Guitar Class in the Equality State
Number 39: The State of Wyoming
By Thomas Amoriello Jr.
NAfME Council for Guitar Education Chair
The NAfME Council for Guitar Education would like to thank JoAnn Stevens, NBCT Director of Bands who teaches Guitar and Music & Video Production at Rock Springs Junior High in Rock Springs, Wyoming, for sharing her story with the NAfME membership. Her passion for teaching her students is a fine example of what guitar education looks like in the Equality State.
Please tell us about your school and overall music program.
Rock Springs Junior High School is located in Rock Springs, a town of about 25,000 in the Southwest corner of Wyoming. We serve approximately 850 students in grades 7 and 8. Our music program offers a variety of classes, which include Concert Band, Symphonic Band, Jazz Ensemble, Guitar 1, Guitar 2, Concert Choir, Swing Choir, Video and Music Production, and Music History.
Please tell us about your own personal musical background growing up and your collegiate experience.
I grew up in Laramie, Wyoming. I started playing clarinet in 5th grade and piano in 6th grade. I loved playing music from the moment I started, and I knew I wanted to be a music teacher by the time I was a sophomore in high school. I received my bachelor’s degree in Music Education from the University of Wyoming in 1989, and started my teaching career that same year.
How do the guitar family of instruments fit into your teaching?
Right now, we only offer guitar in our school, but we have tossed around the idea of implementing some ukulele as part of an exploratory music class we may offer in the future.
What obstacles did you face when you were first hired at your school? Now?
I did not receive any kind of training for guitar when I was in college, so everything I’ve taught, I’ve had to learn on my own. My challenge, when first starting out, was simply staying one step ahead of the students! I would practice a skill the night before having to teach it. Now, after teaching for many years, I feel very comfortable with beginning and intermediate guitar classes. A more recent challenge for me was the advanced guitar class I had to teach at our Alternative High School a couple of years ago. I actually enlisted the help of a private teacher to help me improve my skills so I could keep up with my students.
What kind of classes related to the guitar do you teach?
I currently teach Guitar 1 (for students who have never played guitar and don’t read music) and Guitar 2 (for students who have taken Guitar 1, or who have played before).
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?
Don’t be afraid to try it! There are a lot of resources out there, both online, and in the form of method books and sheet music. Reach out to other music educators in your area and find out what things they are doing with guitars in their classrooms.
There are also guitar workshops that are offered through GAMA and NAfME in different areas of the country. I attended two of those workshops and they were an invaluable source of information.
Do you have any success stories you would like to share about students (musical and non-musical)?
I had a student a few years ago who had never played guitar before and was in my Beginning Guitar class at the Alternative High School. This student had very low self-esteem and not many friends, but he had a natural aptitude for music, and his guitar playing improved very quickly. He took my class four times in a row, and by the last semester I had to find him a private teacher because he was playing circles around me.
“This student found a refuge in music, and I watched him blossom into a self-confident, empowered young man.”
This student found a refuge in music, and I watched him blossom into a self-confident, empowered young man. He graduated from high school last year and is still involved with the guitar program at our community college.
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?
Stay passionate! Take as many classes as you can, and find a private instructor if possible. Also, find places to play. The more opportunities you create for yourself, the more successful you will be.
Do you have any networking or advocacy tools that have worked for you promoting your program that would help other educators?
One of the most successful things I’ve done is take my guitar classes on tour. I’ve taken guitar groups to senior centers, elementary schools, nursing homes, and shopping malls. We’ve also performed for guitar classes at other schools, and for school board meetings. The more exposure you can get for your program, the more support you will generate.
What kind of future do you see for guitar in music education in the Wyoming school system?
It seems like there are more and more guitar classes being added all the time. With the addition of performing arts requirements at many high schools, guitar classes are a good way for those students who are not in band or choir to get those required credits.
What type of lesson plans have you followed for your classes that may be unique?
We have developed a system based on student choice. Students get to pick which songs they would like to pass off in order to earn points for each unit. Each song is worth a certain amount of points, and the students earn those points after playing the song for the instructor. A certain amount of points is required to get an “A” in the unit. It’s set up so that students don’t have to play ALL of the songs—only the ones they choose.
Do you participate in any musical performances or activities outside of your public school teaching duties?
I don’t play guitar outside of the school day (although I wish I had time to!), but I do play in our Community Jazz Ensemble, and I also direct our Community Orchestra.
Any last thoughts to conclude our interview?
Don’t ever give up on your dreams! if something makes you happy, find ways to keep it in your life always!
Past “Guitar Class in 50 States” articles:
- Number 38: The Empire State (New York)
- Number 37: The Old Line State (Maryland)
- Number 36: The Centennial State (Colorado)
- Number 35: The Bay State (Massachusetts)
- Number 34: The Sooner State (Oklahoma)
- Number 33: The Prairie State (Illinois)
- Number 32: The Hawkeye State (Iowa)
- Number 31: The Volunteer State (Tennessee)
- Number 30: The Palmetto State (South Carolina)
- Number 29: The Natural State (Arkansas)
- Number 28: The Tar Heel State (North Carolina)
- Number 27: The Magnolia State (Mississippi)
- Number 26: The Peace Garden State (North Dakota)
- Number 25: The Treasure State (Montana)
- Number 24: The First State (Delaware)
- Number 23: The Buckeye State (Ohio)
- Number 22: The Yellowhammer State (Alabama)
- Number 21: The Sunflower State (Kansas)
- Number 20: The Great Lakes State (Michigan)
- Number 19: The Lone Star State (Texas)
- Number 18: The Bluegrass State (Kentucky)
- Number 17: The Golden State (California)
- Number 16: The Show-Me State (Missouri)
- Number 15: The Keystone State (Pennsylvania)
- Number 14: The Last Frontier State (Alaska)
- Number 13: The Beehive State (Utah)
- Number 12: The Peach State (Georgia)
- Number 11: The Cornhusker State (Nebraska)
- Number 10: The Gem State (Idaho)
- Number 9: The Old Dominion (Virginia)
- Number 8: The Aloha State (Hawaii)
- Number 7: The Land of Enchantment (New Mexico)
- Number 6: The Sunshine State (Florida)
- Number 5: The Grand Canyon State (Arizona)
- Number 4: The Ocean State (Rhode Island)
- Number 3: The North Star State (Minnesota)
- Number 2: The Silver State (Nevada)
- Number 1: The Garden State (New Jersey)
About the author:
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 thomasamoriello.com for more information.
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