Expanding Beyond Guitar at Hudson High School
Art for Progress’ after school music enrichment program at Hudson High School for Learning Technologies was especially inspiring this spring semester because of a dynamic group of multi-talented, and eager students. The program was reinstated this spring thanks to the efforts of principal Nancy Amling. The program had been inactive for the fall semester because a lack of funding, Ms. Amling was influenced in her decision to restart the program by an exceptional young student and musician named Terelle. Terelle’s enthusiasm and hunger for new knowledge were the ultimate catalyst for the formation of the program.
Tarelle wanted to learn about how music works beyond the shapes he was learning on the guitar. Hudson HS currently offers a beginning guitar class as a part of the school’s regular curriculum. The class is focused on the mechanics of playing the instrument, but like most beginning guitar classes, it did not address the underlying music theory necessary for students who to build their skills beyond the basic guitar vocabulary.
The group of students that comprise the AFP after school program at Hudson range from 9th-12th graders, and are led by Terelle. He expressed a desire to learn some more universal musical concepts in order to set up a foundation upon which to develop their musicality. They were made up of aspiring singers, guitarists, pianists, and bass players of varying levels of experience. We explored the construction of scales, chord building and common chord progressions; learned to understand key signatures, and applied scale and mode patterns on the guitar and piano. We also performed vocal solfeggio exercises, and looked at the elements of blues and jazz tonalities. Mr. Pinella, the school’s guitar teacher, was in fact a frequent visitor to the AFP program. It provided him with new theoretical insights, while enabling the sessions to actively compliment the curriculum of his class.
A heavy emphasis on rhythm and playing as a group provided students with an opportunity to apply their new knowledge in real time. They were challenged to make use of what they had gleaned from guitar class, as well as their new theoretical perspective in an environment that required focus beyond their instrument. Where traditional music instruction methods sometimes provide a static environment for group play, there is rarely an emphasis on listening and interplay. AFP programs encourage participants to develop a sense of responsibility for staying connected to the other players in a group. The concept of “feel” is introduced as soon as we start playing together. These skills are extremely important for young musicians looking to form bands and ensembles; and especially for those looking to lead their own groups and develop original music.
Another aspect of the program was an emphasis on original composition. Students presented original work to the class, which we then critiqued and analyzed. AFP programs foster open receptivity to feedback. Before a student presents his/her original work, I would ask if the presenter is open to critical feedback. After listening, I would then point out what is working and where I see room for adjustment or improvement. When given the respect any artist deserves and a choice in the matter, I almost always find that a student will be more open to constructive criticism, and in fact appreciate it very much from someone they trust.
Terelle and his friends performed at a number of school events this year, to rave reviews, and are working on musical projects this summer. These guys have consistently impressed me with the new chord shapes they’re incorporating in their songs, and the classic material they’ve unearthed for inspiration always astounds me. They are always hungry for new sounds, and stop by my classroom upstairs at Humanities Prep almost every day to see what they can learn from the students and teachers at Prep and the James Baldwin School.
Overall, the AFP music program at Hudson HS was one of the most rewarding educational opportunities in which I have had the pleasure to participate, and I look forward to continuing the program next semester.
Here’s a little video of Terelle ripping a guitar solo with members of AFP’s various programs!