Exploring Music Down a Different Trail

Over the past 24 years, we’ve hosted thousands of music groups at festivals.  But, guitar ensemble registrations have markedly risen over the last 10 years.  NAfME’s ongoing series, “50 States of Guitar Class,” features interviews with respected music educators across the country.   According to the series, some programs have developed because of the teacher’s own familiarity with the instrument; other programs have grown out of traditional genres – band, orchestra, and choir – with non-guitarist instructors who’ve been tasked with teaching guitar. To read the ongoing series (they are currently on #7 out of 50), visit NAfME’s site.

Here’s some highpoints from the articles plus our own observations as festival producers:

  1. Guitar is hugely popular. The guitar uniquely speaks to teens and can be played in many different genres of music.  Its versatility appeals to students who love folk, jazz, classical, blues, Flamenco and rock. Its appeal is enduring.
  2. “Guitar gave several struggling students something to look forward to on a daily basis.” So reported Vicki Boyle, Guitar Teacher in Bristol, Rhode Island.  Guitar students often have unique personalities.  With guitar instruction, you’ll likely see students thrive who wouldn’t necessarily fit into a regular band or choral set up.
  3. Offering performances in many different venues builds a guitar program by exposing students to the community and other students. “…treating the guitar ensemble as any other ensemble such as band or chorus has helped grow the program. The guitar ensembles are revered throughout our towns and in our school” (Vicki Boyle)
  4. A guitar is relatively inexpensive. Most students will be able to find access to a guitar.
  5. Learn as much as you can from folks who know. Successful programs often have teachers who network with local colleges or state music associations.  Tap into the expertise of college guitar majors to offer “master classes” or to mentor exceptional young guitarists.  Chris Perez, a Director of Guitar Studies in Orlando, Florida encourages non-guitarist music educators to collaborate with colleagues. “Working with others and asking questions will help you be more solid in delivering quality guitar instruction and music teaching to your students. “

Forum Festivals hires college-level guitar educators as adjudicators.  The ensemble can demonstrate technique and get constructive feedback.  As you consider competitions or festivals, ask who will be adjudicating.  If your school’s band, orchestra, or choir is going on a music trip, consider welcoming your guitar ensemble to come along.

  1. You are teaching a lifelong skill.  Some students may go on to successful careers, but all will develop an appreciation for the instrument and be able to perform for friends and family. Sometimes we get so caught up in lessons, concerts, fundraisers, paperwork, etc., that it can be easy to forget the power music has to change lives,” reminds Steven Sabet of the Thomas Jefferson Arts Academy in Elizabeth, NJ.
  2. It’s okay to learn technique and play songs, according to Vin Downes who teaches in New Jersey. Many at-risk students are interested in studying guitar, but meeting them where they are means teaching the fundamentals in order to play a few songs to get started. Its benefits include teamwork in an ensemble, but it is also an individual instrument.
  3. Guitar instruction doesn’t take away from band, orchestra, or choir enrollment. Schools offering guitar usually show an overall increase in music studies.

As guitar instruction continues to thrive in schools across the country, we’re very pleased to welcome an increasing number of guitar ensembles to festival.  Networking with college-level guitar educators is just one of many positive elements of bringing guitar students to be seen and heard at festival.  Organizing a trip with your guitar students can also include college clinics, concerts and performances with guitar artists, exchange concerts, and more.   For more information about expanding your program to include an adjudicated festival, contact office@forummusicfestivals.com.  We’re here as a resource for your guitar students and program.  Guitar has a global appeal. At Forum, it’s rewarding to be connected with guitar educators who embrace this common community of musicians.