Yamaha Helps Students Unleash Their Inner Jimi Hendrix in Las Vegas Classroom

3/14/2008 [Guitars & Basses]

Tom Schmidt's Guitar Classes Learn on Yamaha Guitars

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — The sounds of guitar playing fill the halls in the Clark County School District, which serves Las Vegas and environs. But these aren't delinquents sneaking in a few furtive riffs behind their teachers' backs, the noise emanates from regular music classes that teach students the rudiments of the six-string.

Las Vegas Public Schools Guitar Program
Student plays a CG model in Tom Schmidt's classroom
Yamaha is a leader in the educational market and guitars are gaining an increased acceptance in school music programs. In Tom Schmidt's classroom at Cadwallader Middle School in Las Vegas, for example, students are learning on Yamaha CG guitars, so he figured he would contact the Yamaha Corporation of America to help spruce up the walls.

"When I got to school, we had the Yamaha equipment and my room looked pretty bare, so I called them up and they said they'd help me out," said Schmidt. "They've been very supportive."

In his room, banners and posters of Yamaha guitar artists adorn the walls. He also received a bunch of t-shirts and other items. To encourage his charges, he gave away a poster to the student who worked the hardest on the school fundraiser and awarded Yamaha t-shirts to the students with the highest marks in his five classes, which contain between eight and 25 students each.

The guitar program in Clark County began with one teacher in one school in 1997, said Bill Swick, who teaches guitar at the Las Vegas Academy and is the district's Guitar Chairman.

"Now the guitar is taught in almost 50 schools, we have 56 teachers teaching at least one class and there are approximately 5,600 students enrolled in guitar classes," said Swick.

Schools across the country are jumping on the bandwagon to teach music through guitars. Payson Elementary School in Payson, Ariz. instituted a guitar program, for example, and in Lancaster, Penn., students learn on Yamaha's gorgeous Silent Guitars, which include headphone jacks for private practice and also plug into an amp when it comes time to be heard.

"Yamaha has always been dedicated to the educational market," said Dennis Webster, marketing manager, Yamaha Guitars. "The Clarke County School system has provided a great road map for every school district in the country to incorporate guitars into music programs."

Las Vegas Public Schools Guitar Program
Teacher Tom Schmidt and students
Contributing to the growing popularity of guitar instruction in the schools is the enormous popularity of the Guitar Hero and Rock Band video games, which have kindled an interest in classic guitar-driven rock and roll among school-age youngsters.

"That really caught me off guard," said Schmidt. "I had no idea how many of these 12 to 14 year-olds would love classic rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton. It's interesting to see."

Rock star wannabes in the Clark County schools have to learn the fundamentals before they begin wailing like Jimi Hendrix. For one thing, the students are not cranking the distortion on electric guitars, they're learning on unplugged nylon string acoustic models that are primarily used in classical music. As opposed to steel strings, the nylon strings are easier on the fingers, said Schmidt.

This is the first year that guitar is being taught at Cadwallader and most students in Schmidt's five classes didn't know what to expect.

"I'm giving them tools to play music that can be transferred to both the electric guitar and the steel string acoustic guitar," said Schmidt. "For instance I've taught them how to play power chords, which are used a lot in rock and heavy metal music."

His goal is to build the students' skills and techniques by teaching them to read and write music and play in a group. He is also introducing them to a range of music, from classical to folk to rock.

"We have diverse backgrounds in every class but the guitar brings them all together," he said. "They know it's a lot of work, but they realize it's also a lot of fun."

Schmidt seeks to make his classroom both educational and fun. The class often plays songs they've learned with CD accompaniments. This helps the students feel like they are playing with a whole orchestra or band. He has also created educational games that help students learn how to switch between different chords.

The focus on general music education, rather than the emulation of guitar gods, is winning newfound respect for the guitar in the school system. "A lot of times, the guitar is seen as a garage rock band instrument — or as something you use to sit in a circle around a campfire sing songs like 'Kumbaya,'" said Schmidt. "But the guitar is becoming more accepted as a serious instrument for teaching music in addition to band, orchestra and chorus. When a student takes part in guitar class they learn the fundamentals of music and become equipped for a lifelong journey of becoming a better musician"

For more information on the CG guitars, write Yamaha Corporation of America, Pro Audio & Combo Division, Guitar Products, P.O. Box 6600, Buena Park, CA 90622; telephone (714) 522-9011; or email infostation@yamaha.com.

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