Teaching Guitar Workshops

Mike Lawson • ArchivesChoral • March 12, 2009

Broadening Teachers’ Skill Sets

When most people think of music education programs, images of young children playing instruments like the piano, violin, clarinet, trumpet, tympani, or marching percussion spring to mind. Yet, the vast majority of music one that across on the TV, radio, or Internet is based around an instrument that doesn’t always fit so easily into the typical orchestral or marching setting: the guitar.

Here we have a bit of a conundrum the music being taught in schools is generally different from what is regularly encountered in the mainstream media. Akin to teaching the great, antiquated literature of Shakespeare and Chaucer, there are a plethora of fundamental reasons to study the music of the masters, from the Mozarts to the Souzas, but what about contemporary music and perhaps more importantly contemporary instrumentation?

The Guitar and Accessories Marketing Association is seeking to address that disparity. To be clear, GAMA has no desire to replace the nation’s school bands and orchestras with rock quartets, but they do intend to augment what schools offer students by educating general music teachers and band, orchestra, and choir directors in how to teach guitar.

The Guitar and Accessories Marketing Association first formed over 50 years ago as a coalition of instrument and accessory manufacturers intent on building the guitar industry. As Mitsuru “Mick” Umemura, the president of Yamaha Corporation, recently noted, “The music business is the music education business.” With that tenet in mind, in 1994, GAMA teamed up with NAMM (the National Association of Music Merchandisers) and MENC (the National Association for Music Education) to offer the Teaching Guitar Workshops, a program formed with the goal of bringing guitar instruction to school music education. In exchange for a commitment to start a guitar class or program at a middle or high school, GAMA, NAMM, and MENC agreed to offer a package of guitars, accessories, and publications worth over $1,300, as well as free tuition for a music teacher to attend the Teaching Guitar Workshop. These workshops take place in various locations around the country, and they consist of five days of intensive classes on guitar playing skills, guitar teaching skills, and all related topics. In addition, the program is accredited by Duquesne University, which offers three graduate level credits for those who pass through either of the TGW’s two levels.

Since the program’s inception, GAMA estimates that approximately 2,000 educators have participated in the Teaching Guitar Workshops, and as a result, roughly half a million children have received guitar instruction.

“Kids want to play guitar, perhaps more so than other musical instruments, because the popular music that kids listen to is guitar based, and it has been for a long, long time,” says Harvey Levy of Levy’s Leathers and president of GAMA. “And to actually get guitars into the school, you make it more difficult to cut back on music programs because the kids are clamoring to their parents to take guitar classes, then the parents are lobbying the schools, and the schools are lobbying the school boards, and so on.”

“In addition,” continues Levy, “it is particularly beneficial for educators. Teachers who have taken our program have commented that they feel they have more job security because now they have something else to offer besides their traditional method of teaching music.”

The idea that the Teaching Guitar Workshops benefit teachers by broadening their skill sets is echoed by Suzanne Shull, who chairs the training sessions. “This program targets traditional classroom music teachers who want to offer more to their students,” notes Shull. “The growing segment of our workshops is the elementary specialist. We also get middle school band and orchestra directors who have to take some of the general music kids from the overloaded general music/choral specialist. And from the beginning, we’ve had traditional teachers who were itinerate who wanted to stay in one school and preferably in the music department.”

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