The Student Teacher in the Guitar Classroom
An Interview with Mark Juliano of The College of New Jersey
By Thomas Amoriello, Jr.
NAfME Council for Guitar Education Chair
During the 2018-19 school year, I was approached by The College of New Jersey (Ewing, New Jersey) to be the cooperating teacher for music education major Mark Juliano here at Reading Fleming Intermediate School in the Flemington Raritan School District (Flemington, New Jersey). Mark specialized in the classical guitar as his applied instrument of study; whereas normally public school music education positions are held by those with concentrations in voice, piano, band, and strings. It was important for me to share lesson plans, articles, lesson coaching, and more with a future guitar educator as it is one of my missions is to help expand quality guitar instruction throughout the state.
It was a pleasure to work with Mark and watch his confidence grow during his placement. His ability to make connections with students, his creativity, organizational skills, command of technology for 21st century learners, and being an excellent musician are his greatest assets. His future students will benefit from these skills for years to come. Thank you, Mark, for sharing your insight with the NAfME membership.
Please tell us about your music education before you started at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ).
My music education before I attended TCNJ was not a traditional path. I began playing guitar when I was eleven years old, and it was the first instrument that I picked up. Before that I was not involved in any extracurricular music activities. Once I began playing guitar, I was mostly playing by myself or with my teacher, Christopher Paglia, until I reached high school.
During high school I began to get involved with playing with other musicians outside of school, but I was never involved in the school music program. In my school I did not feel like the guitar was an overly accepted instrument in the music program; there were only two groups, marching band and jazz band, that had a guitarist. One class that I did take in high school was Music Technology. This is where I began the next step in my music education career. After graduating high school, I attended the County College of Morris (CCM), where I received my Associates Degree in Music Recording. During my time at CCM I began to realize my dream of teaching music. I have always loved giving guitar lessons and teaching others, so I felt like going to TCNJ for a Music Education degree was the best next step.
What were your guitar studies at TCNJ like?
I am lucky enough to have worked with Michael Newman at TCNJ. Michael was the first person whom I met when I applied to TCNJ and went in for a practice lesson. During that lesson I knew that TCNJ was the right choice. Michael is an exceptional teacher and musician who makes every lesson an excellent learning experience with the guitar and from a teaching standpoint. During my time at TCNJ I was able to immerse myself in classical, Latin, and contemporary repertoire with one of the best teachers that you could ask for.
Please tell us about your goals/intentions after graduation.
My post-graduation plan is to apply for and hopefully accept a job offer as a music teacher. I have had the pleasure of observing and teaching in a variety of music classes that have broadened my view of what a music classroom can be. I believe that any music classroom can be a place where students can develop a love for music that will stay with them for their whole lives.
What are some key aspects you learned during your time as a student teacher in a guitar classroom?
One of the most important aspects that I learned during my time as a student teacher in a guitar classroom is how to teach the fundamentals of the instrument. I have been playing guitar for half of my life now, and I am still learning, but when you are teaching a room full of students who are just picking the instrument up, you have to remember the struggles that you had to deal with when you began guitar. I try to make it to every student during the class period, but even in a sixty-minute period it is almost impossible to give the necessary one-on-one instruction with all students. This has led me to develop my ability to give clear and concise instruction. As a guitar player you may know where the third fret is on the fourth string without even thinking, but to a beginning student that may as well be an algebraic equation. This is where you need to be able to think like a student and come up with a way to make sure all students are understanding the lesson.
What was your favorite part of the student teaching experience?
My favorite part of my student teaching experience was the variety of classes that I was able to teach. Throughout both of my student teaching placements I was able to teach guitar, music technology, piano, music theory, and orchestra. All of these provided me with incredible experience. The one thing that all of these classes had in common was that they contained amazing students who were excited to learn music. Each student that I have taught during this experience has taught me something in return. I have learned how to be a better teacher by listening to the students and adapting to their learning needs.
“I have learned how to be a better teacher by listening to the students and adapting to their learning needs.”
Please share a little information about your best lesson plan during class instruction.
My best lesson plan during my class instruction was during one of my sixth grade guitar classes. I was teaching the students how to read and play a guitar chord sheet, and I created a game from it. I had the students sit in their groups, and they had ten minutes to create as many correct chords on the sheet as possible. The students had to make sure all members of the group were making the chord correctly and were able to strum the correct strings. The result was a controlled chaos of fun and learning.
The students were able to come up with group names, and I ended up having to run around the room to each group when they raised their hand for me to check their chords. At the end each group had correctly made at least six chords on the chord sheet. The students were able to help each other out in their groups and self-assess themselves and their group members. The winning group received guitar picks with star holes punched out of them. The students and I had an amazing time doing this, and unbeknownst to them, they were learning two classes worth of information during this 10-minute segment.
What advice do you have for future musical student-teachers before they begin their placements?
My advice to future musical student-teachers is that it is ok to be stressed out and overwhelmed during your first few weeks of teaching. You are at the very beginning stages of your music teaching career and are now going to be placed in situations that no college class can prepare you for. Think about it from the perspective of learning your instrument, you were not playing Bach in your first week of lessons, and your teacher did not expect you to be able to. Learn as much as you can from your cooperating teachers and make sure you ask them as many questions as possible. They have been doing this for a lot longer than you and have an abundance of valuable information to pass on to you. After the first few weeks you’ll get into the groove of teaching and you will love every minute of it!
“As a guitar player you may know where the third fret is on the fourth string without even thinking, but to a beginning student that may as well be an algebraic equation. This is where you need to be able to think like a student and come up with a way to make sure all students are understanding the lesson.”
Please tell us about your observations/evaluations and any strategies you used to prepare.
One major advantage that music teachers have is music. This may seem obvious and simple, but every student loves music—you just have to find a connection with them through it. One strategy that I used is that I would reward the students for having an excellent class by learning a song on the guitar that they requested (e.g., “Country Roads,” “Take on Me,” “All Star”), and I even rapped the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” theme song for one class. These were not songs that I was practicing in my lessons at school, but they became some of my most important repertoire. These final three minutes of the period songs that we would sing as a class became my connection to the students. They would want to have a great class period, so at the end they could request a song that I would play, and they could choose to sing along to. After they were excused, I would hear them singing down the hallway “Country Roads” by John Denver.
What aspect of being in front of children was the most challenging for you?
The most challenging part of my student teaching experience in the beginning was letting my true personality come through in my teaching. I am a pretty calm person, and I like to joke around, but in my first few lessons I did not want to create an environment where I felt like I was losing control. I eventually found a nice middle ground where we could joke around in the classroom but still keep focus on the tasks at hand. This differed for every class because each class comes in with a different energy.
“We had lessons on the history of the blues and how to play a 12-bar blues, a songwriting lesson, and lessons that utilized drum machines and pianos. These lessons all were connected through the guitar and how it is an instrument that can be used in any situation.”
What surprised you most about your experience?
One of the most surprising parts about my experience was how adaptive the guitar class can be. When you tell someone that you are teaching a guitar class, they generally think that it’s all guitar all day, but that is not true. I was able to adapt the guitar class, with the help of my cooperating teacher Tom Amoriello, so that it encompassed a variety of musical ideas. We had lessons on the history of the blues and how to play a 12-bar blues, a songwriting lesson, and lessons that utilized drum machines and pianos. These lessons all were connected through the guitar and how it is an instrument that can be used in any situation.
Read past articles by Thomas Amoriello:
- Double Trouble: Interview with Innovative Musician Gabriel Guardian
- The Patriotic Guitarist: Master Sergeant Alan Prather of “The President’s Own”
- Interview with Progressive Funk-Rock Guitarist DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight
- Heavy Metal Guitar: Neo-Classical Style
- Heavy Metal Guitar: From Times Square to Netflix and Beyond
- Make a Sound! Interview with Drummer Michael Bland
- What about the Electric Bass?
- An Article for Jazz Educators: Interview with Guitarist Kevin Eubanks
- Hip Hop Empowers: Interview with Harlem-Raised, Boston-Based Hip Hop Artist Billy Dean Thomas
- Heavy Metal Guitar Style: Virtuoso Shred Guitar with Toby Knapp
- Adult Education: Rock Camp
- Musical Adventures with Children’s Picture Books
- Empowering the Musician in Your Classroom
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.