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Summer strummers make music in Needham

By Lauren Schiavone
Hometown Weekly Staff

Julie Stepanek recently trekked a bunch of summery, colorful ukuleles to the Needham Free Public Library on Monday afternoon, July 11, for a class on uke basics for kids.

Instructing the aspiring young musicians started with the basics. She began with how to hold a ukulele properly. She then moved on to explain that the pegs on the top of the instrument tighten strings, which controls the tuning. Unlike a guitar or piano, with notes going low to high, the lowest note on an open string for a ukulele is in the middle. The notes of standard tuning (gCEA) were taught to the kids using a fun acronym: good cats eat anchovies.

Stepanek brought easy-to-understand tablatures, which helped students easily read the notes that make up chords. 

Julie instructs the class as siblings learn a chord (with mom’s help).

She also instructed proper technique. Ukuleles are small and not heavy; there is no strap, like on a guitar. The technique Julie showed for fretting the instrument was “squeezing” the strings with enough pressure to produce a sound. She explained the dots on the fretboard marked notes and positions on the instrument, making it easier to switch chords or notes in a song. 

Julie even addressed a popular string musician concern: how to get rid of calluses (they can be diminished by rubbing your fingers together).

Learning new skills can sometimes be tricky, though. That segued into a lesson in itself: as fun as it is, music is a discipline. Julie reminded the class of the importance of taking breaks and learning one thing at a time. To that end, she had bookmarks and coloring books available for anyone wanting to take a break. 

Learning came quickly to those in attendance. It turns out that some classic songs are really only one chord. The children picked up very fast, and after freestyling, Julie was teaching them one-chord-classics. Before long, the class was playing “Row Row Row Your Boat” and “Frère Jacques.”

Julie gave an instructional handout to everyone had the class finished up. The handout included basics of how to tune the instrument as well as a compilation of camping songs. 

For more fun events at the Needham Free Public Library, visit 

Julie Stepanek’s music can be further explored at

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