Guitar Class in the Gem State
Number 10: The State of Idaho
By Thomas Amoriello Jr.
NAfME Council for Guitar Education Chair
Today we visit Idaho with respected guitar educator Erik Larson who serves on the NAfME Council for Guitar Education as the Northwest Division Representative. He has taught junior high band and guitar in the Boise School District for 28 years and teaches semester-long beginning and intermediate level guitar classes to about 100 students each year. He has been involved in the Teaching Guitar Workshops, sponsored by GAMA and NAfME, for several years, both as a participant and a workshop host. Erik has a B.M.E. from Northwest Nazarene College and did his graduate work at Boise State University. The NAfME Guitar Council and NAfME would like to thank Erik for sharing his story with NAfME members.
Please tell us about your school and overall music program.
Fairmont Junior High School in Boise, Idaho, has around 800 students, grades 7-9. The music department offers band, choir, and orchestra, as well as Beginning Piano (semester-long class), Beginning Guitar (one semester), and Intermediate Guitar (one semester).
How do the guitar family instruments fit into your teaching?
I’m fortunate to be able to offer three semesters of Beginning Guitar and one semester of Intermediate Guitar each year. I have a classroom set (25) of classical guitars.
What obstacles did you face when you were first hired at your school?
When I began the guitar program, it was one of the first in our district, and I always had great administrative support. I was able to begin the very next school year. At first, the kids had to bring their own instruments, but through a little fundraising and the support of my district music supervisor, I soon had a classroom set of guitars and the sets of books I needed. The greatest obstacle was probably me. After spending many years as a band director, I initially treated the guitar classes as ensemble classes. Being able to attend (and then host) several Teaching Guitar Workshops was a huge help in learning how to approach classroom guitar.
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?
I would say, DO IT! It provided a “shot in the arm” to my own teaching, and it has certainly allowed our music department to reach other kids in the school for whom the normal performance ensemble was not an interest or was unsuccessful for them. Some kids just gravitate toward the individuality that guitar offers. Some of my band colleagues are concerned that a successful guitar program will “steal” students from taking band. That has not been my experience at all. I have had band kids take a guitar class just because they have high musical interest, but never have they quit band to take guitar instead. The vast majority of my guitar students have not been involved in music at the junior high level before.
It provided a “shot in the arm” to my own teaching, and it has certainly allowed our music department to reach other kids in the school for whom the normal performance ensemble was not an interest or was unsuccessful for them.
Do you have any success stories you would like to share about students (musical and non-musical)?
Due to the scope of our classes, I haven’t had any kids go on to study guitar in college or anything, but they have started little bands, or their studies have kindled interest in getting involved in other music classes. I have also seen the guitar be very successful with kids who are at-risk, struggling in other classes or involved in special education, helping them to be on the same playing field as those around them.
What do you tell your talented students who are planning to pursue music or guitar studies in high school, college after they finish with you?
For both my band and my guitar kids, most of my teaching is pointed toward offering them what I did NOT get. I was highly unprepared for what to expect as a music education major when I arrived at college. I had never had a private instructor, I had never studied the piano, I had no conducting experience, etc. So, that is my motivation in preparing my students for the next level, whatever that is for them.
Do you have any networking or advocacy tools that have worked for you in promoting your program that would help other educators?
Honestly, a junior high guitar program promotes itself. As kids are signing up for classes, when they see Guitar as an option, it grabs their attention. Beyond that, the kids themselves are a terrific advocacy tool. Almost every semester I hear a kid say that his friend took it last semester and it made him want to take it, too.
What kind of future do you see for guitar in music education in the Idaho school system?
In my district, guitar is now offered in all secondary schools (all being taught by teachers whose major instrument is other than guitar). There are guitar classes offered in many other school districts, as well, but in Idaho, guitar classes are very recreational. There are no district or state events, and our IMEA and All-Northwest conferences are very limited in their scope of promoting the guitar. Honestly, even our state universities don’t really have very established guitar programs, so we have a LONG way to go.
Please tell us about your own personal musical background growing up and your collegiate experience.
I started playing the trumpet in 5th grade, and it quickly became my “thing.” I knew by the 8th grade that I was going to be a band director. I began learning to play the guitar on my own during high school. I studied music education at Northwest Nazarene College and then at Boise State University.
What type of arrangements and/or transcribing have you done for your school performances?
The only thing I’ve worked on lately is to write a supplemental book that I use with my classes. Bill Swick told me once that every new concept should have ten lines of material to really drive it home. The books I use are very lacking in this, so I’ve put together a “book” that has at least ten song lines to work on each string, pairs of strings, rhythmic concepts, etc.
Do you do any musical performance or activities outside of your public school teaching duties?
Coming out of college, I played trumpet in our local symphony, then in a touring show band for 20 years. Now I play in a community concert band and do a lot of freelance playing in our area. I also play in our church orchestra on Sunday mornings.
Past “Guitar Class in 50 States” articles:
- 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 Chairperson for the New Jersey Music Education Association. He has had over 30 guitar and ukulele advocacy articles published in music education journals in Michigan, Ohio, Rhode Island, and New Jersey. During his time on the NJMEA board he has co-directed 4 guitar festivals and drafted the proposal to approve the first ever NJMEA Honors Guitar Ensemble. Tom is an advocate for class guitar programs in public schools and has been a clinician presenting his “Guitar for the K-12 Music Educator” for the Guitar Foundation of America Festivals in Charleston, SC and Columbus, GA., Lehigh Valley Guitar Festival in Bethlehem, PA, Philadelphia Classical Guitar Society Festival, Philadelphia, PA, NAfME Biennial Conferences in Baltimore and Atlantic City, as well as other state music education conferences in New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York and Virginia. He has twice been featured on episodes of Classroom Closeup-NJ which aired on New Jersey Public Television.
Tom has taught guitar classes for the Flemington Raritan School District in Flemington, NJ since 2005 and was also an adjunct guitar instructor at Cumberland County College, NJ for 5 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 & Ukulele Sam Strums in the Sand (March 2019), 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. Visit thomasamoriello.com for more information.
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