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Choosing a Focus in Guitar Class

Lesley Schultz • May 2001String Section • May 4, 2021

Selecting the Right Method for You and Your Students

Choosing a method book for any class or ensemble can be daunting. In a guitar class the options are even more diverse than in an orchestra or band classroom, and you have the added hurdle that for many of us guitar is not our first instrument, nor even a major instrument. A lot of guitar method books are also geared more towards very small group instruction and/or individual instruction, a luxury a music teacher rarely has. There are considerations you want to use when choosing which method would be best for you and your students.

First and foremost, choose what you want the students to ultimately learn. The goal in guitar class for most programs is not a capstone performance in front of the parents and community (although you can certainly take your program that direction if you want), for most students they want to learn how to play, and the tools to learn music themselves once they leave your classroom. Guitar is one of the most accessible instruments that students can have as a side passion or hobby, the entry level to owning one is very low, and it is always something they can return to, so you want them to have the most tools possible to remember and work with when they return to playing. In my class, I aim to make them lifelong lovers and consumers of music, because lifelong consumers and lovers of music support arts programs and activities in their communities.

I return to the question, what do you want the students to learn? Is music reading for a lifetime your goal? Do you want your students to have a solid foundation in chords for singer/songwriting? Do you want your students to read the music no matter what their reading level, even when maybe they have failed at learning to read music before? Are you looking to recruit jazz guitar players for your jazz band? There are methods to address all the topics listed above and more. Reflect on the class you have inherited, or are starting or being told to start, and choose your focus. It will take time to figure out what your focus should be. The standards are broad on purpose to give teachers the freedom of selection of their methods and materials.

Another thing to consider when selecting a method for guitar class is accessibility. Depending on your teaching situation, guitar class will probably feature the most diverse learners in your school. All levels, all grades, all backgrounds, all English levels. While individualization is needed, and modification will still be needed for certain students, you can reduce the amount of modifications you need to do if you choose the right method. That way all students can achieve using mostly the same materials.

Student choice. High school students love having some choice in their education. In most methods, there are many exercises that practice and/or assess the same thing. I don’t know about you, but I get driven to distraction the more times I hear the same exercise over and over. I like to offer my students a choice of playing assessments, so I search out methods that offer as many exercises on the same learning objective as possible.

The last thing you need to consider when choosing a method, is how many songs are included that you might have to or should avoid? A lot of guitar methods feature some American folk songs that are no longer acceptable to teach. If you look closer, there are also songs that shouldn’t be included because they are discriminatory or racist towards AAPI or Latinx peoples as well. Folk songs are a huge part of guitar playing in particular, but we as educators need to screen the methods and decide on what folk songs we should and shouldn’t include in our curriculum. We also need to include a more diverse set of folk songs from around the world where possible.

Just like there are many things when starting (or inheriting) a guitar class you need to consider choosing a focus for your class and choosing the method for you and your students also needs a good amount of research and reflection. Next time, I will drill down on a couple of method books that are widely available.

Lesley Schultz currently teaches secondary general music and orchestra at Princeton City Schools (Cincinnati, OH).   She earned her Bachelors of Music Education from West Virginia University and her Masters of Music Education from Ohio University. Lesley is a Level 2 Google Certified Educator. Lesley keeps an active performing schedule around the state of Ohio, performing with several regional symphonies on viola.   She is a member of TI:ME (Technology In Music Education) and serves as the Ohio Chapter president and on the national conference committee. Lesley is a columnist for SBO Magazine. In her copious amounts of spare time she enjoys knitting, watching West Virginia Mountaineer sports and spending time with her family and making TikToks about her cats.

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