Guitar Class in the Granite State
Number 50: The State of New Hampshire
By Thomas Amoriello Jr.
NAfME Council for Guitar Education Immediate Past Chair
Images in this article were taken before the closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this last edition of “50 States of Guitar Class,” the NAfME Council for Guitar Education visits Windham High School (WHS) in New Hampshire and the program led by Mark Tadonnio. Mark has been with the Windham School District since 2015, initially as an Associate Director of Bands, and now as the Director of Bands at Windham High School. Mark oversees the Concert Band, Pep Band, Honors Jazz Ensemble, and Honors Windham Ensemble. Additionally, he teaches AP Music Theory and Guitar.
Mark is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire where he earned his Bachelor of Music Education, cum laude. During this time he studied jazz and classical trombone while taking part in many different performing ensembles in addition to courses in music, pedagogy, education, and philosophy. Mark is a very active freelance musician across New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts. He can be heard regularly playing with the Tall Granite Big Band, the Pocket Big Band, the Scott Spradling Band, Gretchen and the Pickpockets, as well as various pit orchestra and chamber groups. A brass specialist, he occasionally performs on euphonium, bass trombone, French horn, and trumpet.
Thank you, Mark, for sharing your insight with the NAfME membership.
Please tell us about your school and overall music program.
Windham High School is a public high school serving grades nine through twelve in the town of Windham, New Hampshire. We currently have a total student population of approximately 1,000 students between all four grades. Our music department includes myself, as well as a second full-time teacher. I run our ninety-member concert band, our twenty-member honors jazz ensemble, our fifty or so Honors Wind Ensemble, as well as AP Music Theory, and our guitar electives. We have introductory guitar classes as well as the new performing Guitar II and Guitar III classes that I have started since I arrived here in 2015.
Please tell us about your own personal musical background growing up and your collegiate experience.
I grew up in a town not far from Windham—Litchfield, New Hampshire—and went to Campbell High School. There I played trombone in the concert band and, along with some friends, helped start a jazz ensemble class that met regularly. Some friends and I often played in a “garage rock cover band” for fun on the weekends. In addition to my formal music studies, I was educated on the great music of the classic rock era primarily by my parents who are not professional musicians. I think most weekends I woke up to hearing my dad playing jam band casettes—yes, casettes. My mother is more into the world of the Eagles, The Beatles, Steve Miller Band, etc., so I grew up hearing that too. My mother would also proudly tell you she played me Brahms a lot when I was an infant, which is funny because she’ll also tell you classical music is not exactly her thing. They both owned guitars and were casual players, so I always had the temptation of picking up a guitar in my house.
I received my bachelor of music education degree at the University of New Hampshire in 2015. During this time I pursued trombone performance in jazz, classical, and solo settings along with the other typical music degree studies. I have played guitar and electric bass casually since about age twelve. I perform regularly as a professional jazz trombonist around New Hampshire and occasionally Massachusetts. We were encouraged to start our job hunt early while still finishing our degree. After many applications, I received one interview, and ended up landing a half-time band directing job here at WHS. The second year, through community support as well as through the help of an experienced supervisor, my job became full-time.
What obstacles did you face when you were first hired at your school? Now?
The first and biggest obstacle was being hired as a half-time teacher for a thriving band program. The classes were spread out through each day of the week, so I was here every day, usually for much more than half of the time, so time-management was tough. It was also a new experience for me as the current band director to learn how to work together and share responsibilities. We did pretty well by the end of the first year.
“Good community makes for thriving musical experiences.”
This is my first job, so you can imagine the usual obstacles a new teacher can face. I faced those for sure. I think what stood out to me most was the organizational skills required to run a music program. I have learned a lot about the less exciting parts of the job—using spreadsheets for rosters and part assignments, filing our paperwork for field trips, tax forms for hiring outside clinicians or musicians, budget process, etc. I think the biggest obstacle—which I was lucky to have help with from mentors—was building community in our music department. I have found this to be the most important work a music teacher can do to better many obstacles at once. Good community makes for thriving musical experiences.
What kind of classes related to the guitar do you teach?
We have three levels of guitar: introductory, Guitar II, and new next year—Guitar III. Guitar II and III are performing ensembles that meet as a class for one semester. Our Jazz Ensemble also includes guitar. This year I have a student who is in both Guitar II and Honors Jazz Ensemble, so she is getting a lot of good stuff at the same time.
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?
Introductory guitar in my opinion is a must. This is especially so if your department is like ours in that we often work hard to fill our schedules to have two full-time music educators at the high school. It can seem like a giant challenge for any educator who has yet to gain their own guitar skills. It’s actually a very simple class once you wrap your head around it.
I’d recommend they learn their basic open chords, major and minor, and learn one moveable major scale shape. That could easily be done in a single summer. Combine that with a method book, and really the rest of your class time should be spent on general musicianship skills that you would teach in any music class, such as rhythm counting, note-reading, ensemble-playing, basic chord theory, etc.
Do you have any success stories you would like to share about students (musical and non-musical)?
Our Guitar II class has run about four times now since we started it. Because it is a semester and the only pre-requisite is Introductory Guitar (or teacher permission), we tend to get a lot of students who wouldn’t necessarily ever join a performing group otherwise. It’s really fun to see more of the student body, and it’s especially fun when you get kids who are prominent in other school groups.
“I can’t tell you how happy it makes me feel when a guidance counselor or aid says to me, ‘We’re so happy John Doe is in your guitar class; we always know he will show up for that and then stay in school for the rest of the day.’”
One year we had the varsity quarterback who ended up being a really musical guy. He performed on stage with his Guitar II class, and I believe it was the first and only time he performed as a musician on our stage. I also think it’s a success in teamwork that my choir-teaching counterpart is willing to let the guitar class perform as an opener to her concert, so props to her on that. Also I can’t tell you how happy it makes me feel when a guidance counselor or aid says to me, “We’re so happy John Doe is in your guitar class, we always know he will show up for that and then stay in school for the rest of the day.”
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?
It depends on what their own goals are and at what level they are. I’m usually pretty open and honest about what it’s like to make a living in music. If students want to do it professionally, I would say, Sure, but realize you will end up teaching in some way or having another job to make a living. I tell the most talented students that if they keep practicing and work hard at being someone people like to be around that they will do well: Of course you can make it as a performer, but it’s somewhat similar to being a sports star. You would need to practice it all day, every day to make a good attempt at it.
I really enjoy encouraging all of my students to keep playing regardless of their career goals, even if they don’t choose music as a main focus of study, whether they are especially talented or not. In guitar in particular, I aim my teaching to set them up to be capable to have their own “garage rock band” or whatever type of music they like. I hope they will be able to continue to make music independently and/or with friends for fun after they leave me. In my humble opinion music-making is the best hobby a person could have. I have had a handful of music students go on to colleges to do non-music majors but have not only joined their college ensemble, but actually gotten some scholarship money for their time as well. I’m especially proud of that.
What kind of future do you see for guitar in music education in New Hampshire schools?
I’d like to see it build up at least a little. I think Intro to Guitar should be a standard class for all high schools, and maybe middle schools, but I think that’s true for a lot of the state already. Adding a performing class is a little trickier, but can be done if the teacher is willing to do some learning themselves first. I see it as an awesome elective for teachers and students. Once again if you have any trouble filling a full-time course load consider adding introductory guitar. Kids still like classic rock music and think guitar is cool (I think!).
What type of lesson plans have you used for your classes that may be unique?
I teach the performing guitar like it is my band class. While this isn’t a specific lesson plan, it has guided me to success with them. Many educators who feel overwhelmed by the idea of a performing guitar class should use this idea as a guide.
Do the usual stuff: Work on rhythm-reading, pitch-reading, play rep that is varied, and most importantly figure out what the kids in the room listen to. If a student signs up for guitar, 99.9% chance there is at least one song they want to learn to play (and that’s probably why they’re there). In our performances we do one classical piece (usually in four parts), one jazz piece (from a real book), and then one rock/blues/etc. piece that the students select. Most recently this year they picked “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica. I also highly recommend teaching theory through the circle of fifths. This gets us to chord theory which the students get pretty good at usually, which then gets us to some light improvisation studies.
Do you participate in any musical performances or activities outside of your public school teaching duties?
I play lead trombone in the New Legacy Swing Band (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), The Pocket Big Band (Haverhill, Massachusetts), and am a frequent sub in the Seacoast Big Band as well as some other local groups. I still play guitar for fun here and there. I’m also happy to accept the occasional gig in musical theater pits on trombone and electric bass when they come up. In the past I have been the conductor for the Manchester Community Music School Jazz Ensemble. I hope one day to gather the courage to perform on stage as an actor in a musical theater production.
Any last thoughts to conclude our interview?
Guitar should be fun! Intro to Guitar should not be the hardest class a student takes or the hardest class a teacher teaches. It should focus on creating independent learners of music, which in my opinion is the goal for just about all of our music education. If you try this, and then you hear your students are jamming on the weekends for fun, you’re doing it right!
Past “Guitar Class in 50 States” articles:
- Number 49: The Green Mountain State (Vermont)
- Number 48: The Mountain State (West Virginia)
- Number 47: The Hoosier State (Indiana)
- Number 46: The Mount Rushmore State (South Dakota)
- Number 45: The Pine Tree State (Maine)
- Number 44: The Badger State (Wisconsin)
- Number 43: The Constitution State (Connecticut)
- Number 42: The Evergreen State (Washington)
- Number 41: The Pelican State (Louisiana)
- Number 40: The Beaver State (Oregon)
- Number 39: The Equality State (Wyoming)
- 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. is the Immediate Past Chair of 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.
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.