31 Steps Toward an Award-Winning Guitar Program

31 Steps Toward an Award-Winning Guitar Program

By Bill Swick


Not sure what a guitar class should look like or what materials to use? Teachers are always looking for creative ideas to be more effective in the classroom. Teaching a room full of guitarists is not the same as teaching privately.

Here are 31 tried and proven creative ideas that will make any guitar class an award-winning program.






Classroom Organization

1. Promote procedures and routines, not rules. Have as few rules as possible: The Golden Rule, No Food, Gum or Drinks allowed in the classroom, etc. What is the procedure if a student needs to use the restroom? What is the procedure when a string breaks during class or is found broken at the beginning of class? How is a student going to produce a sound when first beginning to play? Will s/he use a pick, the thumb, or some other approach?

2. Do things again and again and promote repetition. For example, always start with taking attendance, address the class with a salutation, retrieve the guitars, tune, do a warm-up, follow the lesson plan for the day, end by putting guitar away, etc. Create a defined structure so students know what to expect each day.

3. Be firm, fair, and consistent.

4. Praise when praise has been earned.

5. Have high expectations that everyone show up when expected, is dressed as expected, and equipped as expected. Have harsh consequences for students who do not do all three. For example, not the right colored shoes, you do not perform. No music: either sit with someone with the same music or not perform. Grades and citizenship should reflect whether or not they’re performing at the level of expectation.

6. Expect basic human qualities from students, such as punctuality, preparedness, honesty, and respect. In return, model those same qualities to each student.

7. Build a guitar program vs. teaching a guitar class.

8. Create a guitar club in which all of your students are members. Elect officers and consult your officers and board on everything from spending money to what trips to take, to what music to perform, etc. Allow for student input. Have room for student ownership.

9. Create a parent organization; communicate to parents through emails, request parent volunteers through SignUpGenius, etc. Encourage parents to volunteer.






Classroom Instruction

10. Do weekly assessments.

11. Select music and exercises that push students only about 10% past their current skills.

12. Set a standard of 90% or better on everything. Any grade other than an “A” on a weekly assessment is not seen as working to expectations. Any student ending a quarter with a “C” or lower will repeat the same class the following year or be dropped from the program.

13. Stress the concept of transference of knowledge. Learn a skill one day from playing an exercise and then transfer that knowledge and skill to the next exercise of music selection.

14. For every ounce of technique taught in the classroom, there needs to be a pound of application. Do not waste time teaching techniques in which there are no massive applications. Otherwise, instructional time is not well spent. When teaching a new skill or technique, make sure there is plenty of motivation for students to want to learn the skill.

15. No skill is actually “taught” until each student can demonstrate the ability to perform that skill. Talking about it does not count. Perform is the key word.





Guitar Program vs Guitar Class

16. Take students on trips, particularly those kind of events that include visiting college campuses, participating in a guitar festival, seeing professional performances, experiencing master classes, etc. Traveling as a group is a bonding experience.

17. Create awards and student recognition programs that students may strive for, i.e. “Double Century Club,” “Andrea Segovia Award,” Most Improved Award, Most Likely to Become a Music Educator Award, Principal’s Award, Director’s Award, Guitarist of the Year Award, etc.

18. Participate in your local, regional and/or state guitar ensemble festivals.

19. Encourage students to participate in solo and ensemble festivals.

20. Have a guitar class website with photos, video links, class handbook, classroom procedures, a calendar of events, class expectations, etc.

21. Create themes for your concerts and performances. Let students have input and make them feel they have created a show and give your students some responsibility for promoting their show and building an audience base.

22. Record an annual CD. Have criteria for who will get to record on the CD. Allow students’ input on the artwork of the CD, the content, and how it will be marketed. Use the CD as a promotional tool and give as many copies as possible to your school administrators to be used as promotional material for your school.

23. Promote healthy competition among your students.

24. Expose students to as many professional musicians and guest speakers as possible.


Classroom Pedagogy

25. Provide students with weekly exercises that are carefully sequenced so the difference from one study to the next, week to week is not significantly noticeable. Make sure there are weekly assessments to provide feedback of how much effort each student is giving on a weekly basis.

26. Provide students with weekly solo pieces (or parts of pieces) that are carefully sequenced so the difference from one study to the next, week to week is not significantly noticeable. Make sure there are weekly assessments to provide feedback of how much effort each student is giving on a weekly basis.

27. Promote proper posture, hand positions, and tonal production. Insist that each student is sitting properly, has correct left-hand technique, right-hand technique, is using proper fingerings for both hands and making an effort for quality tone production. Nails are also a constant consideration.

28. Promote care and maintenance of all guitars. Be able to change strings quickly and keep all guitars in working order.

29. Have a reason for selecting ensemble music. Is the music historically significant? If so, spend time discussing the significance of the piece, the historical period, the composer, etc. Is the music slightly (about 10%) more difficult than students’ current skill levels? If not, why not? Does the music fulfill your state requirements for curriculum? If not, why not? Is the ensemble music a random selection, or was there some significant thought put into the selection?

30. Have a well-defined list of skills for each level of guitar class that is taught every year. Examples may include scales, arpeggios, chords, sight reading, right-hand techniques, left-hand techniques, etc.

31. Have and maintain a zero tolerance policy for students who talk and/or play the guitar while you are giving instructions, for students who do not follow classroom procedures, and for students who do not remain on task. Always have consequences that are equal to the crime. Remember; be firm, fair, and consistent.


About the Author:

Bill Swick currently teaches guitar and chairs the music department for the twelve-time GRAMMY award-winning Las Vegas Academy of the Arts (a magnet high school) and is the guitar task force chair for Clark County School District, the nation’s fifth largest school district. Swick holds two degrees from the University of North Texas and has served as faculty of Drake University and University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Swick is a publisher of guitar education materials and the creator of the Swickster Fingerboard System. Swick is currently the chair for the NAfME Council for Guitar Education.


Bill will be presenting on this very topic at the 2015 NAfME National In-Service Conference this coming October in Nashville, TN! Don’t miss the In-Service EARLY BIRD RATE. The deadline is July 31!

Join us for more than 300 innovative professional development sessions, nightly entertainment, extraordinary performances from across the country, a wild time at the Give a Note Extravaganza, and tons of networking opportunities with over 3,000+ other music educators! Learn more and register today: http://bit.ly/Nafville2015

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Brendan McAloon, Marketing and Events Coordinator, July 7, 2015. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org).