Students favour ukulele over traditional recorder

Schoolchildren are choosing the instrument, inspired by stars such as Taylor Swift.  Picture: Getty Images
Schoolchildren are choosing the instrument, inspired by stars such as Taylor Swift. Picture: Getty Images
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IT IS an instrument first made popular by comedian and singer George Formby in the 1940s featuring in his classic ditty When I’m Cleaning Windows.

And now the popularity of the ukulele with contemporary musicians such as Taylor Swift and Mumford & Sons has led to schoolchildren shunning the humble recorder in favour of the quirky string instrument.

Sales of the ukulele have rocketed by 2,250 per cent compared with this time last year, while the number of harmonicas sold has shot up by 1,000 per cent, according to Amazon.

The online retailer says that the back-to-school rush for unusual musical instruments points to greater choice for youngsters in schools, where musically inclined primary school children traditionally learn to play classic nursery rhymes on the recorder.

Also ringing in the changes are hand bells, Amazon said. They were first popularised in the UK during the 1700s and have now seen a 500 per cent increase year-on-year during the back-to-school preparations.

Music teacher Stuart Butterworth, who offers tuition in the ukulele to 120 students a week through workshops in Dumfries and Galloway, says the popularity of the instrument has soared in recent years.

“We have seen an absolutely massive increase in interest,” said Mr Butterworth, who has taught brass instruments since the age of 15 but only took up the ukulele five years ago while recovering from an illness.

“It is just incredible. It has gone through the roof. I think one of the reasons is to do with the price – it is a real recession instrument. While it might cost a student £175 for a trumpet, you can get a basic ukulele for just £20, which is very attractive to families at the moment.

“More and more schools are offering it, as the low cost means whole classes can learn at once, while mainstream musicians have started to use it in their recordings.”

He believes that the availability of online tutorials and the comparative ease of learning to play the tiny instrument, which has just four strings and is accessible to small hands, has also helped encourage students to learn to play.

“Certainly the recorder is in recession and the ukulele is advancing.”

Band Mumford & Sons has been credited with a gradual rise in the popularity of the ukulele over the past couple of years, even inspiring former UK education secretary Michael Gove to take up the instrument.

The popularity of modern country-inspired music, as performed by Taylor Swift, has also sparked a resurgence in popularity of the ukulele, as well as instruments like the harmonica, which is played by musicians including Shakira.

“Just as Mumford & Sons reinvigorated the ukulele, we’re now seeing the likes of Taylor Swift inspiring children to learn a musical instrument,” said Antony Yiannaki, of Amazon.

“With the increased availability of instruments, children are no longer limited to attempting London’s Burning and Three Blind Mice on a shared recorder – much to the relief of parents and teachers alike.”

Sales of children’s grand pianos are also up by 200 per cent and acoustic guitars are up 400 per cent.