There are many different ways to become a guitar teacher. Below are some examples of successful teachers and how they became guitar educators.
A short outline of my guitar teaching in pre-college education
“Teaching is sacred” - An Old Friend
The very first thing I needed to realize was that I loved education. Not just teaching guitar but, teaching history, context, character, quality perception, respect, teamwork, trends, and the list goes on, and on. Once I understood that, I knew that my energies needed to follow that path.
I received my M.M. in Classical Guitar Performance from Northern Arizona University however, I knew that being a concert artist or competition contender in classical guitar was a long shot. Also, a steady pay check is a steady pay check. I attempted to not be embarrassed that I didn’t follow through with performing, after all, I learned a lot in school, about teaching and performing. Rather, I strove to see teaching the guitar as an honest calling to pass down the love I’ve developed for the guitar and its heritage to younger people. That frame of mind kept developing and made teaching a true joy!
After my first year teaching guitar in high-school and middle school, I noticed the disparity between the opportunities band, choir, and orchestra students were afforded and those that guitar students were not. I decided that I would take my students to a regional competition and then a national competition (the only ones I could find!). The experience from the camaraderie side to the competition side clearly made a positive impact on my students. Their playing, ensemble work, confidence, friendship, you name it, improved! I decided then that I would strive to give my students experiences I couldn’t even imagine when I was taking guitar in high-
The next six years went smoothly. I focused on the long game of building a program (one-by- one, class-by-class) and fostering a positive rapport with the student body and the administration and local guitar society. I immediately implemented fund raising campaigns to soften the financial burden on students and administration for trips and supplies and made sure to take my craft as seriously and enjoyably as possible. The traveling and building the past six years has lead to national ensemble rankings, a robust guitar program, connections in a field I love, and an enrichment to my life.
From my youngest days, guitarists on TV inspired me. No one I knew played music; so truthfully, I was drawn to the instrument itself. I desired to be the best guitarist possible. In High School I began teaching a few neighborhood kids and playing in bands. Winning Jazz Awards led me to attend Berklee College of Music focusing on the Performance program in the pick-style/contemporary idiom.
Raising a family as a working musician eventually united my desire to perform with the desire to educate and share those music skills. I taught from home keeping a consistent number of students. Using a various books, students told me what they liked and I helped them learn it.
A local Suzuki Music Academy contacted me about taking over a departing instructor’s position. I knew of Suzuki as a violin method for very young children. I learned the Method grew with the child to advanced levels and that it applied to other instruments, including guitar.Suzuki Method is more about understanding his philosophy and approach to education than it is differences in the fundamentals of good music instruction. The now-popular statement “Every child can learn” originated with Dr. Suzuki and applies to all types of education.
The Suzuki Academy position was more lucrative and focused than my home teaching. I pursued training, modified my home studio as well and we had our first Recital. Within one year, my student load tripled and I was able to raise my prices.
Most Suzuki Guitar Instructors are involved in musical projects and various methods in addition to Suzuki teaching. Eventually, I became a Teacher Trainer. Networking with all types of musicians and professionals, I travel widely establishing liaisons and programs in Suzuki, conducting student clinics in both jazz and classical guitar and generally helping further guitar education.
I love helping create opportunities between communities of professionals as much as I love teaching students – some from a very early age – and helping them find their own musical voice.
My mother’s side of the family is almost entirely comprised of musicians, mostly woodwind and brass players. At the time, I didn’t think of it as being anything special, but I grew up surrounded by music. My grandfather was a bassoonist for the Recife Symphony, and he would play the excerpt from Dukas’ Sorcerer’s Apprentice when I visited (he would invariably be practicing). This memory, however, is not my earliest recollection of being entranced by a musical instrument. A guitar was left behind in my grandfather’s house by one of his fellow Choro players, and I believe that it was by quietly sneaking and plucking the open strings on that guitar that I first realized that I loved music.
Growing up in Brazil means that you will certainly know someone that plays the guitar quite well and, in an experience not dissimilar to many other Brazilian guitarists, my first lesson was from a friend. Although I took a few years of formal private lessons, it was really only after entering University that I had access to a structured education.
It is with this background that I found myself leading the program at Servite High School three years ago. I place a great value in the organic way in which I found music and the guitar. At the same time, I also acknowledge the disadvantages of not having a formalized education during my early formative years. In my own teaching, I try to find balance between the two, and foster the instinctive enthusiasm that I experienced with the formal discipline that I wish I had access to. It was by chance that I heard about the opening at Servite, and I am now very glad that this opportunity was given to me. We seldom hear about pre-college education within the tertiary level, and I find that there is a huge potential still to be explored. I am trying my best to do my part.
My name is Desiree Fowler and I created and developed the guitar program at Cortines School for the Visual & Performing Arts in Los Angeles. The program has grown from the school’s inception now offering four levels of guitar serving about 200 students each year, ranging from beginning to college level repertoire.
It has been an unlikely journey as I received my BA in music education with my primary instrument as voice. (However, I did opt to for my second instrument as guitar.) My Father is a guitarist and I began playing guitar when I was 14. In school I was in every choir, but was using the guitar to write my own songs and play in pop bands. At the time I wasn’t aware of guitar even being offered as a high school class.
started teaching guitar as a student teacher. My Master teacher was brilliant, but she didn’t take the guitar class very seriously so I learned to experiment with the curriculum. My first teaching gig was a middle school choir teacher where I built a choral— and guitar program after a Non-profit donated 30 free guitars plus curriculum. When I moved up to the Performing Arts HS the Music Academy Principal told me I would be teaching primarily classical guitar. I studied method books and asked for a ton of help which connected me with materials, repertoire, and organizations such as GFA.
Each year I grow more in love with the uniqueness of the classical guitar ensemble. I finished my Masters and thesis earlier this year. The degree was in choral conducting, but the theme was a conductor's guide for choral directors choosing repertoire for choir accompanied by the guitar, and other plucked stringed instruments that pre-dated the current classical guitar model. I also thoroughly enjoy composing and arranging music for the guitar ensemble to help bring more fun and exciting music to the various levels I see in the urban classroom.
The guitar scene in the 80’s was very different than it is today. It was not common to see grade-school children play guitar, and there were few available instruments sized for younger players. Very often instructors who worked with children did not have performing experience or degrees in classical guitar.
In the pre-internet world the main source of information was observing and participating in masterclasses. In the course of my years as a student, I attended many masterclasses, and it was striking to see how many players had similar, elemental problems. Seeing repeated mistakes made me think about how to solve the problem. What would results be IF we started children at the early age, and IF we taught all the elements of the technique (in an age appropriate way) from the very beginning?
My goal is that by the high-school age students have most of their technical elements in place, and that time in college should be spent on acquiring new repertoire and maturing musically.
I think that the amazingly high level of playing in the Youth competitions is a reflection of efforts in guitar pedagogy that have happened in the past 20 years. And the best things are still about to happen in the world of guitar!
For over 20 years, Glen McCarthy has taught guitar pedagogy, required for all music education majors at George Mason University. He has been a guest clinician and adjudicator at festivals, conferences and workshops both nationally and internationally. He is the past chair of the NAfME Council for Guitar Education, the past chair of the ASTA Guitar-in- the-Schools Committee and presently the co-chair and a clinician for Teaching Guitar Workshops.
Mr. McCarthy retired from Fairfax County Public Schools after 30 years at Robinson Secondary School where he developed a multi-level guitar program. Robinson was the first recipient of the Guitar & Accessories Marketing Association’s award to recognize innovative guitar programming in the United States. Under his direction, the Robinson Guitar Ensemble performed in numerous venues and was consistently awarded superior ratings at adjudicated festivals.
In 2014 from over 32,000 nominees the Grammy Foundation recognized Glen as one of the top ten music educators in the United States. He continues to perform in numerous venues and genres.
In 2007 I was transitioning from being a band director and began teaching guitar. Being a conservatory trained saxophonist/percussionist, needless to say I experienced a difficult time that first year. It took several years before I began to see success in my student’s music reading ability, technical prowess and musicianship. The path to where I am today was unique and I experienced and developed a few of the following items that lead to creating a high successful HS Guitar Program:
Have a vision of what you want your classes and program to become.
My teaching philosophy as band director mirrors what I do as a guitar teacher. It is student centered, utilizing rigorous curricula, with an emphasis on developing the ability levels of all students and ensembles, while encouraging everyone to work hard, improve musical, technical and artistic skills and to instill life lessons that would be applied outside the classroom.
Commit to a rigorous curriculum.
I’ve found the most successful teachers and music programs are those where the teacher and students are actively and positively engaged in learning and developing specific skill sets. Decide, design and commit what agenda and units of study you will cover in the course of a school year.
Find and create a solid support system.
I’m fortunate to have several collegues (collegiate, public school and fine arts magnets) that I could lean on to answer my many questions and guide me in how to teach guitar (at the time an unfamiliar instrument to me). It has made my journey in teaching a straighter path and allowed me to find success sooner than expected.
The process of amazing teaching requires one who is tireless, resourceful, dedicated and committed. You need to be patient and allow yourself time to learn to effectively teach an instrument you are not trained in. The goals I set for myself in teaching guitar were to be over a period of 10 years; this included working with international artists, performing at our All-State Music Conference and possibly taking a trip to a guitar festival. I reached my goals in half that time. It has been a wonderful journey and is one that happy to be a part of.
After two music education degrees and twenty years of teaching guitar at the university level, Bill Swick was asked by the head of the Fine Arts Department for the Clark County School District to visit a middle school which had started offering guitar as an elective. There were some questions if the teacher was being effective and if the pedagogy being used was accepted.
Swick made a scheduled visit only to be completely taken in with the classroom of middle school students all playing guitar to the Beach Boys’ song, Surfing USA, clearly having fun while doing so. That day, Swick went home and told his wife he thinks he knows what he will be doing next in his career.
At the time, Swick was married, had two middle school children and a mortgage. It had been twenty-five years since graduating from college and his education credits had expired. In order to get licensed to become a public school teacher, Swick had to go back to college and retake all of the required education courses as well as the state required courses for licensure.
The University of Nevada Las Vegas worked with Swick and changed his schedule to make it possible for him to go to school full-time and continue to teach. After one year, Swick completed his course work, got licensed and was placed into a guitar teaching position where he taught at a middle school for half a day and then at a high school the remainder of the day. He kept his position at UNLV for the next four years while he was also teaching full-time for the school district.
Today, now in his 18th year of public school teaching (39th in all), Swick is the Guitar Task Force Chair for the Clark County School District which offers guitar in sixty-two schools and services over 5,700 guitar students. He is also the guitar teacher and the Music Department Chair for the twelve-time GRAMMY Award winning Las Vegas Academy of the Arts.
I was introduced to public school guitar programs in 1991 by John Graham; who teaches in Fairfax, VA (FCPS). John frequently invited me to perform for, teach and travel with his students. The opportunities and experiences that he provided his students were key elements in my path. Years later, I was offered a part-time, itinerate position for FCPS (2004 – 2005). That same year, Romana Hartmetz from Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) asked if I would be a performer/clinician for the LCPS Guitar Festival. While at the festival, the late Jim Harmon (LCPS Music Supervisor) told me that they planned to hire six full-time guitar teachers for the following school year. Upon this news, I simply said, “Can I give you my resume?” I began my new position for LCPS at Heritage High School in the 2005– 2006 school year and have been there ever since.That first year, Loudoun County offered two-levels of guitar: Beginning-Intermediate and Intermediate-Advanced. This was clearly chaotic, so I looked at our VA Standards of Learning (SOL) and noticed that there were four levels of instrumental music offered: Beginning, Intermediate, Advanced and Artist. With this information, I proposed the implementation of these levels to our guitar programs. Jim Harmon was very supportive and the teachers were excited about this. Within a few years, all schools offered four levels of guitar instruction. While LCPS offers guitar for both middle and high school countywide, we [teachers] do not take this for granted. Most of our teachers create extraordinary opportunities for our students; which in turn become our best form of advocacy. To watch LCPS guitar in action, you may enjoy watching these videos:
Journey to Shiki (with LAGQ and Shingo Fujii): https://vimeo.com/40965900
CASCADE Short Documentary & World Premiere Performance (GFA Commission): https://vimeo.com/63195971 2014 Yale Guitar Extravaganza: https://vimeo.com/channels/newsbyte/89619886 Summer Salsa: A Guitar Teachers’ Collaboration Project:https://vimeo.com/106214756