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Advocacy for Guitar in Public Education How Things Work
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Dr. Kevin Vigil (Dr. V) holds degrees from Shenandoah University (DMA), Yale University, (MM) and the University of Memphis (BM). He joined the faculty of Heritage High School in the 2005 – 06 school year.

Dr. V’s students have had workshops and masterclasses with Dr. Glenn Caluda, Risa Carlson, David Leisner, Martha Masters, Michael Nicolella, Benjamin Verdery, Jason Vieaux, Andrew York, the Tantalus Quartet, the Canadian Guitar Quartet, and the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. They have also performed at the 2006, 2009, 2012 and 2014 Yale Guitar Extravaganza at the invitation of Benjamin Verdery. As a result, The Heritage Guitar Ensemble was mentioned inClassical Guitar Magazine (published in the UK).

Dr. V has been published in several guitar magazines and journals and has presented lectures for the Guitar Foundation of America (GFA), Yale University, and James Madison University among others.
Beginning guitar classes at Heritage will use a text which was co-written by Dr. V and John Graham (from Lake Braddock Secondary School in Fairfax, VA). The title of the book is Guitar 101 which was published by Clear Note Publications. It was designed to meet and exceed the curricula of Fairfax and Loudoun counties.




“Knowing how something originated often is the best clue to how it works”[i]
-Terrence Deacon


While K-12 guitar programs in public schools seem to be an anomaly, they are growing in pockets around the United States at a staggering rate. This article is intended to support this growth and to offer insight to the origin, mission and agendas of public education.
It is important for teachers and advocates of music in the schools to be able to communicate to administrators and school board members with terminology that is consistent with the mission of public education. Advocates must be able to present their ideas within the framework of the overall mission of a school’s success.
An example of current instructional practices and concepts will be presented to illuminate this topic. These examples, in conjunction with a basic understanding of educational agendas, are intended to create a comprehensive perspective regarding the role of the guitar in public school systems.
Educational Agenda No. 1:
To Cultivate a Civil and Law Abiding Society


            The first American schools opened during the Colonial Era, beginning in 1642. These were mostly private schools with the primary emphasis to develop literacy so that people could read the Bible.
In 1779, Thomas Jefferson proposed free education for all children through adolescence. He, along with many others, viewed education as a solution for social problems. It took some time before Jefferson’s vision came to fruition.
            In 1837, Horace Mann supervised the development of state-wide common schools in Massachusetts. Common schools focused on elementary education for all children implementing the same curriculum for all students. The common school reformers had the same vision that Thomas Jefferson had proposed, “that education could transform all youth into virtuous, literate citizens… and also preserve social stability and prevent crime and poverty.”[ii]
By the end of the nineteenth century, free public education was available for all American children through the elementary levels. By 1918, all states had passed mandatory attendance laws for elementary school students.
            In recent years, the separation of church and state has practically pushed organized religion out of the public school system. One agenda, however, remains the same: to cultivate a civil and law-abiding citizenship.
Educational Agenda No. 2: To Meet the AYP

Curriculum and Accountability


            In theory, curriculum is decided and implemented on a local level by counties and states. Local school systems choose and adopt textbooks that meet the criteria for their geographic area. As the information age has rapidly progressed, local curriculum is becoming national. In fact, most textbook publishers produce texts that meet the curricula of the two largest states: Texas and California. In that sense, the same curricula are being implemented at a national level with the exception of state history courses.
            This national agenda creates national accountability standards that are locally implemented under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Schools must meet their Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO) in order to receive federal funding and to prevent severe consequences. While every state sets standards for meeting AMO, common factors include standardized test scores, attendance and graduation rates.


An Administrator’s Point of View


            Margaret Huckaby, former Principal of Heritage High School in Loudoun County, VA, addressed the elective teachers at an in-service meeting in the fall of 2006. In this meeting she emphasized the importance of elective classes for the overall success of the school. She recognized that elective teachers have the most opportunities to make important connections and relationships with their students. Elective teachers often see the same students year after year. Students create bonds to their teachers that keep them interested in the subject matter. If a student wants to go to school just to be at their elective class, attendance will be higher. If attendance is higher, more students will attend their core classes. If they attend their core classes, standardized test scores will rise and the school would more than likely meet AMO.[iii]
            Dr. Edgar B. Hatrick, newly retired Superintendent for Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS), addressed the faculty of Heritage High School on December 17, 2008. His presentation was intended to enlighten the faculty about his budget proposal to the school board at a time of economic crisis. He strongly argued against cutting Fine Arts programs, although others may consider these programs as less important than the core classes. He reinforced Margaret Huckaby’s conviction that truancy will remain low as long as students are interested in their subject matter. He further stated that LCPS had one of the lowest truancy rates in the country at less than one percent. He credits the elective programs as being a crucial element to this success.
            The LCPS budget was approved by the school board on April 13, 2009. Dr. Hatrick then wrote to the employees of LCPS: “We all know the challenging economic times in which we live, and I know that many of you have waited patiently to hear about the next year’s budget. I am pleased to report that last night the School Board concluded their reconciliation of the budget. Although we know that no LCPS employee will receive a step or [Cost-Of-Living Escalation] salary increase for the 2009 – 2010 school year, we now also know that we will not have to implement any reduction in force, furloughs, or salary reductions.”[iv]


A Music Supervisor’s Point of View


From my perspective, I’m not concerned about whether [the students are] in band, chorus, strings, general music class, or music theory, but that they’re in music in some way, shape, or form. It is baffling to me that every school system doesn’t have a guitar program. The kids that I see that are in the guitar program would not have been in band or chorus… [The guitar] is much more an individual thing that allows a kid to perform and succeed in a different way than band instruments or vocalists do… it is a much more personal instrument to play… The more important thing to me is that the kids are doing something with music and I see guitar as one of those areas where we offer that opportunity to students that wouldn’t be in any of the other programs.[v]


Guitar Enrollment in Loudoun County Public Schools
2012 – 2013 Academic Year


  • 1,548 students enrolled in middle school guitar programs

  • 887 students enrolled in high school guitar programs [vi]

  • 14 middle schools

  • 13 high schools

An Example of Current Instructional Practices


            Cooperative teaching strategies are those that channel the natural social tendencies of human beings in a constructive manner. Constructivism is a teaching strategy that allows students to construct individual understanding of how things work with guidance from a teacher. “Social interaction is important primarily as a catalyst for individual cognitive conflict. When one child suggests an idea that causes disequilibrium in another, the second child resolves the disequilibrium by individually reconstructing his or her understanding.”[vii]
            Common implementation of cooperative and constructive approaches are easily exemplified in the stages of ensemble performance. Stage 1 - constructive phase: Allow students to learn their individual parts for a set amount of time. Stage 2 -cooperative/constructive phase: Have students work in part sections (guitar 1, guitar 2, guitar 3, guitar 4) for a set amount of time. Students help each other learn their parts and rehearse in sections knowing that they are preparing for Stage 3. Stage 3 - small ensemble phase: Students rehears with one person per part. This creates individual responsibility and accountability for each student as he/she works cooperatively to construct a musical whole. This is perhaps the best stage for assessment of individual understanding. Stage 4 - large ensemble: All students combine as a large ensemble with students sitting in part sections. In this stage, the director conducts the rehearsal to fine-tune various components of musical performance.
            Ensemble preparation and performance is an ideal model for many current instructional practices. In addition, it exemplifies the various roles of society and fosters good citizenship. In this setting, the individual is able to construct an understanding of his/her role as a member of a larger organization.


Summary and Making a Case for Relevance


            By understanding current educational practices, it is clear to this author that music in the classroom is a model for all core subject instruction. Many core subject teachers labor to create intrinsic student interest in their subjects. This is not the case with guitar.  It appeals to a large, diverse population and reaches students who are not otherwise reachable: students who are not involved in co-curricular activities.
Ensemble preparation and performance is not only a model for many current instructional practices, it exemplifies the various roles of society and fosters good citizenship. This is consistent with the original agenda of public education.
            From an administrative point of view, student interest is key for success in a school. If students are interested in their elective classes, they are more likely to attend their core classes. If they attend their core classes, they are likely to learn something. If they learn something, they are more likely to pass their standardized tests. As a result, truancy rates will drop, standardized test scores and graduation rates will improve, and the school will likely meet its AMO.
            Compared with other programs in a school system, guitar is relatively inexpensive. A class set of 30 guitars will have an initial cost of about $4,500. With five class sections using the instruments during the school day, the cost is $30 per student for the first year. After five years of use, the initial investment only costs $6 per student. The same can be inferred with a substantial text or method book.


Thoughts about GFA’s Role in Education


The term “pre-college” has been used in the past for the GFA’s various educational initiatives.  “Pre-college” implies that all students will go to college. Of those who do attend college, most will not major in music. It is my belief that the K – 12 educational initiatives must include focus on music literacy, to create life-long lovers and consumers of music, and most of all to make a difference in the lives of our students. Those who do major in music should consider degrees in music education with an emphasis in guitar to prepare for the growth of guitar programs that is beginning to emerge.
Dr. Kevin Vigil is the Director of Guitar Studies at Heritage High School in Leesburg, VA and is the Shenandoah University Teacher of the Year for Loudoun County Public Schools for 2014.
[i] Terrence Deacon, The Symbolic Species, (New York, NY: Norton, 1997), 23.
[ii] Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia.  2006. “Education in the United States.” Web site online. Available from
[iii] Margaret Huckaby, address to the elective teachers, (presented at Heritage High School, Leesburg, VA, August 2006).
[iv] Edgar B. Hatrick, III (retired), Superintendent of LCPS, letter to LCPS employees, (April 14, 2009).
[v] Melvin Harmon (deceased), Loudoun County Public Schools Music Supervisor. 2007. Interview by the author, June, Leesburg, VA, tape recording.
[vi] Loudoun County Public Schools Data Warehouse, 2013.
[vii] Paul Eggen and Don Kauchak, Educational Psychology Windows on Classrooms, 6th edition (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2004), 281.


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