“My students entered a contest held by the alternative rock group Weezer and won! As a result, I was flown to Chicago to meet the band and we held a live webcast with the band and my students back in Kansas. This event had us on the front page of our paper and featured us on all of our surround television stations.”
Matt Gerry, Salina South Middle School, Salina, KS; Subjects: Guitar and General Music; 150 Guitar Students p/Yr
GAMA:What did your school’s administrators say when you they learned you were starting a guitar program?
Matt Gerry: I took the first GAMA/MENC class nearly 8 years ago, and received a grant from our local Education Foundation to purchase our instruments to get started. I began teaching guitar as a part of my 6th Grade General Music class. I didn’t receive much support from my administration at first. My students in 6th grade were loving guitar and both students and parents were requesting more. So, I started to push for a strictly guitar class in 7th and 8th grade. It took a long time and a lot of convincing, but that class was just implemented this year. The class has been incredibly successful, and has received a lot of press and recognition in the community. My students entered a contest held by the alternative rock group Weezer and won! As a result, I was flown to Chicago to meet the band and we held a live webcast with the band and my students back in Kansas. This event had us on the front page of our paper and featured us on all of our surround television stations.
GAMA: Describe a typical guitar class.
Matt Gerry: My typical class starts with students tuning, followed directly by improvisation time. I choose a popular song, and tell the students the key of that song. From there we figure out as a class what fret we’d start on for improving a guitar solo with the major or minor pentatonic scale. As a music teacher, I want my students to be literate musicians that can not only play guitar, but also read music. We test every week. Again, half of my tests focus on picking and the other half focus on strumming. The balance keeps everyone interested, while still teaching all the objectives.
GAMA: Any other thoughts or insights for teachers (currently teaching guitar
or considering it)?
Matt Gerry: Take the GAMA/MENC Teaching Guitar Classes! Guitar can reach students who are not being served by another form of music education, which makes it so powerful.
GAMA: Do your students tend to play informally? – start bands, play guitar together outside of class, etc.?
Matt Gerry: Yes! Many of my students continue to play outside of class, and start their own groups. I try and stress how to continue playing music they are interested in playing once outside the school walls. My heart smiles when I see my students while I’m driving home after school sitting under a tree playing. I try my best to encourage that behavior.