Opportunities Guitar Education Brings
Interview with Chairperson Bill Swick, NAfME Council for Guitar Education
By NAfME Member Thomas Amoriello Jr.
Flemington Raritan School District
Bill Swick currently teaches guitar and chairs the music department for the twelve-time GRAMMY award winning Las Vegas Academy of the Arts (a magnet high school located in Las Vegas, NV) and is the guitar task force chair for Clark County School District, the nation’s fifth largest school district. Swick holds two degrees from the University of North Texas and has served as faculty of Drake University and University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Swick is a publisher of guitar education materials (BillSwick.com) and the creator of the Swickster Fingerboard System. Swick is currently the chair for the NAfME Council for Guitar Education. Swick was recently identified as a Top Ten Music Educator by the GRAMMY Foundation.
Please tell me about the mission, purpose, and need for the NAfME Council for Guitar Education.
The mission of the National Association for Music Education is to advance music education by promoting the understanding and making of music by all. The guitar council is just one piece of that puzzle and our role in the mission is to assist music educators in the promotion of guitar education and function as a resource for seeking the best practices of guitar education.
How can the council benefit the average guitar teacher in a school setting?
It is not the role of the guitar council to supervise or instruct classroom teachers. Instead, the council is in place to provide resources for music educators who may be teaching guitar in the classroom and providing resources to assist guitar education so music students wishing to learn to play the guitar will have an opportunity to do so. So in a sense, yes, guitar teachers should benefit from the work of the guitar council.
Can you share some of the feedback you have received from the upper administration of NAfME regarding the Guitar Council?
I served one term as a council member and in my second term as the council chair. At the recent National Assembly in Washington, D.C., it was mentioned to me that the guitar council has made great strides in putting together best practices, promoting membership to NAfME, and providing resources for understanding and using the new standards.
What was the most memorable experience or what did you learn most from being chair of the council?
I have been a long-time member of MENC and now NAfME. I really never understood how some music educators seem to float to the top of their field and become the president of NAfME and/or the chair of their area of expertise. It has taken me four decades of teaching to become the guitar council chair. As the chair of one council, I have met the chairs of all of the other councils and I have attended several National Assemblies and Hill Days. Attending these events have been the most memorable experiences. I have learned a tremendous amount about the politics of being a part of such an important organization as NAfME. As music educators, we are blessed that such an organization exists. It has been a real privilege to serve NAfME and be a part of an organization of so many talented and intelligent individuals.
Please share a personal teaching experience with a past student that had a profound effect on you.
There have been many experiences that have had profound effects from teaching. Probably the most memorable of recent is one of my past students was in the first guitar class to be invited to perform at NAMM in Anaheim, CA. He did not know what NAMM was and had no idea what he would see or experience. He told me ten years later that on the bus ride home from California that he had promised himself that he would not return to NAMM unless he was a celebrity or have an instrument endorsement. Ten years later, while at NAMM with another class of guitar students, that same student surprised me by attending our performance. After the performance, he told me his story and revealed he was at NAMM that year with a Gibson endorsement deal and a hit recording with his rock band.
In what ways does the guitar “lag” behind the other available music ensembles/classes in a school program setting?
I am not sure the guitar lags behind other music ensembles. I think a high percentage of music educators who are teaching guitar in the classroom are unhappy they are teaching guitar and not another class of band, choir or orchestra. For that reason, I think the music educator does not put the effort into the guitar class and has resentments that are often targeted towards the students and the class as a whole. Those are the folks that are giving guitar education a bad name or the appearance of lagging.
For me, I teach guitar full time guitar classes and I am also an accomplished guitarist. I teach at a school where we have two band directors, two choir teachers and two orchestra teachers who are all excellent at what they do and create amazing ensembles. Having said that, my guitar ensembles receive as many (if not more) awards and accolades than the traditional music ensembles. Each year, there are as many or more graduating seniors in guitar ensemble who are valedictorians as orchestra students. Almost every year, guitar students surpass choir and band students for the most valedictorians.
New music and methods for guitar classes are being published at a very high rate. The amount of available new ensemble music for guitar for exceeds that of traditional music ensembles. I am not sure I can buy into the idea that guitar lags behind.
In what does the guitar “excel” compared to the other available music ensembles?
The guitar classes have the potential to excel beyond traditional ensembles for one very simple reason, it is just one instrument! A teacher who is also an accomplished player should be able to provide opportunities for students to learn much more quickly than a class with 9-12 different instruments requiring various skills to get a sound, etc. And, as mentioned before, there are so many new resources for guitar education being published each year.
Any final thoughts or wishes for the future of the guitar council?
In my experience of teaching, I have witnessed a time when there were no guitar classes in public schools and the freshman guitar majors in college had almost no skills and could not read music. In the past fifteen years, guitar education at the pre-college level has started to blossom and prepare guitarists for colleges in some cases at the level of band and orchestra students. Because of this, many guitar programs have started to really blossom with the improved talent coming in as freshman.
The part that makes me sad is the fact that only a very small percentage of music colleges and universities are offering music education degrees for guitarists. In other words, offering guitar at the pre-college level is really a good idea, but the colleges are not providing new and prepared guitar teachers to go out into the world to teach guitar. That is one of the biggest reasons music educators are teaching guitar as a secondary instrument.
My wish for guitar education as a whole is for colleges and universities to promote music education for guitar players and prepare solid teachers to take the many teaching positions which are currently being created to meet the needs of the many pre-college students who wish to study guitar as a music choice.
About the Author:
NAfME member Thomas Amoriello is the Guitar Education Chairperson for the New Jersey Music Education Association and also serves on the NAfME Council for Guitar Education as the Chair-Elect. He teaches guitar for the Flemington Raritan School District and Hunterdon Academy of the Arts. Tom graduated from Shenandoah Conservatory with a Master of Music Degree in Classical Guitar Performance. He is the author of the children’s picture books; A Journey to Guitarland with Maestro Armadillo & 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, Dio, Ozzy Osbourne, Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force, and Cacophony and that will be released in February 2018 on H42 Records of Hamburg, Germany on 7 inch Vinyl.
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