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Who Me? Teach Guitar?

Lesley Schultz • April 2021FeaturesString Section • April 6, 2021

Considerations for Starting a Guitar Class

As we reach the end of the school term, plans are being made for what the next school year will look like. Schedules are being set, recruiting is occurring, and administrators are looking for ways to get more students in music classes and electives. Some schools have well-established guitar programs, others have had programs sporadically, others have never had them, but have decided now is the time to start. The string orchestra teacher is usually considered one option to teach the class, especially if they need a class to fill their schedule. Anyone can teach guitar, especially at the beginning levels. Over the almost 10 years I have taught guitar classes at the High School level, it has become one of my favorite classes to teach. There are some considerations you need to make whether you are taking over a class or starting from scratch.

The first consideration is how long will the class be? A lot of this depends on how your school terms are scheduled. At my school, guitar class is a semester elective at the high school level, lasting 18 weeks. At our middle school level, students get a module in 8th grade lasting from six to nine weeks depending on the year and how the encore electives are scheduled that year. I really like the semester option for high school, we get to get beyond the mere basics, but also don’t hit a wall with literature getting too hard. The semester option also enables you to service two classes of students in a year.

The second consideration is whether students will be required to provide their own guitar for class, or if you will have a fleet of school guitars. When I started teaching guitar, the classes were small because it required students to supply their own guitar for class. I had zero school guitars. This was perilous because the class was always in danger of being cut due to low enrollment. Over the years I built up a small stock of school guitars and when we went to a combined 6-12 building in my district we then were able to have a guitar classroom, with access to a fleet of guitars that the middle school program had. A lot of this comes down to storage space and classroom space, which can be at a premium. If students are required to bring their own, there will need to be a secure place to store them. When students were bringing their own, sometimes their learning was impacted because they had a guitar that was barely functioning. Like anything with instruments, there are guitar racks that can be purchased for guitar storage, so look into those depending on your situation. You must have details on this consideration worked out before going on to the next.

The third consideration is class size. This is something that will have to be problem-solved with administration and whether you will have access to school guitars, or students are expected to bring their own. A lot of schools have an enrollment minimum to run the class. Guitars are economical at the entry level, so I know of a lot of programs that have a blended approach where having their own guitar is encouraged but not required. Once you know what and how many school guitars, you may or may not have access to, you can set a class cap. Ideally class sizes should be small to offer as much individual coaching/attention as possible, but then you run into the class minimum again. We set the cap for guitar class at 25 in my school, and that directly sets with scheduling, as the music tech lab for semester long music tech has 26 seats and the piano lab for piano class at my school has 24 seats. This enables these classes to work synchronously for scheduling, as the class caps are all in the same range. A full high school class of 24 students all taking a playing assessment on the same day can be a stretch, particularly later in the semester when the excerpts are longer, but I find if I offer a small incentive, I can get four-to-seven students to go a day early, reducing the load on assessment day. I also offer students space to record their test and submit electronically since some dislike playing for the class.

The last consideration is based on whether you will have school guitars. That is the debate of acoustic/folk vs. classical style guitar. There are good points for both, and drawbacks to both. I play a solid “campfire” Yamaha acoustic guitar that retails for about $150. The school fleet that my students use are a variety of Fender, Yamaha, Cordoba and other classical guitars that retail for between $100-$200 each. Even though my students use classical guitars, I teach more folk style and positioning. Classical guitars with the three nylon strings and lower tension is easier on the fingers of beginning students, but some students don’t like the sound, and enjoy the steel string acoustic. I find that playing a steel string acoustic with the students on the classical, I can project enough so they can hear my playing and accompaniment easily. No matter what you choose, you really can’t go wrong, as there are plenty of options in that $100-$200 per instrument range to get your fleet started. Work with a reputable dealer and stick with well-known student brands.

Hopefully, you are feeling more comfortable about starting or taking over a guitar class after this. Next month we will delve into the wide variety of choosing a guitar method book and the pros and cons of various methods.

 

Lesley Schultz teaches orchestra and secondary general music at Princeton City Schools (Cincinnati, OH). She earned her Bachelors of Music Education from West Virginia University and Masters of Music Education from Ohio University. Lesley is a Level 2 Google Certified Educator. She keeps an active performing schedule with regional symphonies on viola. She is a member of TI:ME, serving on its conference committee, serves as OMEA Conference Liaison for OMEA.

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