A few months ago I was thinking about how I could play to my own personal strengths in developing a new ongoing program at the library.
I already use guitar in my toddler programs, and our department definitely needed something else for the older kids. So I decided to start offering guitar lessons. The response to the program was huge.
Before I even offered the classes though, I sent out letters and called every music store in Jacksonville – asking for any sort of donation. A pack of strings, some picks, a guitar, etc. I received donations of 5 guitars as well as tons of picks, strings and straps.
I teach kids in sessions that are 5 classes long, every Wednesday from 6-7pm. I teach to a maximum of 10 children per class, all of whom preregister. I currently have enough students on the registration list to run things this way until May 2009.
Visit the JPL homepage for guitar lesson information here – http://jaxpubliclibrary.org/progs/main/guitar-lessons.html
Also, I was recently interviewed by someone in our PR department about the guitar lessons. This is the interview in it’s entirety, I know she’ll be working it into an article format at some point.
1. If I’m not mistaken, did you recently add additional sessions past what was initially posted/offered? Did this have to do with the popularity?
The short answer is “yes, this had to do entirely with popularity.“ Although, before I even started the program, I knew it would be continually offered. Guitar lessons at music stores cost anywhere from $20-$50 an hour and beyond for individual lessons. From a financial standpoint alone, anyone can see why this program is so popular. In essence, that is the central role of any great library – to level socio-economic walls as much as possible. That role’s importance is multiplied ten-fold when you consider the government’s cuts in school funding for music education programs.
2. What kind of response are you finding with the program? I see all sessions are full through March?
The classes are limited to ten students. And although some could argue about the class size limit as good or bad, I’m finding that too few in the class does a disservice to the line of people waiting to get a class. Too many in the class is obviously unmanageable. Ten seems to be working well as something I can control (At times, I do have ten kids playing guitar in a room at once) as well as being socially important for the students.
Every class I’ve offered is full. I’ve had to stop registration because it’s becoming increasing troublesome to have parents signing up a child for lessons that don’t start for 6 months, especially when it’s a five class session I require the children to come to. Registration will resume a month before the next open class is available.
3. What was the initial drive for providing this kind of program? Has this been in planning for a while? A requested program by customers?
This initial drive for providing this program was that I was playing to my strengths as a programmer – I already use instruments for my storytimes, movement and music programs and special rock band programs. It’s also a simple community need I know I could help fill. It was never requested by customers, though now that guitar lessons are offered for kids I’m getting people requesting adult guitar lessons as well as lessons for all sorts of other instruments.
4. Do you find the response from the participants to be positive? How is the behavior of the participants? Anxious, eager, interested?
Totally positive. The parents understand the importance of it and bring the students here on time. I’ve talked with parents about various class problems with the occasional student being a disturbance, obviously not practicing, or not doing his or her homework. And every time it wasn’t a problem during the next class. We have a lot of fun, but I treat the classes seriously. The students and parents have come to expect that and respond very well to it.
“Anxious, eager, interested?” A few of the students don’t have guitars, and we have ones they can use. I got them donated from a few local music stores along with spare strings, straps and picks. These students come in on the weekend to practice here in the library’s study rooms. One of those students came in last class with a guitar her family bought her. The class before she had passed the quiz I gave and won herself a guitar strap. She was so excited that she was able to use it on her own new guitar.
5. What does offering this kind of program say about our library system? Innovative?
Yes, I say it does portray our library system as innovative. I haven’t heard of any other library system that has guitar lessons. I think I we do a great job in all traditional and modern services, but it’s an appropriate move for library systems to branch out beyond thinking having books and computers are enough. We need to start looking at what we had as children, realizing things are not the same today – and fix it. We need to go above and beyond by filling in the gaps created by a poorly funded education system.
6. What is the intent to continue providing this kind of programming?
The intent of continuing such programming as this is primarily educational, as mentioned above.
It’s also entertaining to the students to be able to play guitar. The activity of learning how to play is a viable educational alternative to, arguably passive, activities such as TV watching.
Another large intent is to simply introduce music into the lives of the students. With each class the students are assigned listening homework. This is something I talk to the students about every class; what they heard, liked, didn’t like, what instruments did they hear, a favorite song on a CD, etc. In class we’ll listen to different musicians and music groups as a tool to talk about different popular songwriting techniques, different instruments and how they are used, etc. With music classes taken out of most schools, and such classes only offered at socially polarizing magnet schools, most children aren’t even exposed to much music except by their peers. To listen to, and play, music in an educational context is part of the intent behind this programming.
7. Are some guitars provided for those who don’t have one, by who are they provided? How many participants bring their own guitar?
I solicited local music stores for any and all equipment we could use. I got donations of guitars, straps, picks and guitar strings. Eight of the ten students in my current class have guitars. Well, now it’s nine since Marium got one. Since I’m responsible for getting the instruments donated to the library for this ongoing program, I obtained permission to let students, without guitars of their own, bring home library guitars. I was told to do this at my own discretion, and thus this isn’t an advertised part of the program. Typically I require that the students come in to practice on their own, and behave in class – if they do then I talk to the parents about it and verify that it’s ok for the parent and child to be responsible for the instrument until they bring it back the following week for class.
8. What range of skill level are you finding? Inexperienced, intermediate, advanced? A majority of one or a mix of all?
Well this first session on 10 children was for ages 9-14. I quickly realized the different between 9 and 14 was huge in terms of possible skill level, but in terms of social skills and what music they relate to. They like everything from Nirvana to the Jonas Brothers.
In terms of musical skills some of the kids play other instruments, and some of them have no musical background at all. After the first session I started to limit the ages in varying sessions – such as 9-11 and 12-14. Focusing a class this way helps me focus on who I’m teaching to.
9. How does each class generally go?
First I’ll talk to everyone as a group. Did they practice? Who had took home what cds last time? Hear anything you liked? Didn’t like? That may or may not led to us listening to part of a one or two. I ask them if they had any trouble with what they practiced. They I ask volunteers to share what they have learned. Some kids get up and struggle through a chord or two. Others play the chords to silent night while others play the melody. In later lessons some kids have learned other songs on there own and try to play them, even playing them and singing.
Sometimes the class will start off with a quiz. The quiz is generally like a fill in the blank for knowing parts of the guitar, or some blank chord diagrams they have to fill in with chords they should know. Students who get everything right win a prize – a guitar strap, strings, or picks.
Then I’ll do one of two things; either play parts of a song or two exemplifying something we learned in class last time. Or I’ll pass out handouts of new stuff to learn. I’ll review the new material with them as a group. Then, as the group practices individually, I’ll call forward every student one at a time.
I need to do this because every student is remarkably different. Some of them are still struggling with basic things from the first two lessons, while others are looking up songs they like online and trying to learn them. Whatever they are working on, or not working on, I help them with. The shyer kids will show me what they’ve been working on. This is a good time to actually get some one on one time with the students.
The hour usually ends with me asking them to please practice what we talked about (always after they finish school work though) and a simple “see you next week.” The program almost always goes over about 20 minutes with last minute questions from students and parents.