Guitar Class in the Treasure State

Number 25: The State of Montana

By Thomas Amoriello, Jr.

NAfME Council for Guitar Education Chair

Steve Eckels teaches guitar at both Flathead High School and Glacier High School in Kalispell, Montana. He received his National Board Certification and has served on the National Council for Guitar Education as the Northwest Division representative. He is an author of 17 guitar books for Mel Bay Publications, and his recordings are featured on Pandora Radio. He received his first classical guitar lessons at the North Carolina School of the Arts guitar educationwith a student of Jesus Silva and later studied music formally and received a Bachelor’s degree from Berklee College of Music and a Master’s degree from New England Conservatory.

In 1999 Steve Eckels moved to Kalispell, Montana, where he received the appointment as guitar instructor for Flathead High School. (Steve studied with Will Schmid and Nancy Marsters, both leaders in the field of classroom guitar education.) In the summers of 2001–2003 he participated in Christopher Parkening‘s guitar master-classes in Bozeman, Montana. Inspired by the master-classes, student interest, and the artistic environment of Northwest Montana, in 2003 he recorded his first CD of all classical music entitled “Sparks from the 7 Worlds—Classical Guitar Masterpieces.” The recording is a collection of many of guitar history’s most significant pieces and contains a historical booklet written with the assistance of Graham Wade, one of the world’s foremost authorities of guitar history. The NAfME Council for Guitar Education would like to thank Mr. Eckels for sharing his wisdom.


Please tell us about your school and overall music program.

Our program includes band, choir, orchestra, guitar, history of rock and roll, percussion ensemble, music theory, marching band, and jazz band.


Please tell us about your own personal musical background growing up and your collegiate experience.

I grew up in an artistic family. Around the house, my father played the music of Segovia, Lead Belly, Bob Dylan, Benny Goodman, and Peter Paul and Mary.


How do the guitar family of instruments fit into your teaching?

I am a guitar specialist, so guitar is the primary focus. I have recently added a component of guitar history to my classes. We are not a performance class, but we do offer two concerts a year in which the students choose their own music.

guitar students group photo in classroom

Photo courtesy of Steve Eckels


What obstacles did you face when you were first hired at your school?

I found it difficult to teach music reading in a way it also was engaging. I have since figured out how to teach music reading in a manner that incudes music-making and favorable pacing.


What kind of classes related to the guitar do you teach?

The History of Rock and Roll gives me the opportunity to demonstrate many of the guitar parts and to teach basic music theory.


What would you like to say to the non-guitarist music educator who is about to or interested in incorporating the guitar into their program?

Contact me at for teaching ideas.

guitar students in the Treasure State Montana

Photo courtesy of Steve Eckels


What do you tell your talented students who are planning to pursue music or guitar studies in high school or college after they finish with you?

I suggest that they go to school in a city where they can go for a doctorate and where there is lots of music business.


Do you have any networking or advocacy tools that have worked for you promoting your program that would help other educators?

Yes, my classes have an open house every three weeks during which the students perform new songs for their friends who receive passes to visit our class. Also, it helps that I perform around town in a rock band and as a guitar soloist.


What kind of future do you see for guitar in music education in the Montana school system?

This will depend on the individuals who are interested in teaching the guitar. I would like to see it offered as an alternative to traditional classes, and I would like to see schools provide instruments. I would like to serve new teachers as a consultant.


Your book, Teaching Classroom Guitar, is an asset to the guitar education world. What was your inspiration to write this, and how long did it take to compile the material?

I was invited to write the book by [then] Music Educators National Conference [now NAfME] based on an article that I submitted to Teaching Music. The book took five years to complete. I was very careful to make it something that could stand the test of time. Of course, I have learned a lot since the book was written and have more ideas to share.

book cover for Teaching Classroom Guitar


What type of arrangements and/or transcribing have you done for your school performances?

I produce all the arrangements for my classes. Most recently I have been providing them in three formats: Tablature, AlphaNotes, and Traditional Notation. I copy them onto 11×17 paper to make them easy to read.


Do you do any musical performance or activities outside of your public school teaching duties?

As I mentioned, I am in a rock band. We take our work very seriously—two other members are music teachers, and they are all pros. It is really stimulating to have rock shows to look forward to. As a fingerstylist, I perform for public functions and am always looking for opportunities to get to know parents and families outside school.


Do you have any success stories you would like to share?

I am noticing a shift in interest toward acoustic music and more tasteful folk music. Students are learning that most screen time is a waste of time, and that they will benefit in the long run by strengthening their hands, minds, and social skills through learning guitar.


Past “Guitar Class in 50 States” articles:


About the author:


Photo Credit: Jon Carlucci

Thomas Amoriello Jr. serves as the chair on the NAfME Council for Guitar Education and is also the former Chairperson for the New Jersey Music Education Association. Tom has taught guitar classes for the Flemington Raritan School District in Flemington, New Jersey, since 2005 and was also an adjunct guitar instructor at Cumberland County College, New Jersey, for five years. He has earned a Master of Music Degree in Classical Guitar Performance from Shenandoah Conservatory and a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Rowan University. He is the author of the children’s picture books A Journey to Guitarland with Maestro Armadillo and Ukulele Sam Strums in the Sand, both available from Black Rose Writing. He recently made a heavy metal recording with a stellar roster of musicians including former members of Black Sabbath, Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force, and Dio that was released on H42 Records of Hamburg, Germany. The record released on 12-inch vinyl and digital platforms has received favorable reviews in many European rock magazines and appeared on the 2018 Top 15 Metal Albums list by Los Angeles KNAC Radio (Contributor Dr. Metal). Visit for more information.


Did this blog spur new ideas for your music program? Share them on Amplify! Interested in reprinting this article? Please review the reprint guidelines.

The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

Catherina Hurlburt, Marketing Communications Manager. August 22, 2019. © National Association for Music Education (


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