Guitar Class in the Peach State
Number 12: The State of Georgia
By Thomas Amoriello Jr.
NAfME Council for Guitar Education Chair
In 2009, Dr. Rob Pethel initiated a classroom guitar program at Sutton Middle School in Atlanta, Georgia, where he continues to teach and serve as the chair of the Arts/H.P.E. department. Rob is in demand as a clinician, having conducted workshops for Teaching Guitar Workshop, Georgia Music Educators Association, and Atlanta Public Schools. Though entrenched in educational research, he maintains a personal passion for music performance. He plays with various groups in a range of styles including bluegrass, Latin, rock, and classical.
With both parents being professional musicians and educators, Rob experienced a very musical upbringing. His formal studies in music began at Georgia State University, where he earned a B.Mus. with a concentration in classical guitar under renowned pedagogue John Sutherland in 2002. Rob garnered a linguistic command of Spanish and Greek languages through studies in music and folklore at the National Conservatory of Music in the Dominican Republic and the University of Thessaloniki in Greece, respectively. These international experiences resulted in a multicultural approach to music education. In 2010, Rob received a M.Ed. from Auburn University, and most recently defended his Ph.D. dissertation in Music Education from Georgia State University in 2015. His research focused on guitar pedagogy, ethnomusicology, and public education. The NAfME Council for Guitar Education would like to thank Dr. Pethel for sharing his experience.
Please tell us about your school and overall music program.
I teach guitar class at a middle school (grades 6-8) in the Atlanta Public Schools district. Our school is fairly large and has many offerings in the arts, including band, chorus, dance, drama, and orchestra. Guitar class is a semester-long course.
Please tell us about your own personal musical background growing up and your collegiate experience.
Both my parents are musicians and music educators, so I was very fortunate! I took piano lessons from an early age and was in band in elementary school, but I did not really get into music until I started playing the guitar. When my parents saw that I was teaching myself to play the guitar, they encouraged me and signed me up for guitar lessons with an adjunct guitar instructor at a local college. I was not really interested in school or even going to college until I considered going to college to study music.
“I was the only guitarist in the music education program at the time, and even though I felt like a square peg in a round hole, I learned a lot about the process of teaching and learning.”
I auditioned and was accepted into Georgia State University and studied under John Sutherland. Probably because my parents were music educators, they encouraged me to consider entering the music education track. I was the only guitarist in the music education program at the time, and even though I felt like a square peg in a round hole, I learned a lot about the process of teaching and learning.
What obstacles did you face when you were first hired at your school? Now?
When I was first looking for employment, I thought that I would enjoy teaching elementary general music. I had two interviews for elementary positions. When neither one of these worked out, I applied to a middle school chorus/general music opening. In the interview, the principal seemed to be more interested in my background in guitar education than chorus. I learned how to teach chorus, and the general music class was turned into guitar class. The guitar class picked up so much momentum that a new teacher was eventually hired to teach chorus—which allowed me to focus more on guitar.
Although I was very experienced as a guitarist, I had not been exposed to a classroom guitar program. This was a very different beast! I took the NAfME/GAMA Teaching Guitar Workshop (known as TGW, more info at http://www.guitaredunet.org/) one summer and it was such an eye-opening experience. I learned so much about teaching methods and materials, and how to translate what I already knew about guitar and music education for guitar class.
What kind of classes (styles) related to the guitar do you teach?
My students get a classical formation, although I never refer to it as such. We primarily play classical guitars and learn standard music notation. However, we also learn chords, improvisation, use fingerstyle and pick techniques, and play popular music styles.
What would you like to say to the non-guitarist music educator who is interested in incorporating the guitar into their program?
“You can do it, and you’ll love it.” After attending both levels of TGW, I was honored when I was asked to join the TGW team as a clinician and help train the next generation of guitar educators. At these workshops, many of those in attendance are apprehensive that their guitar skills are inadequate. When they realize that most of the others in attendance are in the same boat, their apprehension lowers. With the materials and methods that are acquired at TGW, music educators are able to successfully apply their skills to guitar class. TGW has helped equip thousands of music educators for guitar class.
“While I sometimes hear of former students who go on to study music in college or play professionally, my true goal is that students become lifelong musicians.”
Do you have any success stories you would like to share about students, musical and non-musical?
While I sometimes hear of former students who go on to study music in college or play professionally, my true goal is that students become lifelong musicians. I hear stories all the time about how former students continue to play guitar for fun, in worship, and other contexts. Having said that, my biggest joy in teaching is finding students who have an unknown talent and develop a true love for music. There are so many diamonds in the rough!
What kind of future do you see for guitar in music education in Georgia school system?
Georgia is fertile ground for guitar. We have a strong network of guitar educators, an official guitar chair person in our MEA, a Guitar Performance Evaluation event, and an annual statewide guitar festival at Reinhardt University. Even if a teacher does not participate in events like these, guitar class is a great option for many students who would not otherwise participate in school music programs.
It is important for pre-service music education programs to prepare these future music educators to meet the needs of a wide range of students—not only the traditional B/O/C ensembles. As more schools offer guitar programs, it stands to reason that music education programs will include more students with a first-hand knowledge of a school guitar program. The field of guitar education is very promising.
What type of arrangements and/or transcribing have you done for your school performances?
The guitar has so many performance applications. I believe that a good performance should include a large group “guitar orchestra” format, chamber guitar ensembles, solo guitar, and modern band format with rhythm section and vocals. Not only do the students get to perform in a variety of contexts, but it is more interesting for the audience too! Publishers like FJH Music Company, Hal Leonard, Alfred, and Class Guitar Resources have some great selections, and freelance community composers are always ready to write or adapt new music.
Please talk about Blue Guitar.
I created the Blue Guitar Classroom to put the essential components of guitar in one easy-to-access location. It’s a subscription-based curriculum that is accessed online and projected on a screen, smartboard, or tablet in the classroom so that there is no need for music stands. The magic formula of Blue Guitar is its combination of quality content and engaging format. It teaches music fundamentals, standard notation, beginning guitar ensemble pieces, chords, and styles. It has worked for my students and is used in many other schools across the country and even internationally.
Past “Guitar Class in 50 States” articles:
- 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 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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