Common Ground beginning ukulele class makes playing an instrument 'accessible'

Common Ground beginning ukulele class works on "Three Little Birds."

Christopher James strummed on a ukulele, singing Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” as he moved around Room 014 in McDaniel College’s Hill Hall.

“Don’t worry about a thing, ‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right,” James sang as he made his way around a semicircle of chairs. In those seats were a group of students strumming the chords to the song, following James’ lead.


Over 75 minutes, James walked through a handful of chord progressions, strumming patterns and songs as a part of the beginning ukulele class at Common Ground on the Hill. Common Ground is a three-week-long set of lecture and education series, that has events like concerts, art galleries and dances. It began on Monday, June 25, at McDaniel College and culminates with the annual Common Ground on the Hill Roots Music & Arts Festival on Saturday, July 14, at the Carroll County Farm Museum.

For many, this week’s class was the first time they’d taken a spin on the ukulele.

“A lot of people … when they came in on Monday, they got the uke out of the box and we tuned it,” James said.

There’s a wide range of skill level in the class, with some just beginning, some who play guitar and are translating those skills to a new instrument and others who have some experience on the ukulele, he said.

James said his goal for the week-long class is to show the adult students different styles, different rhythms, different chords and different songs to try. Just a little bit of everything to give them a start, he said.

The class, which filled the room in Hill Hall, shows just how popular the little instrument has become.

James, who also teaches classes at Coffey Music in Westminster, said he’s seen ukuleles grow in popularity over the last decade or so.

“It used to be like one or two little kind of toy ukuleles in the corner [at Coffey Music], and now they’ve got these two big displays with probable like 50 ukes in there or more,” he said.

It’s a trend happening across the country. In 2009, Statista reports roughly 150,000 ukuleles were sold in the U.S. In 2017, not even a decade later, that number rocketed to approximately 1.75 million sold.

It makes sense, James said, because while other instruments may be intimidating and scare people away, ukuleles don’t do that.

“I think it’s very accessible. And it’s not threatening,” he said.

The rise of ukuleles in popular music has also helped, James said, especially the mashup of “What a Wonderful World” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.

“That was so huge,” he said, adding that that song was an introduction to the instrument for many people.

For Katie Green, of New Windsor, taking the class was a chance to try something new.


Green said before this week, she’d never played the ukulele. Her daughter received it as a gift, she said, and when Green saw Common Ground was offering the class, she thought it would be the perfect chance to put the instrument to use.

“I was scared, honestly, at first because I thought the expectations would just be like too much,” Green said, but her experience so far has been the opposite. Green said James does a nice job of breaking down how to play the chords.

Green, who is a teacher at Westminster Elementary School, said the ukulele class is her first Common Ground class and she wanted to take something different to grow.

“When you make a mistake, your mind grows and you learn new things. … That’s what I tell my kids, so that’s what I’m trying to tell myself,” she added.