They may not end up guitar heroes, but fifth-graders at Edison Intermediate/Larson Middle School are on their way to becoming proficient strummers.

This year, K-5 music teacher Brian Petit has turned his fifth-grade music classes into guitar workshops.

Students are learning the rudimentary skills of playing the instrument.

"Last year, I had fifth-graders working on learning some different African and indigenous drumming skills," Petit said. "I decided to switch to acoustic guitar because I wanted an instrument they could all have access to in the community if they wanted to continue developing their skills."

Each fifth-grade student takes a semester class with Petit that meets twice a week and every other Friday. About half of the students took Petit's class during first semester; the rest are enrolled now.

During the opposite semester, fifth-graders participate in a class with Scott Heath, the district's K-5 instrumental teacher.

In earlier grades, students practice on the traditional recorder during music classes to learn about melody, Petit said. The guitar classes are designed to help students learn more about harmonies, rhythm and chords.

"I look at this class as being a capstone for the students' K-5 music education," he said, as well as a springboard for their future participation in music.

The district provided funding to purchase enough guitars for every student to use in class, but Petit said he decided to put the students in pairs for the guitar lessons.

"At the end of each class, the students have five or 10 minutes to go out in the hallway with their partner and work together practicing," he said. "I think it's important for them to watch someone else playing the guitar. By watching someone else, they're able to observe things about fingering and chording that they couldn't see hunched over an instrument they are playing themselves."

Given the limited amount of time he has with students, Petit said, having them go off by themselves allows him to wander among the students, observe their techniques and offer some one-on-one instruction when needed.

It also helps the students build their self-confidence on the guitar and get used to the idea of practicing without a teacher being present, he said.

"If they are going to go on and participate in choir or band in middle school and high school, they are going to need to spend time working and practicing by themselves," Petit said.

"One of my goals with the guitar lessons is to give them at least a basic level of independence on the guitar so they can continue to study at more-advanced levels if that's something they want to do," he said.

On a recent morning, students in Petit's first-period class filled the hallway outside Petit's basement classroom with the sounds of strumming.

"I was really excited about getting to learn to play guitar, because it's something I've wanted to do for a long time," Lyla Baxter said. "It's a cool instrument you just want to know how to play."

"We learned to play the recorder before, but this gives you a chance to practice on a more-complicated instrument," Madeline Palmisciano said.

"It's a lot more fun playing the guitar because you're more active when you're playing," Eleanor Kukura said.

"Yeah, you're using your fingers, not just your mouth like you do with a recorder," Madeline added.

Eleanor said she is surprised at how far she and her classmates have advanced on the guitar after just a few weeks.

"A lot of that is how Mr. Petit teaches the class," she said. "He makes it fun and easy to follow."

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