Watching the students grow. Most enter the semester with little to no musical experience. By the time they leave, they have the skills to be life-long appreciators and makers of music! That is what is so captivating about the guitar. Unlike a saxophone or a trumpet, the guitar can play melodies AND chords. You have the ability to accompany yourself and others on the guitar, much like the piano…Only a guitar is portable!
Name: Greg Black
School: Lakeview High School, Battle Creek, MI
Subjects Taught: Choir, Marching Band, Guitar
Number of Music Students p/Yr: 235
Number of Guitar Students p/Yr: 85
Number of Years Teaching: 15
Grades Taught: 9-12
Teaching Guitar Workshops: Tell us a little about why you decided to teach guitar?
Greg Black: In recent years, I have become more interested in including a guitar class at Lakeview High School because I realized our music program was missing a large portion of our school’s population. I hoped that offering a guitar class would reach those kids who are not interested in the traditional Choir, Band, or Orchestra program.
Teaching Guitar Workshops: What did your administrators say when they learned you were starting a guitar program?
Greg Black: They were excited to make it happen. My Assistant Principal, Darin Schmidt is a former Band Director, and my Principal, Chris Doyle has a son who is a very successful guitar player, so he has first-hand, personal experience regarding the benefits of a strong music education. He was very helpful and involved in the genesis of this course.
Teaching Guitar Workshops: Describe a typical guitar class.
Greg Black: Each class period is 90 minutes long so we have the ability to do a wide variety of activities during the session. We usually start with something fun. We will play the chords to a popular song as a warm-up. We will play anything from The Beatles to Pink Floyd to Taylor Swift. After that we will work on a few pages in a guitar methods book. When their fingers grow tired or sore, we’ll set the guitars down and enjoy a “clip of the day”. I have a video presentation system in my room so we feature many accomplished guitar players from day to day. The students will watch a master guitar player and then we will discuss what we saw. After that, we may work on some ensemble playing (traditional folk tunes or classical guitar). We have 35 guitars in the room. Each is named after a different guitar player. Each student is assigned a guitar and they are required to give a presentation to the class some time during the semester, based on the guitarist after whom their guitar is named. So each week we hear two to three short presentations educating the class on the great guitar players of the world. Before the end of the period, we’ll do another fun song followed by 10 minutes (or so) to practice on their own or in small ensembles.
Teaching Guitar Workshops: What is the most fun or rewarding element of teaching classroom guitar?
Greg Black: Watching the students grow. Most enter the semester with little to no musical experience. By the time they leave, they have the skills to be life-long appreciators and makers of music! That is what is so captivating about the guitar. Unlike a saxophone or a trumpet, the guitar can play melodies AND chords. You have the ability to accompany yourself and others on the guitar, much like the piano…Only a guitar is portable!
Teaching Guitar Workshops: What is the most challenging element of teaching classroom guitar? How are you dealing with that challenge?
Greg Black: Personally, my biggest challenge is staying ahead of the students. I am not a virtuoso on the guitar, I did not study it in college. I have to do a lot of work to be sure I know what I’m doing and what I’m talking about in class. And since this class is still relatively new, I am still under daily pressure to produce new materials for the class to use. The Teaching Guitar Workshop that I attended gave me many skills and techniques that I use daily. It also gave me some perspective on what I should expect from my students. I have also attended guitar teaching sessions at the Michigan Music Conference.
Teaching Guitar Workshops: What products or services would help you to teach classroom guitar?
Greg Black: Wall charts and diagrams that display the relationship between notes on the staff, and their location on the guitar. Also, worksheets and lessons that use more current music. My kids are getting tired of so many folk songs and my alternative is to write out lead sheets for them, which is very time consuming. I’m sure these products exist, but being new at this, I have not found them yet.
Teaching Guitar Workshops: Any other thoughts or insights for teachers (currently teaching guitar or considering it)?
Greg Black: My biggest “ah-ha” moment was when I realized how this program would reach the “other” kids in the building. The ones who aren’t involved in Band, Orchestra, or Choir but still love music. This has proven to be true. Most of my guitar students are kids that I had never met before they walked through my door. Of course there is some overlap, and one of the added benefits has been a boost in numbers in the traditional music programs as well. A few of my guitar students have decided to take other music courses.
Teaching Guitar Workshops: Has the Teaching Guitar Workshops Program helped your career?
Greg Black: The TGW seemed to good to be true! For a couple hundred dollars, I could attend a week-long training session, earn credits toward continuing education, and receive a guitar and assorted accessories. If I had not attended the workshop, my class would look very different than it does today. It gave me an idea of what my class should look like, and then gave me the tools and techniques to make it happen. I met other teachers who were doing the same thing as me, some with no experience and some with years of experience. It helped me network. It exposed me to products that I would not have been exposed to with out it. It was invaluable to me and the entire music program at Lakeview High School.
Teaching Guitar Workshops: Approximately how much did your program cost to start and sustain?
Greg Black: I purchased 37 guitars and cases for $5250. GHS Strings graciously donated strings, picks, tuners, a few straps and a few racks. I don’t have an official budget for this class yet. We are still able to coast on our initial investment and the help from GHS Strings. I use my Choir budget to purchase small items like strap locks for my “teacher guitar”, needle nose pliers and wire clippers, tuner batteries, etc.
Teaching Guitar Workshops: Do your students play informally (start bands, play together outside of school)?
Greg Black: The students are allowed to take their guitars home; many choose to. Often students will come in before or after school and sit in the room or hall playing guitar with their friends A small handful of them are in organized bands.