Jason Venesky, Director of Bands, Ford City High School

TRIBLive, a local paper in Western Pennsylvania, recently published a story about Jason Venesky, the Director of Bands at Ford City High School, and his school’s purchase of $5000 worth of guitar products for their new classroom guitar program.

Jason attended GAMA’s Teaching Guitar Workshop in Lexington, Kentucky this past June to learn how to teach guitar. We reached out to Jason (Venesky) to find out more about his plans.

GAMA: Where did you purchase the gear?
Venesky: With the exception of the generous amount of materials and gear I received at the TGW this summer, almost all of my gear was purchased from Smail’s Custom Drum Shop, a local music store in Kittanning, PA. N’Stuff Music in Blawnox, one of the most-respected guitar/rock shops in the Pittsburgh area, has helped me quite a bit with my personal gear and set up.

GAMA: The article states that your school considered starting a guitar program for 15 – 20 years. Why now?
Venesky: There has never been a collective will to actually start a guitar program in my district. A few things factored into this: #1 there have been few teachers with a background and comfort level in guitar; #2 No one had the knowledge or training to start a program from scratch; #3 There wasn’t administrative encouragement and support to start a class; #4 There was never funding available; #5 Our curriculum and staffing made its implementation seem too difficult and daunting to undertake.

GAMA: According to the article guitar is serving kids who were not previously participating in music. So there is a net gain?
Venesky: …At this time, guitars are being introduced into the junior high general music class. So, in a sense, yes, there are many more kids being served in a music performance/instrumental music role this year than ever before and I expect that to grow as we expand the curriculum into the high schools.

GAMA: Do you envision classroom guitar expanding throughout the district?
Venesky: Yes. We plan to introduce guitars in the junior high general music classes (grades 7 & 8) at both our high schools next year. In addition, we will be starting a semester-long high school level (grades 9-12) Introduction to Guitar course next year and plan to start a year-long Guitar 1 course the following year. After talking to the participants at the TGW this summer, I fully expect that there will be a great demand for the Introduction class next year. There already is a great buzz around my school with kids who are jealous that they didn’t get the chance to play guitar.

GAMA: Are your guitar students required to have a guitar at home or are they given a guitar for practice?
Venesky: We have a classroom set of guitars which stay at school. I hope we can build an inventory of instruments so students will be able to sign out guitars to practice at home. Until that time, I have been telling the kids to put a guitar on their Christmas list and ask hope Santa comes early. I suppose if the demand for the class exceeds the available instruments, we may have to look into students purchasing their own guitars. But one great thing about guitars as opposed to a saxophone, for example, is that they can be relatively inexpensive and thus, more accessible to the students.

GAMA: Is there anything particularly challenging so far about teaching guitar?
Venesky: One of my biggest challenges is pacing…. My second, and maybe biggest, challenge is since I’m am a novice player and first time teacher of the guitar, I don’t have a bag of tricks or strategies to help correct or prevent errors in technique, etc. So, it’s not always easy to anticipate problems. I do have the luxury of two classes, so I get to see what works (or doesn’t work) and adjust accordingly. That being said, I cannot express strongly enough how important the training I received at TGW has been. I not only learned a base of skills and have a plethora resources- books, DVD’s, Apps, etc., but now have a network of people, like Bill Purse, to help guide me through this process.

GAMA: Is there anything you really enjoy about guitar so far?
Venesky: Honestly, I haven’t been this excited about music education in some time. I’m pretty much at the halfway point in my career, so the challenge, and more importantly, the opportunity to share music with more kids has been very motivating. The title to my grant proposal which allowed me to purchase most of our guitars was: Guitars in the Classroom: Opening the Door to Life-Long Music Making and Cultivating Real Guitar Heroes. I am excited by the prospect that more children will have a deeper appreciation for music and be more inclined to both produce and consume music and music products through learning the guitar. Outside of the education realm, on a personal note, I am am putting the work in to become as accomplished as I can be on guitar. I am a tuba player. Playing songs for my 3 and 5 year old daughters on the tuba just doesn’t compare to playing and singing songs on the guitar. You would have thought I was a rock star the first time I broke out the song, “Let It Go”, for them. How does the saying on that famous ad go? “Priceless!”