The Importance of Ensemble Participation for Guitarists

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david.chidsey. (August 2, 2022). The Importance of Ensemble Participation for Guitarists. International Journal of Music. Accessed July 25, 2024.

As a music education professional, I’ve discovered several key aspects of a balanced and sequential music education that has been nurtured for generations of young artists but that sometimes gets neglected in guitar education circles. The reasons for this inequity are complex and varied. In simple terms, guitar students often lack the experience of ensemble participation that woodwind, brass, percussion, bowed string, and chorus students have traditionally enjoyed. This perspective comes from my observations as a 13-year veteran public school music teacher. I need to be clear that those opportunities are available to guitarists to participate in ensembles but are often not sequential in the traditional sense. For example, when a young clarinetist begins a public school music education, they typically start with a lesson program set up in 4th or 5th grade. A professional educator works with an instrument specialist to select the proper size, quality, and extra materials needed for the young student to begin a sequential program that ranges from fundamentals, technique and even ensemble participation that allows each band student to have an opportunity to perform in a large organized ensemble several times during each school year. This continues through the middle grades and into high school and possibly beyond.

This privilege is rarely extended to students interested in learning the guitar. Many public school music programs do not have an adequately trained professional guitar educator, and thus the guitar is treated as an ancillary instrument and even at times discouraged by directors that fear losing their needed instrumentation for their band and orchestra programs. Guitarists sometimes have an opportunity to participate in traditional ensembles, but this requires them to purchase an additional instrument and is often financially inequitable. There can be other opportunities for guitarists, such as general music guitar classes, chamber or emerging ensembles, jazz programs, and mariachi band opportunities. Still, they are typically not sequential, unorganized and extremely inequitable compared to the more traditional large ensemble programs. Guitar Orchestra programs can bridge this gap and give young musicians similar opportunities to traditional band, chorus, and string orchestra programs. I will elaborate on the sequence of guitar education and my curriculum design in future posts.

David Chidsey is a guitarist and educator in New York state and has been teaching public school music for 13 years; he has worked towards an equitable distribution of education for guitarists for over two decades. David is a member of the United States Guitar Orchestra, New Jersey Guitar Orchestra, and New York City Guitar Orchestra and is a soloist and chamber musician in the greater NYC metropolitan area.

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