Master Guitar Teacher Brings His Expertise to a New Book for Music Educators

Music teacher Steve Eckels enjoys teaching students to play guitar, and watching students discover what they can do with the instrument. His desire to share his real-life classroom lessons with other music educators led him to write Teaching Classroom Guitar.

He has written more than 20 books on guitars and guitar education. His most recent effort is a comprehensive teaching manual for guitar, a book helps engage guitar students in the learning process. Designed to get the most out of any method book, Teaching Classroom Guitar can easily serve as a college textbook or as a desk reference for teachers at all levels. It provides outlines for daily, weekly, and semester planning.

Teaching Classroom Guitar also helps teachers incorporate the National Standards for Music Education; covers hand and body positions, chords and accompaniments; and discusses how to set up a guitar room. Chapter titles include:

  •  Your Strength as a Music Educator
  •  Quick Start: Your First Week
  •  Teaching Individual Tuning
  •  Music Reading
  •  How and Why to Teach Power Chords
  •  Improvisation
  •  Music Theory

Eckels, a master classical guitarist with fifteen years of classroom guitar teaching experience, teaches music at Flathead High School in Kalispell, Montana. He also conducts guitar workshops, is National Board-certified guitar instructor and performs frequently.  He answered a few questions about his book and classroom experiences.

Q: What is the key to bringing guitar into a music class, particularly for music educators who have not previously taught guitar?

Student interest is very important. It’s great if it is a collaborative effort. Find out what your students are interested and tap into that. Use student recommendations for music sheets. Find songs that make them say, ‘I want to learn that.’ Nothing beats learning to play a song you really like. The book contains some song suggestions that teachers who might need help in that area. Have students take the syllabus home and talk to their parents about the music.

The goals you have vary by age group. For very young children you can just have the goal of learning to play a song from beginning to end. With older students, you use a number of different skill sets from key changes to improvisation to melody.

Q: You have a large guitar program at your school with two classrooms, numerous students. It must be great to have that kind of support from your school.

I feel very fortunate to have a school that supports my work. The superintendent of our school is a former music educator understand the value of music education. My classes are five days a week, 50 minutes per day and I appreciate that.

Q: In your book you discuss learning to finger-pick “This Land is Your Land” as a child. Is there an optimum age for learning guitar?

I started when I was 10. Most young students need more one-on one instruction. Guided, large group classroom instruction is better suited to middle school and high school students. In class my students learn what they are good at doing. Some need lots of guided instruction while others thrive in open practice where they learn more on their own. I move around the class a lot so I can help both kinds of students.

Q: In the book you address different types of music teachers, from general music to choir directors. What would you say to someone who might be intimidated about teaching guitar?

Some music teachers already play guitar, but some don’t. To get through a first semester, you just need to know 10 chords and 17 notes. Any band director or a choral teacher or a general music should have the wherewithal to do that. Most music teachers play multiple musical instruments. Draw on your music education strengths in learning to teach guitar. Band directors are excellent note readers and excellent player, while choral teachers are nearly as perfect. String teachers have great pedadogy. Draw on your strengths and teach students to compose and arrange, read music and collaborate and you will have a great class. Collaborate with your colleagues, too.

Q: How do you accommodate different skill levels in one class?

I demonstrate all skill levels in class and different groups of players do different things—one group might be reading the music, playing exactly as it is written, one group might improvise. Also you can have one group mute the strings on their guitar, one group, finger and not strum, the next fingers and strums and another group strums and sings.

Q: Please talk about how your passion for guitar began.

My father played. We would have parties at our house and college students would come. One of them played an Elvis Presley song and I thought, “I want to do that.” Also, I was shy when I was in high school, but if I pulled out my guitar the girls would come over ask me to play a song. I liked that. Like a lot of people in college I wanted to be rich and famous but I didn’t really want to move to New York or L.A. I was asked if I would like to teach and I got to hang out with nice people. Teachers are humanistic. I really liked the education population, so I got certified to teach band and general music. Teaching guitar came later.

To order Teaching Classroom Guitar, visit Rowman & Littlefield Education. The list price for the hardcover version of the book is $95; paper, $49.95. MENC members receive a 25% discount on the book.

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Roz Fehr, March 25, 2010 © MENC: The National Association for Music Education