Thursday, March 19, 2015

Guitar Orchestra

Welcome to anyone who has found this page through the Birmingham Home School Fair. Below are details:

Hope Guitar Orchestra
●   Grades 5-12
   Tuesdays 11 am – 12 pm
   At Hope Christian, in Pelham, with possible additional location closer to Birmingham.
   No previous experience required.
   Students learn classical guitar technique and music reading.
   Online content through CourseSites by Blackboard©.
   Concerts – Fall, Christmas and Spring
   Tuition- $60 a month, $100 family max. $10 discount for each additional family member.  Tuition credits for referrals. 

About Me:  Matt Jones is the instructor for this course. He holds a degree in Music Education from the  University of Mississippi, and has 10 years experience teaching general music, choral music and guitar as a classroom teacher. Over the course of 4 years at Lafayette Middle School in Oxford, MS, Matt daily taught 3 sections of guitar in a program made up of more than 60 students. Matt has also taught hundreds of private guitar students in his home, at music stores, and in churches for more than 15 years.  Matt is currently serving as Minister of Music at an area church. For more information about this class complete the form linked below:

Inquiry Form



Friday, August 8, 2014

We're starting a new guitar class at Hope Christian School in Pelham, AL.  This is a home school association that my kids are a part of this year, and we're looking forward to adding Guitar to our kids' activities at Hope.

Hope parents, Email Me for a flyer!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Spring Guitar Concert

Well, we had our spring guitar concert a few weeks ago and it was a resounding success! This year,I really beefed up the program with more music, had our high school counterparts perform as our special guests and even had Jacob Jordan, a local friend who is a professional classical player, close out the program.  He's pictured above with my daughter, Claire.

At the suggestion of the high school guitar instructor, we held the concert at a local church. This allowed us to use the church sound with a combination of the church's choir mics and our own condensers/mic stands. Additionally, the choir loft risers ensured that students were more easily seen by parents. The acoustic sound in the church was great too. Thanks for the great idea Mr. Cole!

I ended up having sixty kids on stage, but I should note that it would not have been possible to have that many kids in the years previous when we weren't using footstools. Footstools save a lot of horizontal real estate by having the necks of the guitars at a 45 degree angle instead of straight across.

Here's our program:

Summer of ’59
The Sounds of Jazz
Song Tune...arr. Bill Swick
A Minor Study # 1...arr. Bill Swick
A Minor Study # 12...arr. Bill Swick
St. Anthony Chorale...arr. Jerry Snyder
Some Kind of Sunset...arr. Jerry Snyder
Strawberry Moon...arr. Jerry Snyder
Achy Breaky Heart

The first three tunes are super easy and come from Everybody's Guitar Ensembles. Part one is E, F & G on the first string using only whole, half and quarter notes.  All of my special ed kids can play these and that's their purpose on the program.  We also did three tunes from Bill Swick's ensemble series and three from the ensemble edition of Jerry Snyder's Guitar School.
If I could go back, I would have planned for more easy music that was kind of in between the first three and Song Tune in difficulty.  The way the program was laid out, I had everyone on stage and as we got to the more difficult stuff, some kids would take their seats in the audience while others adjusted seating on stage.  By the end, we were down to an ensemble of about eight kids with me playing along. 

Achy Breaky Heart was something that I transcribed from a beginner band arrangement earlier this year.  It was for a beauty pageant performance whose theme was "Boot Scoot'n Beauties".  I know...

Anyway, it turns out the beginner band arrangements I've transcribed in the last three years have been well worth the effort.  Easy, beginner guitar ensemble music is just kind of a newer thing.  Meanwhile, there are tons of beginner band arrangements out there.  They've just been doing it longer.  They always end up being the coolest thing on the program.  Achy Breaky Heart is a pretty cheesy tune, but this a great arrangement.

In preparation for this concert we spent the second semester with the kids passing off ensemble music assignments after they had passed off all the textbook material.  We did some chords, rhythm strums, bass/strum patterns, learned the twelve-bar blues with a blues shuffle and basic improvisation.

I was very pleased with everything we did this year and felt like we grew a lot from the previous year.  I even talked to the curriculum guy at the state department about doing a pilot guitar program for the state and getting Guitar on the books as an actual course listing.  I was trying to be optomistic and plan as if things weren't changing, but this has been a rough year for education in the state of Mississippi.  I found out a after the concert that my program had been cut, along with two other music teachers, a band director, two art teachers, a gifted teacher, a PE teacher and various other special ed and and part-time positions.

So, I will probably be in a church or something next year.  I'm still really appreciative to have had the opportunity to teach guitar.  General Music went from being a chore, taught between "real music" performance classes, to something that I really looked forward to every day.  I'm working on doing guitar classes in conjunction with the local store this summer.  I'll also be working on possibly relocating. 

On a lighter note I had a "blues epiphony" after an early morning jog a few weeks ago.  I'll post more on teaching the blues in another post.  Also, in another post I'll discuss what you, as a teacher, can do with 50 minutes (or more) in a guitar classroom.  Someone asked me about that a couple of months ago, and it's really a great question.  Believe me, I was in the same boat a couple of years ago.


Matt Jones

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Repost: Guitar In the Schools Video from GAMA

This is primarily an industry marketing video, but I always thought that it was very cool.  It also features a mentor of mine, Bill Swick, and his program at Las Vegas Academy.  We used his curriculum when I was teaching at Lafayette. For whatever reason this has been yanked from the interwebs.  It's somehow still stuck here in blogspot limbo.  Enjoy while you can:

Monday, March 15, 2010

I wanted to take the opportunity to recommend this site which I've been using quite a bit lately for my personal jazz study.  I'm sure that it would be a great reference for any classroom teacher as well.  His site is probably the most comprehensive free guitar lesson site I've seen.  While most sites with this much information are a little dry, Justin's is a lot of fun and he's a great teacher.  He has a real gift for thorougly presenting a topic while keeping it as simple as possible.

The material is sequenced and grouped in a logical way that defies the tendancies of most of us musical/creative types.  There are beginner and intermediate methods on the site with text and video.  You'll also find intermediate/advanced material covering various styles such as blues, reggae and jazz.

His presentation of the CAGED system with it's corresponding chords, scales and arpeggios is the best that you'll find on the web. If you're a teacher, the graphics for his chord grids and scales are a great reference. 

All of this material is presented free.  So, donate or buy something.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Updated Class Grading Rubic/Grading Sheet

This is the grading sheet I use when students play something for a grade in class.  It has all the technical stuff I always tell them.  So I can just circle the things they need to work on and give them a grade.  That way it's not so subjective, but I don't assign a certain number of points for each items.  So, in that sense it's not a strict rubric. 

I format it in the document so that it's two per page although the google doc doesn't support this.  I do it front-and-back to save paper and time copying.  I punch holes in it and they put it in their binder.  Then they've got four weeks worth before I have to give them another one.  Click the "Open in a New Window" icon above to print this version, or click here for the link to a Word doc which you can save and edit.

If you're looking for ideas for a rubric or syllabus, check out Bill Swick's backward assessment models at  If you want something to use in grading students that has specific things to check off as the student plays, the guys in Austin, TX at have a great sheet in their curriculum.  It's classically focused if you want that, but even if you don't, it's really helpful in the way it breaks down the technique.  It can be difficult to assess certain bad technical habits or find the correct phrase or imagery to help a student fix them.  Their grading sheet is excellent and I've incorporated a lot of their ideas into mine.  Both of these sites are linked in the bar to the right.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ensemble Book Reviews and Spring Concert Plans

I wanted to share my thoughts on some of the ensemble music I'm using. After doing my first Christmas concert a couple of weeks ago, I really want to gear up for our spring concert and do some real music. I plan on hitting the ensemble stuff pretty hard after Christmas. Right now my average student is finishing up study with the 4th string. I estimate that in 3 to 4 weeks I'll have 80% who've passed off the 6th string material. Then, they'll graduate on to the ensemble music.

Right now the plan is to have a few ensemble pieces that all of these students work through and pass off. Then, I hope to have several small ensembles of 3 to 6 kids to better fill out our Spring concert program.

Also, I've got students of pretty widely varying levels of skill. I've got a couple of 'nerds' who just are reading and technical machines. They have no previous musical experience but just freakishly adhere to every musical and technical suggestion I make. And they just can't get enough guitar.

I also have the band kids who can already read music. Then there are the students who have been in my class a previous year and are a little ahead. I say "a little" because this is the first year that I've actually done guitar exclusively in my General Music classes. So, we're basically almost a semester ahead of last year already.

Then there are my special education students. Of these, I've got three who will never be able to read beyond the first strings even with letter names and/or fret numbers written over the notes. Then there are probably another 8 to 10 who are "struggling" with 2 to 3 strings. For these students, I've had to find ensemble music that accomodates these challenges. I'll address this issue in my reviews of the books.

My main considerations in finding ensemble music for first-year middle school guitarists are ease of playing and quality of arrangement.  I guess I'm looking for the highest "quality of arrangement" to "ease of playing" ratio in these pieces.   Honestly, there is plenty of material out there that is good quality.  It's just more difficult.  I also was looking for some of the arrangements to be more rhythmic and contemporary.  There are tons of classical arrangements to be found, many of them free.  There is a definite need for lighter concert material to mix in with the classical arrangements.

I'll review the four ensemble books I got from the GAMA workshop this summer and also the other sources I'm using for the concert. There are a lot of other sources out there and I certainly haven't seen them all. I'm just giving my thoughts on the few that I've seen.  All of these books are companions to method books of the same title.  Some of them even let you know at which point in studying the method the ensembles can be used.  (Purchasing any of these products through the links provided here supports my blog.  Thanks.)

21st Century Guitar Ensemble

This is book one of the ensemble companions to the popular "21st Century Guitar" method series.  I haven't used the method book yet.  So I can't really compare it to that method.  This one I found to have the lowest ratio of the two afore mentioned factors.  Many of these short pieces have substantial measures of rest for one or two parts while the others begin alone, almost canon style.  I don't think you can easily hold student interest with many measures of counting rests in such short musical works. 

The arrangements didn't really do anything for me either.  I know that's very subjective, but I don't have the book in front of me.  I'm not using any of the pieces from this book and don't foresee using them in the future.  I think there are better options out there.  Again, if you want something more difficult, why not just do something which is also of more interest and quality.  I will say that the 21st Century Ensemble Series has a large number of books in publication.  Some of the other books in the series for specific styles and themes have good reviews at  If you're looking for something different or a specific theme (like Peter Gunn), they may be worth checking out. 

Bill Swick's Guitar Class Ensemble Series
This is an ensemble companion to the material I use daily for classroom instruction.  I used "Song Tune" last year for my spring concert, and it was by far the best thing we did on the program.  It is the simplest tune, using mainly whole, half and quarter note rhythms, and each part has notes on a couple of strings each. 

This year I've given a few kids who are finished with the classroom materials the next two ensembles which are a couple of Paganini studies.  These have some eighth notes, a few high A's on the first string and some accidentals if I remember correctly.  The pieces in this series are all from classical compositions and have pretty basic rhythms for beginner guitar students.  The pieces become gradually more difficult as you work through the book with the last few including notes in upper positions for students who are a little farther along in their study.

Everybody's Guitar Ensembles
This is the companion ensemble book to Everybody's Guitar Method, which I used for several years in private lessons.  It's pretty much what the title indicates, very simple and graded to be easy enough for anyone to be able to succeed.  It's funny because I had already picked 3 or 4 of these pieces out for our spring concert and was calling them our "everybody" songs before I remembered the title. 

We're doing the first 4 arrangements which are very simple and probably way too easy for high school or what you might consider "normal" even for middle school, but with the large number of special education students I have these are great.  They're good sounding arrangements and are very short.  This book would definitely be good for use early in the year. 

Part 1 on these first few pieces is first string only and very simple quarter, half and whole note rhythms.  They also have 2 to 3 additional parts with optional chords.  Some of the lower parts include notes as far down as the 6th string.  This book also has arrangements which are limited to the first three strings or so, two of which we used for our holiday concert. 

These were My Dreydl and Jingle Bells, which were very nicely arranged and simple to play.  We put them together in all of two weeks time.  I had a couple of second-year kids strum chords which really filled the sound out.  The arrangements become slightly more advanced as you go through the book, but overall this is probably the simplest of the books.  These pieces are mostly lighter numbers which can be hard to find arranged well like this.  This book is highly recommended, especially for Middle School.

Hands On Training Guitar Ensembles
This is the companion to the H.O.T. method books.  It contains very nicely arranged pieces which are simple to play if you have some kids who are reading on all six strings.  It says in the description on their website, "no sixteenth note rhythms".  There is a very tasteful use of dynamics as well as other guitar sound effects and optional percussion parts on some pieces .  This book has several American and international folk song arrangements.  This book is a good value and contains a wide variety of styles.

Jerry Snyder's Guitar School Ensemble Book
The Jerry Snyder Guitar School series is probably one of the more popular methods for classroom instruction and with good reason.  It is very well written and if you don't have a copy for reference in your classroom, you should get it.  The companion ensemble book is also excellent, having the best arranged pieces of those reviewed here.  When playing through these, you can really tell that these were arranged by someone who has played a lot of guitar and knows his instrument. 

Most of these arrangements are a little more difficult, but many are entirely appropriate even for middle school students performing an end of the year concert.  This book has the best balance of classical and contemporary arrangements of the books reviewed.  There is also a wide range of difficulty to be found from piece to piece.  Definitely don't overlook this book.  It deserves a place in your reference library. 

How They're All Going Together
For the final concert, I plan to have 3 to 4 "everybody" pieces which should take up all of 5 minutes,  3 or 4 pieces that most of the other kids play together and then a few small ensemble pieces for the kids that just need something a bit more difficult.  Then we're having our high school counterparts play a few pieces as our special guests. 

Last, I've arranged for a buddy who is a classicaly-trained professional guitarist to come perform a short set for us.  I think we're going to end the concert with him, the high school guitar teacher and myself playing as an ensemble for the kids.  I though they would get a kick out of seeing the old guys play with a pro.  I'll update as we get closer to the concert.