can find a pub/bar backroom on a low-use midweek evening; free warm space but participants just buy a drink... rather than pay £3 or 4 subs for attendence hire. No brainer IF you can find somewhere suitable.
Printing paper is costly. All the songs/resources on a google drive or shared icloud folder great if people can find cheap tablets.
 
Some observations and tips about starting your new club, based on things I like and don't like about our own group:


Location: parks with covered pavilions are great places to do this in good weather and daylight, if you can't lock down an indoor site. Some are free, some need to be booked or rented. When we did this the boss never paid the rental, meaning if a paid party showed up with a claim to the spot, we'd have to move. But lawn chairs are not hard to take along to the park.

Some libraries have conference rooms available to book, as does the local YMCA. Our club started out in a sandwich shop, then a pizza place's back room "party room". It was cramped, with terrible lighting, and got less conducive to music-making when they added a bunch of coin-operated gambling machines in the corner, with sound effects. We didn't have to pay for the room, as long as someone ordered at least one large pizza, so the leader of the group would buy one or two large cheese pizzas each time. I wouldn't partake too often because I didn't want to get grease on my uke, lol. Also, singing and eating at the same time can be... unsightly.

Seating - wise, some clubs project the song on a wall or projector screen, and everyone faces that wall. Laser-based pico projectors are now pretty bright, affordable, and very portable, so this could be an option. I've tried places using this projector approach twice, and though I thought I would like it, I found I frankly don't like it as much as being in a circle or across a long table from each other. The wall thing feels like twenty people playing independently and the circle has eye contact and a sense of group to it. I also found it harder to shift my eye focus from my fretboard to the distant screen and back, versus having the music right in my lap, so to speak. The wall method has one big advantage in that it means nobody has to print out or bring song books, just their ukes, and since the projector is fed by a tablet or laptop, you can have thousands of songs available at your fingertips, using something like chordify.net or uketabs.com.

Where we meet now is a cozy coffee and tea place with multiple couches and tables, good lighting and great acoustics. And no gambling machines. The coffee grinder sometimes interrupts a song, though, lol.

Book vs. tablet: For the first year of your new club, printing out a song book of ten songs to hand out gets you started, but won't sustain you long term. Used to be that tablets were considered unaffordable for a club, but over time, paper books are way more expensive to print, they become unwieldy, and the continuing costs inhibit growing the catalog of available songs over time. This has been a big problem I see in my club: because it costs a person about thirty dollars here to go to Kinko's and print up fifty songs, that's six hundred bucks in printing costs to equip twenty members... and it eats up expensive inkjet cartridges at home, so these costs mean the book stays pretty stagnant year to year, and after a year or two, you're going to get sick of the same songs getting picked from the small selection, just like a radio station with too small of a playlist. You can make everyone buy a commercial book, but again, that can be limiting, if you want the barriers to entry to be low. And the book only contains so many songs.

So what is the cheapest tablet you could use for uking? A Used Kindle paperwhite could be found between fifty bucks and eighty bucks, I have two RCA Maven Pro chromebook type laptop/tablets with remove-able keyboard that were eighty to a hundred bucks each, and the tablet screens on them are the same size as a regular US 81/2 by 11 letter page, like in a printed book. They are basically a giant Android phone. So it's not just iPads as your only choice. The tablets all come with a PDF file reader and a catalog system of some kind. In my tablet, I list some songs with multiple title variations, so I can quickly find Take me home country roads by looking for country roads or take me, less fumbling required. The batteries last for three hours. Screen brightness is good.

If you print out three, thirty-dollar song books over time, you have spent more than the cost of one of these tablets - and the tablet doesn't need you to throw away older songs, like the book does. So your available choices can only grow and grow, something in there for everyone's taste. When you have been playing Wagon Wheel and I'll Fly Away for five years, that's a Godsend, lemme tell ya.

About time structure: our club runs a two-hour session monthly, first hour is supposed to be focused on the beginners, so the songs are very basic two - and three-chord choices, picked for simplicity and designed for group singing versus a leader/chorus. It helps to find songs that have good harmony singing parts if they are otherwise simple, and you want to have a selection of songs in various singing keys, to fit everyone's range, as well as songs with various gender perspectives and tempos. Not everything has to be boot-scraping 4/4/ time signature, and not every song needs to be in an "island strum" pattern. Have reggae, ska, rock, latin and waltz tempos.

The second hour of our sessions is is anything that's in the book, any difficulty level, or, some people bring in copies of a new song to share and teach, and there's also opportunities for someone to solo. The halfway point of the two-hour session should have a ten-minute break, so people can stretch their legs, have a conversation, access snacks and drinks, etc. it's also a good time to have a prize raffle for things like tuners, picks, music stands, little percussion devices like egg shakers or tambourines, instructional books, cleaning kits, uke hangers, etc. If you don't put a break period in, the session is going to devolve into a lot of noise and disruption as you go.

Something I think my club should have is a "no noodling rule"; Tuning-up time should be before the session or in the ten minute break, not when the group leader or anyone else is talking. Members should practice polite listening, so things don't have to be shouted across the room. We waste many minutes between songs getting organized because of all the din; everybody's asking: "what's the next song again?" because they can't hear the leader over all the noodling and side conversation.

A little tradition I started in our club is to hand out plastic flower leis to every new first-timer, welcoming them to our "ohana". This not only makes the new person feel welcome and special, it signals the rest of the group to make a special effort to welcome and talk to the new person so they keep coming back. A bag of fifty leis is dirt cheap on Amazon. Get the nicer, more realistic ones.

A tradition in our club is to start each meeting with a particular beginner-level song, and end with a special song. In our club that's "This Land is Your Land" and "We'll Meet again".

If I was starting a club from scratch, I would structure the first hour as the beginner/group sing portion, a hard ten-minute break, and the period after the break as open mic opportunity time for up to an hour. That way people who don't care for solo singing can just leave if they want, or stay and enjoy and participate. But the opportunity to do a solo in front of very supportive fellow ukers is how you grow a beginner into someone more accomplished, with advancing skills. In that open mic time you can also give group lessons on various things like ear training, new strum patterns, new group songs and chords, etc.

Another idea we've tried a time or two is to alternate the song choices so it's beginner, then advanced, then beginner again. This has an advantage in that the intermediate and advanced players don't get bored, waiting an hour for a good song they want to play.

Think about your strategic vision for the club as you put it together: some clubs concentrate on getting new players up to speed, but don't have anything much in the way of follow-up, so some people will hit a plateau of participation and then fall away from boredom. If your point is just to service raw initiates and you don't care if they fall away after that, just know that is what you're doing. If your goal is to keep them with you for years, growing skills and bonds of interaction, you need a path of incremental steps towards mastery. One way to do that is to plan events outside the regular venues. In our club, we have sub-groups that go entertain seniors at day centers and nursing homes, but also at fund raisers like ALS walks, church picnics, etc. We do that at various levels of professionalism, from random simple sing-alongs to a structured, dedicated semi-pro band with PA system and etc. Our club also occasionally brings in outside uke teachers to hold classes. We've had Stu Fuchs and Jim D'Ville and Li'l Rev come entertain and teach us. If you spread the costs around the membership, it's not all that expensive to arrange once a year.

I'll wrap up with a discussion about your marketing: old school things like posters in the YMCA or school or library bulletin boards, coffee shops and music stores, do actually work. Social media like NextDoor, Facebook pages for the club, and a youtube channel can make a huge difference in participation. The youtube channel doesn't need to be fancy, but it, like the facebook page, or a wordpress site, can be a hub for attracting and retaining membership, community, and public awareness. I shoot our monthly club meetings and occasionally post videos of really good performances. I also give a monthly video challenge topic on the facebook page and those who want to, post their videos in response. There's no prize; it's not a "contest", it's a "Challenge", so it's as low-stakes as you can get, but it encourages new folks to try. If you have a free weekly entertainment paper in your town, spend the time your first year, putting in a monthly notice for club meetings, you won't believe how many folks stumble into clubs that way.

I did.
Big thanks, Mark for this excellent post. You mention so many elements, things to consider, options to explore etc. Your post shows so much enthusiasm; you share your experiences. You're a star!
 
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