Pickin’ and grinnin’“OK, let’s smoke!” And an audible “yes!” comes up somewhere in the room.
By: Michelle Leonard, The Farmington Independent
“OK, let’s smoke!”
And an audible “yes!” comes up somewhere in the room.
Ordinarily, it would be a bad idea for a teacher to make such a suggestion. But when Randall Ferguson does it in his eighth grade explorations in music class, well, it’s just plain... cool.
Next thing you know, the room is filled with those chords — we all know the ones — the daht-daht-daaa, daht-daht-ta-daht, daht-daht-daaa, daht-ta-dahh. No mistaking, they’re playing “Smoke on the Water.”
The group follows along, all 27 of them in this particular class, trying to master one of those guitar classics known as well as “Chopsticks” is on the piano. But then they move into a something a little different — “Ironman,” and before long, the class is trying to keep up with The Beatles’ “She Loves You.” In between, they have played a little Eric Clapton and the Kinks.
Every eighth grade student has to take a music class at FMS West, be it band, choir or Ferguson’s class. But his offers a little different twist from the traditional band class, in that students learn guitar, but they also get to spend some time working on African drums. Unusual? Yes. Fun for the kids? Definitely.
“I get 29 kids in a room and I could drop a pin in class and hear it echo,” Ferguson said. “Drums and guitars and eighth graders go very well together.”
Ferguson has been teaching his specialized music both semesters for the past three years. He carries about five classes daily, which means this semester alone, between 270 and 300 students are learning the basics of guitar handling and playing.
But it’s not just the playing. Ferguson teaches his students to read music and play chords, but he also gives them a little history on the instruments, and how music has evolved over the years. He talks about the history of jazz in America, Native American music and other influences. He teaches them an understanding of cultural differences, and gives kids an overall appreciation for music. Just the types of music he has them play is evidence. The course often covers classics of just about every generation and genre.
Sure, Ferguson takes advantage of the opportunity to show off his own skills at the beginning of the school year. With his barrage of guitars, banjos, and mandolins, some of which date back to 1785, 1830 and 1860, he uses his skills to show students what years of practice can bring.
“I’ll play a flamenco for them or something like that, and they’re just amazed you can do that,” he said.
Really, though, by the time students are ready to leave Ferguson’s class at the end of the semester, they should have a pretty good handle on the skills they would need.
“Hopefully they can find a piece of music they like, they can read the chords and notes and figure it out on their own,” he said.
One thing that is for sure is that Ferguson gets students’ undivided attention throughout the class. No discipline problems here.
And frankly, it’s fun for him, too.
“I’m certainly having a blast. I had taught band for 18 years and choir for 30 years, so this is like starting a whole new career,” he said.
Guitars for the class are on loan from Schmitt Music, which has supported the three-year program