Guitars in the Classroom Brings Music to Students of All Abilities

Elizabeth Dale

NAMM Foundation grantee, Guitars in the Classroom, is determined to make music available to students of all abilities via its Adaptive Music for Achievement in Inclusion & Special Education (AMAISE) educator training program.

Guitars in the Classroom (GITC) began in 2000 with the vision that educators at all levels would become song leaders in their classrooms, using the power of music across all subjects to help students learn. The organization’s founder, Jess Baron, created a developmental and simplified guitar approach for beginning musicians called SmartStart Guitar so that “children under the age of seven as well as older adults without musical experience could start strumming and signing without struggle.”

GITC launched its pilot program with help from Taylor Guitars and Fender for teachers in Santa Cruz, Lemon Grove, and Taft, California, and with educators from Lexington, Virginia. With the success and enthusiasm of this inaugural class of teachers, other NAMM Members like D’Addario, Dunlop Manufacturing, Godin Guitars, Hal Leonard, Levy Straps, and Martin Guitars joined the program to help support the valuable mission of the organization. Over the past 21 years, GITC has expanded its reach with over 16,000 educators across America integrating music-making to help teach concepts like literacy and math, as well as critical interpersonal skills.

Guitars in the Classroom

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The non-profit makes its programs accessible to every student, thanks to donations and grants from organizations like The NAMM Foundation. AMAISE trains educators and specialists to play and teach instruments adaptively, utilizing accessories for stabilizing, gripping, striking, shaking, or strumming and individualizing instruction with a student-centered approach. The inspiring teachers who voluntarily learn with AMAISE are empowering children of all abilities to find- and create- their own special ways to become music makers in a wide range of learning environments including, special education and resource classrooms, and in transition environments such as the Polinsky Children's Center in San Diego where students, suffering from trauma and abuse or neglect are awaiting foster care or another safe environment. In addition to serving students in isolated classrooms, AMAISE also trains general classroom teachers to lead music for learning each day, creating an opportunity to reach students whose support needs might otherwise cause them to miss music. With AMAISE, every student gets the chance to participate throughout the week.

Since its beginnings, AMAISE has trained over 800 educators, paraprofessionals, and other support staff to teach music adaptively. The program began in 2015 when GITC leadership noticed that one in five participants in their training program was teaching or providing support to students in special education, yet they were left finding their own ways to adapt the training to meet the needs of their students. A pilot program in three moderate-severe classrooms at Euclid Elementary in San Diego was established and subsequently provided evidence of the power of music to help students learn and live more fully.

Alongside the launch of AMAISE, GITC began teaching medically fragile students in Los Angeles Unified School District’s Carlson Home Hospital School. Educators from these two “schools without walls” travel throughout the district to teach children who are unable to leave their hospital rooms or homes to attend school. “We began developing AMAISE-ing Teaching Artist Residencies with highly motivated individual home hospital teachers and their students, and this has led to a world of creative musical problem solving and educational discovery,” says Baron. GITC reports that "No matter how medically fragile a child may appear to others, given the chance to experience making music with an empathetic and innovative teacher, students are responding positively and sometimes profoundly to its transformative power." The success in Los Angeles has led to growth to including the same program in San Diego, California, the presentation of two-day conferences and workshops in both Chula Vista Unified and San Diego Unified, and a scheduled fall 2021 presentation of the program to the California Teachers Association.

  • Thanks to The NAMM Foundation’s ongoing support and additional contractual funding through the Kennedy Center’s Office for Very Special Arts, as well as the National Endowment for the Arts, we are continually developing adaptive tools, technique, songs, instruments, activities, and professional development opportunities to empower these creative, compassionate educators to become confident music and song leaders for learning.

    Jess Baron

  • GITC AMAISE

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  • AMAISE Strumming

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For more information about Guitars in the Classroom, including how to get involved, please visit https://www.guitarsintheclassroom.org/. NAMM Members looking to support AMAISE are encouraged to contact GITC at info@guitarsintheclassroom.org/