As 2013 started I was dealt a new batch of students in all my sections. I teach 4 sections of sixth grade general music (we do a 6 week unit on the guitar as an introduction to the instrument as a part of this class), and two sections of guitar class for 7th/8th graders. We’ve been playing guitar as a part of sixth grade for 9 years now, but the guitar class for 7th and 8th graders we added just 3 years ago. The class has been insanely popular, and this year I am teaching 4 sections of that class over the entire school year for the first time. Even now, we have 100 guitar students (4 sections of 25), but had 174 students sign up to take the elective class. That still leaves nearly 75 kids who unfortunately don’t get to take the class. My goal for next year, is to create a Guitar Level II class for my students who take guitar as a seventh grader to continue on with their skills as an eighth grader. As the class is structured today, those 8th grade repeating students are a part of the same class as 7th graders, which does provide some excellent leadership, but also holds those students back in my opinion while we teach the essential skills to the incoming students. We do perform different songs and these leaders step up and do improvisational solos on several songs, but the situation is not ideal.
As I blog this year, I’ll focus on my two guitar classes. This semester I decided to start things off a little differently. We discussed rules and went through the class syllabus as normal, but as I reflected on my teaching I felt that one skill was being taught at the wrong time. Normally I teach students how to figure out notes on the fretboard when we start improvisation, but I thought that if we started the year off with that skill it would be much more useful. So we learned about the open strings of the guitar and the notes they produced (Eat at Dave’s Get Better Eggs), talked about how the fretboard moves in half steps and how the notes B and E do not have sharps (we just dealt with sharps – I figure we can learn about flats later), and I also explained how the double dots at 12 produce and octave (I find if I say, “Your guitar starts over at 12″ they get that pretty easily). So our first test of the year was not a playing test, but rather a paper pencil test.
The results of the test were very mixed. I had lots of 100% but also a lot of F’s. My policy in guitar class has always been that students can retake tests as many times as they wish. We are looking for skill mastery, and so giving these students that chance to “try again” helps students who may be slower in their learning. Again, I am not grading them on how fast their learn their skills, but on the actual skills themselves. Those students who did poorly recognized their mistakes after we went over the answers, and nearly all of them performed much better on their retake (just a note, my retake test had new questions). As we’re into the next week now in class, I am very happy with the change in teaching this skill first. We just started adding bass guitar to a couple of our chord songs, and because students had a knowledge of how the fretboard works, they were all able to find the notes to add the bass guitar into our mix.