“With guitar, I get a much broader scope of the student body than teaching band. I see students go on to form bands of their own or play with praise bands at their church. I am teaching a subject that the students feel is current and relevant to their life.”
Name: Traci Bolton, Lafayette High School, Wildwood, MO
Subjects: Guitar and Band;
Students:160 Guitar Students p/Yr
GAMA: Tell us a little about what made you decide to teach guitar?
Traci Bolton: Guitar technique was a required course in college. I had a lot of fun playing and kept at it. Having the opportunity to teach guitar has been an unexpected bonus in my teaching career.
GAMA: What did your school’s administration say when you they learned you were starting a guitar program?
Traci Bolton: My school had a very basic guitar program when I was hired. My first 2 years, I had only 1 guitar class each semester, now we have 4 classes a semester and 3 extra-curricular guitar groups.
GAMA: Describe a typical guitar class.
Traci Bolton: A typical level 1 guitar class begins with a full class warm-up on dexterity building exercises. Next we move to note reading review as it pertains to the 1st position. We then move to work in the method books. I have 2 method books that I work out of. Students play together as a class on exercises. Students are given a minute to work through an exercise on their own and then we play it together as a group. All the while, I have a drum beat going to reinforce a sense of time and a steady beat. The class covers 2-4 new musical elements a week. By the end of level 1, students can read single line melodies on all 6 strings in first position as well as play all of the open chords. Level 1 students also have a basic introduction into playing bass. In the second level guitar class, we warm up with scales, arpeggios and chord progressions specific to keys. Exercises to develop picking skills are also used. Music reading is still primarily in 1st position but we are reading 2-3 notes at a time as opposed to single line melodies. We work on ensembles and part independence. Towards the end of the class, we transition into reading in other positions. Chords move from open position to moveable forms (E-form and A-form) up and down the neck. Students are also introduced to classical guitar technique and learn the basics of playing with fingers as opposed to picks.
GAMA: What is the most fun or rewarding element of teaching classroom guitar?
Traci Bolton: The most rewarding part of teaching guitar is the students. With guitar, I get a much broader scope of the student body than teaching band. I see students go on to form bands of their own or play with praise bands at their church. I am teaching a subject that the students feel is current and relevant to their life.
GAMA: What is the most challenging element of teaching classroom guitar?
Traci Bolton: The most challenging part of guitar is getting the students to buy into the importance of being a literate musician. They come in with the idea that they want to learn a particular song, but don’t realize that if they learn the building blocks they can learn that song plus thousands of others.
GAMA: What products or services would help you to teach classroom guitar?
Traci Bolton: Interactive online sources that would support the technique books that I use would be great. My students are very technologically savvy. They want to be able to use pedals or computer programs to build loops so they can practice soloing.
GAMA: Any other thoughts or insights for teachers (currently teaching guitar or considering it)?
Traci Bolton: Be passionate about the subject. When kids can see that you play and love guitar, they will buy into what you are asking them to do. They will play things much more difficult than they would believe possible. You have to pick up the instrument and demonstrate what you want. You get no credit for the “do as I say not as I do” mentality. My equipment was a joke when I started work at my school. The guitars were abused and the clientele of the class (1 class of 16) was uninspired. The class had been treated like an independent study hall with no one really interested in teaching guitar and no one who taught the class ever played guitar. In a year, I tripled the number of kids enrolled. This year (year 8), enrollment was capped at 160 and there is a waiting list to take the class. On a personal note, my love of guitar has grown as I have continued to teach the class. Guitar is an instrument you can play by yourself or with a group of people. The more I learn, the more I want to learn so I can teach it to the kids. They get excited. They start asking questions. They work hard. Teaching guitar is the highlight of my day. I have made so many lasting connections with kids through music. It’s worth the effort!
GAMA: What do you think would help you teach guitar in the future?
Traci Bolton: I would like more interaction with guitar teachers, and a forum to get advice and ideas from others who teach classroom guitar. My students would benefit from concert videos or clinics where artists perform and described the hows and whys of their performance. I try to show lots of performance footage and talk about what is happening but it is also nice to hear it right from the source. I would also like to be able to present more clinicians. I know it’s hard to physically get people in the classroom but online video chats with people in the business would be amazing. My school has the ability to do classroom video chats, but we have not had the opportunity to take advantage of the technology.
GAMA: What products or services would help you to teach classroom guitar?
Traci Bolton: In this digital age, online resources would be nice. I would like to be able to do class participation quizzing but I would also like students to be able to work on these items while practicing at home.
GAMA: Any other thoughts for manufacturers of guitar products?
Traci Bolton: The biggest challenge I face is knowing what is out there and what would work best for my needs. Magazine reviews are where the majority of my information comes from and those are targeted for individuals in a performance setting, not teachers in a classroom setting.
GAMA: Aside from guitars, what other products do use during your class?
Traci Bolton: I use a drum machine when playing together with students. I use multiple technique books and supplemental materials. I purchase $1000-$2000 in books and ensemble music a year. My classroom has a Smartboard (interactive whiteboard) where I can use online sources for note reading exercises, chord recognition and ear training. I also have guitar and bass amps when we learn to play bass and talk about electric guitars.
GAMA: What products do your students bring to your class (include Phones, mp3 players if they are used toward the end goal of making music)?
Traci Bolton: 90% of students have mp3 players in class. 70% are using smart phones. These items are used during individual practice time when students are working on specific music they enjoy listening to.
GAMA: Does the school supply the instruments? If so how often do you buy guitars and guitar products?
Traci Bolton: My school supplies guitars for the classes. I have a class set of 30 steel string acoustics and a class set of 20 nylon string classicals. I also have an electric bass. I buy 3-7 guitars a year to replace aging equipment and replacement/supplemental accessories are purchased every year.
GAMA: Do you supply any accessories in class? (picks, capos, etc.) Approximately how much were the equipment costs for your program?
Traci Bolton: I do supply accessories for the class. I have a class set of electronic tuners ($600 plus $100 in replacements each year), capos ($300), footrests ($200 plus $50 in replacements each year) and metronomes ($200). Students are supplied with picks at the beginning of the semester ($50). I also purchase 100 sets of strings a year at a cost of about $400.
GAMA: Do you work with a particular music products dealer when making purchases for your classroom guitar program? Mozingo Music (Ellisville, MO) is my brick and mortar store.
Traci Bolton: I do 90% of my purchasing from them. They have a road representative that visits my school weekly. Items for classroom maintenance, like my humidifier, are purchased online from non-music dealers. In the past I purchased strings online, but Mozingo Music will now match online prices for strings.
GAMA: Do your students tend to play informally?
Traci Bolton: I have several students who start bands outside of class. There are several venues in the St. Louis County area that cater to high school bands. Some students have become part of praise bands at their churches after taking the guitar classes as well. I have a guitar ensemble and 2 rock bands made up of students from my guitar classes. We play several performances for school events like basketball games, variety shows, teacher luncheons and madrigal dinners. I also have the Lafayette Guitar Festival to end the school year, featuring those groups plus performances by individuals with original compositions or arrangements for guitar.
GAMA: What websites do your students talk about? What percentage of your students receive guitar products as presents during the holidays?
Traci Bolton: 100% of my students are on Facebook. I would say less than half of my students are on Twitter. I have a small number of students who use the Guitar Pro apps on their phones for individual practice time. The most common discussion I have at parent-teacher conferences is what type of guitar they should buy for their student. I would say about 25%-30% of students who don’t already have a guitar receive one as a birthday or Christmas gift.
GAMA: What percentage of your students purchase guitar products online and at bricks and mortar dealers?
Traci Bolton: I would say 5% of instrument purchases come from online. Accessory purchases may be more than that. I would say that 95% of first purchases come from a brick and mortar store. I encourage students to shop locally so that they can build a connection with someone who can service the instrument. Plus, I feel you should play an instrument before you buy it, because not all instruments play the same. There are several music stores in the area that provide the brands kids recognize and want to purchase. My advanced students are looking for very specific items and often shop online.
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