Erik Larson, Fairmont Junior High School, Boise, Idaho

It’s been a shot in the arm for me to be able to offer an alternative and to get even more kids involved in our school music department. I think it has made me a better teacher, as well.

Name: Erik Larson, Fairmont Junior High School, Boise, Idaho; Subjects: Band, Guitar; 90 Guitar Students p/Yr

GAMA: How did you decide to teach guitar?
Erik Larson: My music supervisor somehow heard I played “a little guitar” and needed somebody to take over an elementary class. I agreed and I was horrible that first year! I took the Level One GAMA Teaching Guitar Workshop that summer and it changed my whole approach. I have since taken Level Two and hosted 2 Level One and 1 Level Two workshops here in Boise.

GAMA: Was there support from your school’s?
Erik Larson: When I decided that I wanted to start a junior high guitar program, my administrators were very supportive and created room in my schedule for two sections a day.

GAMA: Tell us about a typical guitar class?
Erik Larson: I spend time each day on hand dexterity, strum patterns, chord pairs/progressions, rhythm reading, note-reading and chord study, using songs and a variety of exercises.

GAMA: What is most rewarding about teaching guitar?
Erik Larson: Some kids don’t work well in a large group rehearsal environment. It’s been a shot in the arm for me to be able to offer an alternative and to get even more kids involved in our school music department. I think it has made me a better teacher, as well.

GAMA: What is most challenging about teaching guitar?
Erik Larson: Having 15 years of experience as a band director first, it has been difficult to understand the dynamics of classroom guitar, as it is not always a “rehearsal” environment, but is often like a gigantic private lesson with kids at a variety of ability levels and interests.

GAMA: What products or services would be helpful?
Erik Larson: Access to a larger variety of books, ensembles and recordings that there just isn’t money for right now.

GAMA: Any other thoughts or insights for teachers who wish to start a guitar program?
Erik Larson: With the amount of training that is available for classroom guitar teachers, no one needs to be fearful of getting a program started in their own schools. Adding a guitar program has allowed me to offer music to kids who might have otherwise “fallen through the cracks” by not participating in the traditional ensembles that our school offers. Selfishly, it has also allowed me to not have to travel as much between schools for other teaching assignments.

GAMA: Moving forward, what would help you teach guitar?
Erik Larson: Being a professional trumpet player certainly hasn’t helped me much on the guitar end of things. I try to take lessons in the summer whenever I can to help with my own progression as a guitarist. I also try to soak in as much as I can from friends and colleagues who play. Honestly, YouTube (when used properly)and other guitar teaching websites are also a terrific resource for someone like me.

GAMA: What products do you use in class?
Erik Larson: Classroom sets of Essential Elements for Guitar, Snyder’s Guitar School (Bk 1) and Explore It! Book by Class Guitar Resources. I also have a Fender G-DEC Jr. that I use as a metronome and to accompany exercises and chord progressions with a rhythm section. I use my iPod all the time!

GAMA: What products do your students bring?
Erik Larson: Kids provide their own picks and keep a folder for handouts and notes.

GAMA: What Instruments does the school provide?
Erik Larson: I have a classroom set (25) of Dean Espana classical guitars. Just got new Levy’s bags for them. I replace individual strings as they break (using D’Addario) unless they’re old and I put on a new set. Each guitar gets all new strings at least once a year. I take care of strings (since they’re my guitars!), I also have a couple of tuners and capos when we need them. The guitars were about $2500, I spent about $300 on class sets of books and the G-DEC was around $200. I try to buy everything through our local music dealers to support them.

GAMA: Do your students play informally?
Erik Larson: A couple of my older kids are involved with bands, but the JH kids mostly play just for their own enjoyment.

GAMA: How many of your students have smartphones?
Erik Larson: Probably 50% or so have phones or iPods that can run apps.

GAMA: What websites do they use?
Erik Larson: Facebook, YouTube, Guitar Noise

GAMA: Do they get guitar products for the holidays?
Erik Larson: I try to make a list available to parents of accessories and books that would make good gifts for their students.

GAMA: How do your students purchase guitar products?
Erik Larson: We’re fortunate to have 3 terrific local dealers that make it unnecessary for kids to make music purchases online (though they still sometimes do). I think it’s vitally important for someone to be able to play an instrument or to see the accessory they are buying before they make a decision to purchase. The dealers will often match catalog or online prices and not charge shipping.

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