matt_gerry_cc“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” comes streaming across our school’s PA system after the last student has exited the building for Christmas break. That was one of my former principals jolly way of not only wishing us “Merry Christmas”, but I think even more his way of saying “enjoy your time off” (especially since he played the same song over the PA in May! HA!).

I am coming off one of the most successful semesters in my history of teaching classroom guitar. Our winter concert was among the best I remember, student retention of important guitar skills and data were extremely high as evidenced by incredibly high scores on our guitar class finals, and the number of tears on our last day of class proved how important guitar class has been for so many (including me).

As teachers, we are trained about the importance of reflection in our teaching. When we have lessons and situations that prove less than successful, it is crucial that we reflect on those situations so we can continue to improve upon our instruction. I find I’m pretty good at reflecting on those kind of situations …even to the point of dwelling on them. What I’m not as good at is reflecting on the successes and figuring out what I did right that could help me replicate those successes in semesters to come.

These are my reflections on this incredible semester. I’m writing this for myself, but if any of my readers can glean anything from my thoughts – even better!

1. Leadership

More than any other semester, I feel like I empowered my students to become leaders in class. There were many of chances for me to allow my students to step up and really show others in class what our ensemble is all about. Granted, I had some incredible students to fill these leadership roles. There are some years where you don’t have students who really fill those positions the way you want them to, but this year my upperclassmen did a superb job. I need to keep reminding myself, that the ensemble is not mine – it’s theirs.

On this concert nearly half of the songs were requested by students. Every single one turned out great! Letting students have some control and take ownership really proved to be extremely valuable.

Example – in this clip from our concert, we played “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry. It was suggested by an 8th grade student who was trying to teach himself to play the solo. As mentioned in a previous post, this student was a “high flyer” and by giving him a place to show off his skills – I gained a leader. (see the video below at the 12:30 mark)

2. Sequencing

A couple of semesters ago I started teaching things in a different order than most of the method books. I started by teaching bass first. I have found that teaching the bass first to some popular tunes, and THEN going into teaching the first string – that students were making the connection between the two strings better (since they are the same note in different octaves). I am also completely sold on a change I made from a couple of years ago of teaching how the fretboard works on the first day of class. If students see how the fretboard works like the alphabet both linearly and horizontally, they have a way to figure out any note they want with just a little bit of thinking. With this knowledge I force my students to think critically. When we start a new song, I’ll make them figure out where they could play the roots of those chords on the bass. Take it a step farther…”what if you had a broken E string ….how could you play these roots on the bass.” My classes answered these types of questions with 94% accuracy on our final this semester. Those questions posed just a few years ago where ones I blogged about how poorly my students had answered. Yay for improvement!

3. Change in Venue

Our school as no auditorium. Actually we had a nice one, until they decided to remodel and to save costs they turned the auditorium into classrooms (my room now is the former entrance into the auditorium). Whoever had this bright idea…. I would love to have over for dinner to feed them some of my home-cooking (if you knew how poorly I cook you would get this joke).

In years past we have been forced to do our concerts in the gym. After two valiant attempts at this I gave up. We moved to our commons area, with slight improvements. The problem was always that my acoustic guitars would get lost in the sound of the room. Balance was impossible (especially with a drummer).

This year I moved the concert to our vocal music room. This room has awesome acoustics. I borrowed some condenser mics for the acoustics, got a drum machine (which I can control volume easily), and my custodians packed the room with nearly 200 chairs for the audience. For the first time ever…I could hear every part clearly! It was the room.

The only problem we have to improve upon for next semester was we were standing room only (that’s a great problem to have)…so I may have to give separate concerts for both groups to accommodate.

Here is video of my other class from this semester (they would get upset if I didn’t share their awesomeness with you too!) Highlights include “All-Star” by Smashmouth at the beginning and “What Huts the Most” by Rascal Flats at 6:45 with an incredible 7th grade vocalist from my class.

In conclusion – it is great to look back on both our failures and also our successes. I will miss this guitar class as much as miss all my other ones…but there are always guitar classes and guitar students that will stick with you forever.

What an incredible job I have! I forget that from time to time…but I am teaching something I love and am passionate about to incredible groups of students, every single day! If you are among the lucky teachers who teach a classroom guitar program in your school – think about the impact you make through this incredible instrument. I can think of nothing that has the power the guitar has in molding and shaping the lives of our youth. This class is the “Most Wonderful Part of the School Day.”

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