Is it program numbers? Awards? Festival ratings? Awards you receive from various advocacy groups touting your program's numbers, awards, festival ratings? It seems that this is what we (the music education profession) deems to be "successful" in K-12 music education. I recently read an article that suggested what successful guitar programs teach their students. That sentence in itself seems problematic to me. Are the programs teaching? In all of this, where are the students? What role do the students play in all of this?
I have found that highly successful guitar classes and programs will cover similar fundamental performance techniques and employ a lot of notated music reading (solo & ensemble) to push and challenge students.
This begs the question, what does "successful" even mean? A quick search for the definition reveals the following definitions:
1)the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one's goals;
2) the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like;
3) a performance or achievement that is marked by success, as by the attainment of honors;
4) a person or thing that has had success, as measured by attainment of goals, wealth, etc.
It seems to me that in general that our profession tends to promote success as defined by a mash-up of these definitions. As educators, we have goals for our students and hopefully, we share these goals and involve the students in the goal-making. Ideally, the goals should come from the students first and we help them get there. But if this is what it means to see success, for the students to succeed, why are we not reading about their accomplishments? Why am I reading more about the teachers' accomplishments? This is not to dismiss the hard work that teachers do, we work our asses off, no doubt about that. But why? Do we work our butts off to receive awards, or do we work our butts off to watch the students struggle with a musical problem, only to work through the problem themselves and possibly others, and come out with a better understanding on the other side?
So, back to the quote that I posted. The program that was highlighted in this article is VERY different than the 'program' at South High. The program highlighted comes from a performance driven program, which is 100% ok and has lots of benefits for students. However, as someone who facilitates guitar experiences in my class, I wonder what the consequences are with a statement that suggests that if one does not employ these techniques for teaching guitar, is that program "less successful"? I doubt that is what the author intended, but it caused me some panic as to how I facilitate guitar experiences at South. We don't do anything that the article suggests, but I feel that the experiences that the students have with guitar are just as important and can encourage music making beyond the classroom. But we don't focus on traditional notation. While we do spend about a week with basic theory, the majority of what we do in class is what I would like to consider "functional guitar". I consider the class to be a successful experience if, by the end of the semester, the students have a better understanding of guitar through multiple experiences that include creative projects such as song writing and cover projects. Through those experiences they will learn the beauty of music making with others, but also develop some sort of vocabulary that will allow them to communicate musically through playing guitar.
If I may be so bold as to share a very cool experience that the Guitar 2 students had last week. We went to a recording studio at McNally Smith College of Music and the students spent all day recording covers and originals that will eventually be uploaded to Bandcamp where they will be available for a sliding scale donation. All proceeds will be going to a relief fund for victims of recent natural disasters. The students did ALL the work. I just sat back for 8 hours and watched them collaborate, work together, problem solve, and make music. It was incredible. Not once did they ask me for help. Today we got the tracks from the studio and the students started mixing their tracks in Garageband. The only thing I really needed to do was show them how to open a zip file. From there they just started experimenting with the program to learn how it works. I had thought about creating a tutorial, but there are enough students in the class that have worked with Garageband that I was confident they could work with each other. And they did. Again. Without me. Is that success? I don't know. I *think* it is. The album itself is not the success. It is what the students have experienced in the past month to put that album together that makes it a "success".