Professional Guitarists Teach Introductory Students

Students in the Ford City High School “Introduction to Guitar” class try to follow along with some tips from Los Angeles-based classical guitarist Ryan Ayers, who was in the area before performing in Pittsburgh Thursday night.

by Jonathan Weaver

A few dozen beginning guitar students took a half-hour lesson and got to see and hear professionals in the classroom Thursday.

A few hours before his inaugural show in Pittsburgh at Acoustic Music Works on Thursday night -with Pittsburgh guitarist Aaron Lefebvre opening the show – Los Angeles-based classical guitarist Ryan Ayers stopped by the Introduction to Guitar class at Ford City Junior-Senior High.

Music Teacher Jason Venesky was contacted by Ayers after reading about the new class online, and Venesky approved of the professionals performing for the two classes.

“I wanted to expose the kids to absolute-professionals. I’m one step ahead of (students) in the guitar game, so this is reaffirming the stuff they are practicing and that they can be successful at it. These two gentlemen are examples of that,” Venesky said.

The first time Venesky picked up a guitar was February after the school district implemented Introduction to Guitar at Ford City Junior-Senior High this semester. Plans are to implement the elective at both district high schools in Fall 2015.

Ayers – who mainly tours on the West Coast – learned to play the guitar himself at the age of 13 – about the same age as Ford City students in the class, while Lefebvre has began playing guitar for nine years. Both stressed the importance of practice.

“The main key in improving in guitar and in music is making it a daily or every-other-day habit,” Ayers said. “Even if its five minutes on your own time playing three times a week, those five minutes would add up exponentially over time. That’s what really made a difference for me.

“Any guitar you can find – whether it’s electric, classical or steel-string – would make a huge difference if you can make it into a daily habit.”

Ayers explained he played daily when he first learned to play but without focus until he studied classical guitar at Loyola Marymount University under instructor Martha Masters. He was practicing seven hours per day before his senior recital.
Ayers also is a private guitar teacher, a mixture of students aged 10-15 up to retired residents. He has also worked with his high school guitar class in Seattle and in the Los Angeles area.

“My teacher was also pretty adamant that when you study classical guitar, its part of your job to outreach – that you can’t just perform for people who are coming to see you, you have to take the guitar music out to people so they can see it,” Ayers said.

Each musician performed two original songs during the class period and helped students learn tricks to playing chords accurately.

Eighth-grade student Genna Evans used to play clarinet and saxophone, but became interested in guitar after seeing her brothers – Seth and Shane – play.

“I mess around with my brother sometimes, but this is my first year actually learning it,” Evans said. “(Ayers) helped even more.”

Evans’ brothers also play in a band, and she hoped to join them for a show one day.

Most students raised their hands in class to show that they wanted to continue to play after the semester ends.