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Coastal prof initiates Guitars In Classroom project

December 4, 2003

David Bankston, associate music professor at Coastal Carolina University, has spearheaded a music program intended to make Horry County elementary school teachers and students proficient on the guitar.

Guitars in the Classroom (GITC) is currently under way at Aynor Elementary School, involving 23 teachers who are learning the SmartStart method of learning guitar and, in turn, teaching more than 740 first through fifth graders lessons on undersized instruments. Bankston's vision of teaching guitar music to the pint-sized masses is becoming reality, step by baby step, thanks to GITC, a national program begun by Jessica Baron Turner in California in 1998. GITC helps interested educators establish, organize and run regional guitar education programs for K-8 teachers.

"It is founded on the notion that, just as we learn to speak before we learn to read, we also make music naturally long before we are ready to learn theory," says Turner, who, along with Bankston, has guided the Aynor experience. The program is designed to get students playing and singing right away while building one new skill at a time.

Each school program is coordinated by a site facilitator who directs the sharing of instruments, schedules and runs faculty training, aids in the development of a music-integrated curriculum, and acts as liaison to grant headquarters.

"There seem to be a disproportionate number of tone deaf children," said Bankston, explaining why he thought such a program was needed. He has been collaborating with Connie Christy, Aynor Elementary's music teacher, and Laura Dean, a Coastal graduate student and former Carolina Opry performer, who is site facilitator.

Christy, who was Horry County Teacher of the Year for 2003, instructs the children on the half- and three-quarters-sized guitars during the weekly music class. "It's something they look forward to with delight," she says.

Dean instructs the teachers who signed up for guitar lessons, including a child development coordinator who works with four-year-olds. "It's a simplified way of learning to play the guitar, and it makes learning other subjects more fun for kids," says Dean. "Open tuning is really easy and accessible to everyone. Most of the teachers have little or no music experience."

Bankston said GITC was started at Aynor Elementary because the interest was there. Guitars were donated by Godin Guitar Co. and Father and Son Music, money was raised by the Aynor Elementary PTO, and the program is going strong.

Future plans include teaching teachers at Coastal, Bankston said, so that Coastal can become the hub for the training program. Also in the works are plans for a national summer workshop for GITC at Coastal so that other schools might start the program.

For more information, contact Bankston in the Office of Performing Arts at 349-2562.