Guitar Class in the Prairie State
Number 33: The State of Illinois
By Thomas Amoriello, Jr.
NAfME Council for Guitar Education
Today we visit the Land of Lincoln with Mr. Nate Jackson, a native of Martinsville, Illinois, who has been a member of the Lincoln-Way District #210 music faculty since 2001 and teaches all levels of guitar at Lincoln-Way Central. Mr. Jackson earned degrees in guitar performance from Millikin University and Northern Illinois University (NIU), and he obtained education certification through NIU.
Mr. Jackson’s Guitar Studio classes have been featured performers at the Mid-America Guitar Ensemble Festival, a primarily collegiate festival. The Guitar Studio has also performed at the Illinois Music Education Conference, where Mr. Jackson has presented twice. Mr. Jackson’s guitar method book is used throughout the Lincoln-Way district. In addition to teaching, Mr. Jackson is a sought-after professional guitarist who performs in various venues throughout the Chicagoland area. He resides in New Lenox with his family.
The NAfME Council for Guitar Education would like to thank Nate for sharing his insights with the NAfME membership.
Please tell us about your school and overall music program.
I teach for Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210, which is comprised of three four-year high schools serving the communities of Frankfort, Manhattan, Mokena, New Lenox, and Tinley Park, Illinois. Our school district has prided itself in supporting excellent music programs since our doors opened in 1954, and around 15% of the 7,000 students who attend a Lincoln-Way high school are enrolled in a music class.
Our Madrigal Dinner program is celebrating its 50th season this year; our marching bands have marched in the Tournament of Roses parade three times; and our jazz programs consistently rank among some of the best in our state. Our orchestral program, which began in 1995, continues to grow and flourish with the implementation of strings education in our feeder schools and now boasts four orchestras throughout the district. Our guitar offerings, which began as a one-semester fine arts elective in 1996, have developed into a four-year program that sees our top ensemble performing nationally as well as making an annual appearance at the Mid-America Guitar Ensemble Festival (MAGEF).
Please tell us about your own personal musical background growing up and your collegiate experience.
I began playing guitar when I was fourteen years old. My father found a rock guitar instructor in Decatur, Illinois, when I was sixteen who taught me good technique and how to read music in first position. When I was a junior in high school, I transcribed the entirety of the John Williams: Greatest Hits of the Guitar album, which is how I taught myself to play classical style.
I was accepted into the guitar program at Millikin University under the instruction of Manley Mallard, where I was able to learn and coexist in both classical and jazz spheres. Millikin is where I really fell in love with guitar ensemble music. As a solo instrument, guitarists often miss out on the opportunity to perform with other musicians. When I started teaching, I knew I wanted to include ensemble into my guitar teaching. After receiving a Bachelor of Music in Guitar Performance from Millikin in 1997, I studied with Fareed Haque at Northern Illinois University. I received a Master of Music in Guitar Performance and fulfilled state requirements for teacher certification in 2001. After student teaching band and orchestra, I was hired at Lincoln-Way.
What classes do you teach, and how do the guitar family of instruments fit into your teaching?
I am lucky to be at a high school that values the guitar as an important option for musical training and expression. I teach three different levels of guitar classes at Lincoln-Way Central and Lincoln-Way West High School. Guitar 1 and 2 are for first year guitar students. Students can continue on to Guitar Studio, which is a class that focuses on performance both as soloist and in ensembles.
What obstacles did you face when you were first hired at your school? Now?
There were actually fewer obstacles to face earlier in my career: All students were required to take a fine arts elective to graduate, so my classes were flush with students. When I asked to add an upper level of guitar (which became my Guitar Studio class), it was implemented without hesitation. With the elimination of our fine arts credit, an implementation of both a reading class as well as a third year of science for graduation, and a stronger push for single-section AP classes, the number of electives students could take really took a hit.
I take comfort in knowing that the students who make time for my class really want to be there, and I do what I can through demonstrations at our feeder schools to let incoming students know that guitar is a great option for their electives. One thing I hate to hear is a senior taking guitar for the first time telling me they wish they had taken it as a freshman.
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 enthusiastically encourage music educators to consider adding guitar to their music programs. The inclusion of guitar in a typically “traditional” music curriculum (band/chorus/orchestra) brings an artistic offering to a wider demographic of students who may otherwise not participate in music. Too often students feel left out of participating in music during junior high or high school if they did not choose to begin a band or orchestra instrument in elementary school. For those who want to add guitar to their curriculum, consider taking some lessons with a reputable instructor.
“That is the point of fine arts education for all: to enrich the lives of all students through artistic avenues of expression.”
Do you have any success stories you would like to share about students (musical and non-musical)?
It is really heartwarming to see so many students, most of whom assumed they would not have a music class in high school, who have gone on to become professionals in the music industry. More importantly, it has been wonderful to hear from so many graduates who have become successful in diverse areas of employment and who continue to count guitar as their favorite class from high school. That is the point of fine arts education for all: to enrich the lives of all students through artistic avenues of expression. Not everyone becomes a professional musician, but everyone can increase their quality of life through arts education.
What do you tell your talented students who are planning to pursue music or guitar studies in college after they finish with you?
The pursuit of a career in the arts is an admirable quest. Students who are serious about continuing their studies in college should absolutely do so—however, if they want to be a professional musician, they need to be “all in.” There are thousands of other people who are practicing very hard for a finite number of performance opportunities—so practice hard! Even if my students do not wish to devote their life’s work to performance, I encourage them to find opportunities to play in ensembles or take private lessons. The guitar is an instrument that can be enjoyed for a lifetime.
Do you have any networking or advocacy tools that have worked in promoting your program that would help other educators?
My greatest networking and advocacy tools have been through demonstrations and performances by myself and my students at our feeder schools. I try to see every incoming student at our elementary and junior high schools to let them know the opportunities that we offer for guitar at Lincoln-Way. The guitar holds such a unique appeal to children of all ages—once they realize they can learn to play it in high school, they are much more inspired to make it part of their future plans.
What kind of future do you see for guitar in music education in the Illinois school system?
I am optimistic about the future of guitar in music education in the Illinois school system. My students were once the only high school ensemble to participate in MAGEF, and now it is wonderful to see so many more high school guitar programs represented. As the pendulum begins to swing away from an emphasis on standardized testing and gravitates toward the social and emotional growth of our students, I see guitar instruction becoming a valued avenue for reaching more students in an expressive medium.
What type of lesson plans have you done for your classes that may be unique?
I have developed a full-year curriculum and method book for my guitar classes that satisfies the needs of learning chords, note reading, scales, etc., in one concise publication. In addition, I have composed and arranged extensively for my guitar ensembles.
One of my favorite lessons to do in class begins with each student creating a one-measure Phrygian loop over a “Spanish” chord progression. I go around the class to listen to each loop, then “pile” certain loops together to create a new composition. Loops are added and eliminated to create an ever-changing piece. The students love it.
Do you do any musical performances or activities outside of your public school teaching duties?
The nice thing about being a guitarist is enjoying a great diversity in opportunities to perform. I perform in everything from rock groups to jazz ensembles to chamber groups. I also do a lot of solo classical guitar gigs and play jazz gigs with my wife who is a bassist.
“The guitar is a wonderful way for everyone to experience the joy of music.”
Any last thoughts to conclude our interview?
I am so happy to see guitar continue to grow and flourish as an important part of music education in our public schools. Exposure to fine arts is for everyone, and the guitar is a wonderful way for everyone to experience the joy of music.
Past “Guitar Class in 50 States” articles:
- 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.
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.