Historically speaking, similar string instruments are evident in early Babylonian artwork circa 1800 B.C. The guitar as we know it today was birthed during the Renaissance Period between 1400-1700 A.D. To gain some perspective, in 1492 Columbus set sail from Spain to the Americas, DaVinci painted the Mona Lisa between 1503-1505, and in 1841 Adolph Sax invented the saxophone. The guitar was birthed from a period of social, intellectual, and cultural reinvention and subsequently the Renaissance period would serve as the bridge between the Middle Ages and Modern Era. The same attributes that define the Renaissance Period continue to resonate with the guitar. Today’s society and culture reflects a niche for guitar that has continued to gain in popularity, but is often overlooked and under-utilized in traditional institutions of music education.
So what actually motivates us the play an instrument? Davidson, Howe, and Sloboda (1997) report that the preliminary results of such a study suggested that “highly skilled professionals who are either known to young learners personally, or who have been heard or seen via radio, recording, or video can act as highly positive motivators to a child’s desire to learn a musical instrument.” (p. 200) From a practical perspective, the results do not seem difficult to understand at all. Much of the way we receive our information is through personal experiences and/or the various media outlets. The guitar is one of the most utilized instruments in current music, current meaning the last 50 years. I am writing this the day after watching the 2011 Grammys; arguably the most prestigious industry-recognized award a musician can receive. Most of the artists performing or receiving awards played guitar themselves or had incorporated it into their bands.
One might also suggest the aspect of popularity as a contributing factor for student involvement in music. Hal Aebels (2004) administered a questionnaire testing 653 public school students on their vocational interest. The most frequently chosen vocations were Parent, Teacher, and Basketball Player. The most frequently chosen music icon was guitar, followed by tuba and violin (Table 2). A proposed reason for the popularity of guitar amongst the younger generation, that seems taboo amongst the “elite” in music education, is the success and exposure of the Guitar Hero video game franchise. Topping 2 billion dollars in sales worldwide with 35 million games sold, the franchise has become the 3rd most popular in history. Obviously there is a distinction between entertainment and education but 35 million people pretending to play guitar is only an effective statistic and resource. In fact, I’ve not only had a number of young students make the transition to the real instrument after playing the game, but gain a general knowledge of the guitar and repertoire. A worldwide interest and positive perspective should only be utilized and not discouraged as is evident of guitar today amongst a majority of traditional public school music programs. Though Aebels’s (2004) study examines only a small section of students, the results still conclude that the guitar is the most popular instrument amongst students in public school. Continually, researchers have discovered a disconnect between the student community and the traditional curriculum. This disconnect not only results in the dousing of musical involvement, but even worse, neglecting prospective students the opportunity of a musical experience. Patrick Jones (2003) conducted a case study on this exact point specifically based upon the Philadelphia School District. “The disconnect between school and community musicing has had a detrimental impact on music education. Music education in the US colonies flourished when it supported amateur musicians and directly contributed to the life of the community” (p. 11). If music educators could harness a fraction of the 35 million people already interested in guitar, let alone the community in general, think of the possibilities for not only involvement in school music programs, but also the general conscious of the instrument
The guitar is an instrument that has the capacity, depth and reach to effectively educate current and prospective students of music. The birth and evolution of the guitar is equivocally authentic and traditional to the instruments that often overshadow its potential in traditional institutions of music education. Ironically, research suggests that the guitar may be one of, if not the most popular instrument in music today. From Andres Segovia and Bob Dylan, to Wes Montgomery and Prince, the versatility of the instrument is reason enough. The guitar truly is the renaissance instrument not only incarnated and reinvented in an infinite number of ways, but it can serve as the bridge between the old garb of standards in music and modern creativity and education. The instrument has the ability to span all genres of music, doubtlessly instill standards of music education, and provide a progressive avenue for a life-changing musical experience.