CARSON CITY — As a sixth-grader attempting to play the flute last school year, Anna McCarty, 12, was disappointed to find nothing but frustration.
“I tried the flute, but it wasn’t really me,” she said. “I just couldn’t learn it and I didn’t enjoy it.”
However, upon preparing for the seventh grade this fall, McCarty was excited to find that Carson City-Crystal Area Schools was offering a new music program, providing her with a second chance at learning an instrument.
“My mom told me there was a new guitar class in school,” she said. “I wanted to try it, so it was kind of my choice and my parents’ choice. Now I’m having fun. I like the sound of the guitar and how you play it.”
Only a few weeks into the school year, McCarty has now found herself in what may be her favorite class of the day.
“At first I didn’t know a lot, I didn’t know anything at all, but now that I know a little bit, it’s been really fun,” she said. “I finally found the instrument for me.”
As one of 18 students enrolled in the class, McCarty and her peers represent a wide array of students — grades seven through 12 — who eagerly signed up to learn guitar.
It’s been an exciting opportunity for Chad Parmenter, who has taken on instructing guitar this year in addition to teaching the sixth through 12th grade band program at the middle and high schools.
From students who are just starting to learn the instrument to more advanced guitarists, Parmenter has designed his class to cater to all levels of talent.
“I wanted to go in every direction,” he said. “What’s nice about having a wide range of talent and grade levels is the students can help each other. Right now we are working on our first duets so we’ve got the students working in pairs. You’ll see an older child with a younger child, some working together who are the same age, and it’s working out really well overall.”
Parmenter said the thought of creating a guitar class for students was first suggested to him by a school administrator 10 years ago, but at that time, he didn’t feel prepared. However, after teaching a ukulele class at Faith Baptist Academy, he set his sights back on the guitar.
“I’ve always had it in the back of my mind, so I took a college-level, masters-level guitar course for the actual teaching of it,” he said. “I had my skills pushed greatly, tested greatly in these classes. With the knowledge fresh in my mind, if we were ever going to do this for our students, now is the time.”
Now in addition to music stands and instruments occasionally scattered throughout Parmenter’s band room, so too are guitars.
“We’ve got guitars laying everywhere, it’s great,” he said with a laugh. “We were short guitars at first, with kids not having one or not being able to afford one, but when I went to the community asking for help, we had three guitars donated to us immediately. We’ll always take more guitar stuff and equipment, just to widen what we are trying to do for these students.”
As the year-long class progresses, Parmenter said his expectations for students will differ based on the talent level of each student. What he’s perhaps most excited about is the fact that of the 18 students, only six of them are also band students, meaning this is their first foray into learning an instrument.
“First and foremost, I believe these students get stretched in their ability to accomplish things,” he said. “That’s going to help them grow as a person, both musically and educationally. They are going to be able to walk away after this class with the ability to play the guitar, to create music, to have the ability to struggle, but then figure things out. Being that they are all at different levels, they can set their own individual goals. Hopefully this will end up being a lifelong skill for them.”
One student who is aiming for a lifelong skill set of playing the guitar is senior Hunter Fishburn, 17. Despite entering his final year of high school, he was eager to take on a new challenge in learning to play the guitar.
“I’ve tried in the past to learn, but nothing really worked,” he said. “I’ve actually begun to progress through this class. Things have gone pretty good so far. I’ve learned all kinds of new things. I’ve learned a lot of skills that I haven’t been able to before.”
Sophomore Klouse Andrews, 16, has been playing the guitar for several years, however, that hasn’t stopped him from taking the new class.
Since he was about 12, Andrews has been teaching himself how to play on and off, but he was missing a key element — how to read music.
“I play a lot by ear, so while I can make my own music, I don’t really know how to read notes,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed playing guitar in my free time — after school or basketball practice — so I thought this class would be a good way to strengthen how I play guitar.”
Now with a few weeks of class under his belt, Andrews can already see himself and his classmates improving.
“It’s been interesting,” he said with a laugh. “I struggle a lot with remembering which notes are which. That’s been really hard, but as far as the playing goes, it’s been really fun. Growing up, the type of music I like, I really like guitar solos and that made me want to play my own. So to not only be able to read notes and play other people’s music, but be able to make my own music and write my own notes, too, that’s important to me.”
Even younger students such as McCarty are hoping to utilize their new talent on the guitar outside of the classroom with a goal to give back to the community through music once they learn the instrument.
“I might do something like, how people play at a hospital to cheer up kids, that’s what I really want to do,” McCarty said. “Mr. Parmenter is really nice and he has already taught us a lot, so just playing the guitar has been really fun.”
Parmenter said he sees the class remaining successful throughout the school year, due to the fact that each of his students personally wants to be there.
“The main thing is, these kids are in a class learning something that they haven’t had a chance to learn — and they want to learn,” he said. “I think there’s a huge incentive for them to work hard. It’s always nice to have a class like that, where it’s not forced, it’s an elective. It gives them a chance to break away from other important things — those things require a book and pencil, and this gives them a chance to create on their own.”
Parmenter said the class will likely continue to evolve as the year goes on.
““Being that this is the first year, we’re kind of letting the program shape itself,” he said. “We’re trying to learn the techniques and tools to be able to master the instrument some day, so I’m really focusing on the different techniques, a wide variety of techniques — using a pick versus plucking with fingers — so these kids can learn multiple ways to play. We’re studying and watching a lot of different professional guitarists. From blues to rock, there are many different techniques out there. Just being able to understand that there is not a single right way to play the guitar, that’s important.”
Upon the conclusion of the class, Parmenter said his goal is for each student to give a public performance, but more in the style of a solo performance environment.
“There will be one required public performance,” he said. “We’re not sure what that we’ll be yet, but I’m hoping for a coffee house-type of setting. I want a cool setting where people can come and listen to what these students have achieved. It would just be awesome if there was a place like that around here, so we’ll see.”