“The students deserve for guitar to be a true option for music education….you don’t have to have a ton of skills to get started, but you have to be willing to seriously learn the instrument, or the kids will see right through you pretty quickly.”
Name: Don Hicks
School: Bryan Station High School, Lexington, KY
Subjects Taught: Guitar Ensemble, I, II, & III
Guitar Students p/Yr: 120; Years Teaching: 17; Grades Taught: 9-12
Teaching Guitar Workshops: Tell us a little about what made you decide to teach guitar?
Don Hicks: I always wondered why more schools didn’t have guitar programs, why there wasn’t much of a public school outlet for guitar like there was for band/orchestra/choir. After about 10 years as a band director, I read an article in a professional journal about a guitar program in Virginia…started researching other guitar programs in public schools…which led to attending the Teaching Guitar Workshop at Reston, VA. As a result of TGW, I started my first guitar class, and attended the Level II Teaching Guitar Workshop in St Louis in 2010.
Teaching Guitar Workshops: What did your school’s administration say when you they learned you were starting a guitar program?
Don Hicks: Administration was extremely supportive. The third year of the program, we had more kids signed up than we had room for in the two classes I was teaching. My principal extended my schedule to 4 classes, and the following year allowed me to move to a full-time Guitar position, giving up the Assistant Band position. The administrators (here and at the district level) are proud of the fact that we are able to offer performance music to such a large portion of the school population that would not get it in the traditional band/orchestra/chorus format. The Guitar program enrollment exploded here. We went from one class of 16 students to 6 classes (block schedule) and a full-time position.
Teaching Guitar Workshops: Describe a typical guitar class.
Don Hicks: There is no typical guitar class! We have everything: complete beginners to shredders, and everything in between. We have a good mix of gender/SES/ethnicity in the guitar classes. The kids get a lot of basic skills in the beginning, then chords, reading, single note technique, solo classical, small & large ensemble.
Teaching Guitar Workshops: What is the most fun or rewarding element of teaching classroom guitar?
Don Hicks: I love being a part of kids going from absolutely no exposure to a musical instrument, to becoming proficient performers in such a short span of time. When kids come in with a piece of music they want to learn and I can help them get to an acceptable level of performance on that piece. And on a personal level, just getting paid to play guitar every day!
Teaching Guitar Workshops: What is the most challenging element of teaching classroom guitar?
Don Hicks: Sometimes, getting kids to believe in themselves enough to ‘see it through’, can be difficult. Also, trying to keep everyone challenged when there are so many different ability levels in every class can be a big challenge.
Teaching Guitar Workshops: What do you think would help you teach guitar in the future?
Don Hicks: If we had better funding for guitar programs in our district, and if our district would be willing to take a bit of a gamble on expanding guitar to the other schools within. Also, for guitar education….finding our ‘niche’ in the KMEA: organizing for curriculum standards, assessment opportunities, and generally being able to promote guitar through KMEA.
Teaching Guitar Workshops: Aside from guitars, what other products do use during your class?
Don Hicks: Music stands, straps, picks, capos, guitar stands/hangers, electric guitars & mini- amps (roland microcube), footrests, BSHS Guitar Ensemble T-shirts
Teaching Guitar Workshops: What products do your students bring to your class (include Phones,mp3 players if they are used toward the end goal of making music)?
Don Hicks: We use all the electronic media, as well as sometimes using their own home guitars, amps, etc.
Teaching Guitar Workshops: Does the school supply the instruments?
Don Hicks: Yes- a classroom set of classical guitars as well as a set of electrics and amps that we use sparingly.
Teaching Guitar Workshops: Do your students tend to play informally? – start bands, play guitar together outside of class, etc?
Don Hicks: Yes. We’ve had several “bands” crop up. The Guitar classes are an excellent opportunity for kids to meet up with other kids that play, that they might not otherwise associate with in school.