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Undefeated Newbury music tutors keep on uke-ing

Hard work pays off for ukulele UTeam

​Music tutors faced a challenge without face-to-face interaction so as lockdown continued Russell Timms and Helen Bates ​ looked to Zoom to deliver their services. They tell us how.

THE UTeam – which offers group lessons, team building, parties and musical therapy with a difference using ukulele, guitar and song – was established in May 2019 when musical friends Russell Timms and Helen Bates ​decided to put their experience with teaching, leading musical groups and playing in bands to more ambitious ends.

“Like many other businesses that rely on face-to-face interaction, at the beginning of 2020, we could never have imagined how this year would pan out. We were thrown rather a large curve ball which flew right in the face of our
original mission when we launched in September 2019 and that was to get folk off their computers, away from the
isolation of their sofas and back out into the community learning in social groups.

Like many other music tutors, the future looked a bit bleak, but we hoped lockdown would pass soon without too much
collateral damage. As we all now know, a year on, it didn’t pass soon...
However, as most human beings seek to prevail and soon, the word on everyone’s lips was ‘Zoom – we can still do this with Zoom!’ and not just for music tuition.

Our initial thoughts were how can you effectively teach an instrument without being ‘face to face’ and ‘hands on’ with your students? You need to see at close hand their finger placement, hear the dynamics of their playing, demonstrate and play with them in real time. This transition to online seemed insurmountable in truth and, as expected, a small proportion of students decided they would wait until lockdown was over and they hung up their instruments temporarily.

However, here at the UTeam, not to be defeated, we put our thinking caps on and set about devising a whole new way of working the UTeam formula online while still ensuring that the quality of our offering was high.
We still wanted to teach, but also to provide fun and social group sessions and at affordable price during these difficult times.

To that end, we spent many hours creating extra supporting resources such as video playalong scores, demonstration videos and musical scores of our own ukulele arrangements tailored to all levels from complete beginners to improvers to Ubass (ukulele bass).

We then re-launched our courses online, but provided these extra learning aids to compensate for what a student might lose by lack of face-to-face method. We very quickly realised that this worked well, students started to return and of course it still enabled the social contact which people were craving very badly over the past year.

Happily for us, this has meant our hard work has paid off as many of our students are still learning and thriving with us but just in a different way. Not only that new students continue to sign up too, choosing their first experience of learning the ukulele to be online.

Our Fairytale of New Uke course at Christmas saw 32 players from age nine to 70-plus, of all abilities, join us for a Christmas jam all through December on Tuesday evenings. It was magical and brought comfort and a festive party feel to folks’ homes.
Players from not only Newbury but also Hungerford, Maidenhead and even as far afield as the New Forest joined us.
Of course one advantage of online teaching is that it doesn’t limit your geographical cover you can offer to and a further bonus is there is no travel for anyone. We’ve continued through February with another 30 students joining us on various courses including a fun ‘Four Chord’ course and another eight complete beginners launching their ukulele journeys with us.

Throughout the UK and the world, the ukulele has proved a popular new hobby and a fabulous stress buster during these times. Its fun, affordable and easy to play. It has a happy sound – you can’t not smile when you play a ukulele.
See this article with quotes from George Harrison and others. https://www.openculture.com/ 2014/08/george-harrison-explains-why-everyone-should-play-the-ukulele-with-words-and-music.html

For the UTeam, it seems obvious to us that the first six months of 2021 and even beyond will still dictate online learning and we estimate that some students may actually prefer online learning even after lockdown.
To that end, we foresee the company offering both face-to-face and online lessons going forward.

The curve ball we were sent by Covid-19 has been caught firmly and returned with force. The disadvantage we faced has been turned into an advantage. We’ve learned new teaching skills, our business has a wider range of services and our students have continued to learn whilst benefitting from much needed social contact during these difficult times.”

For more information, visit www.theuteam.weebly.com
Anyone wanting to join future UTeam courses, contact theuteam@weebly.com so they can keep you updated.
The next series of courses starts beginning of April 20. They are also launching guitar group tuition in early summer.

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