Little Fingers Get Wrapped Around Music

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Nine-year-olds usually have few frets, but fourth-grade students in Julie Davies' music class have more frets then their peers -- guitar frets.

With a small, left forefinger, students press a plastic string down to the wood of the guitar's neck, between the fret lines, and with the forefinger of their right hand, pluck the first string.

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Thanks to Credit for Kids dollars, Jasmine Ernst and Lauralee Reardon can spend time strumming guitars.

"What is the letter of the note when you press your finger on the first fret of the second string?" Davies asked.

"C," Chris Wacker said.

"That's right," Davies said, then took the class through the notes they have learned since October 2007.

"Reading notes is like learning another language," Davies said. Students must identify the note, know how long to play it, how to finger it and then go onto the next note.

Third-graders start reading music as they play the recorder, a flute-like instrument. Davies thought her fourth-graders might recall the skill.

A few did.

"Reading notes is easy once you get used to it," Samantha Dashney said.

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Chris Wacker is intent on his sheet music in Julie Davies' fourth-grade class.

"The hardest thing is remembering which fret to use, but it's fun," Madison Marley said.

The guitar poses challenges the round, light recorder does not.

A few students commented that pressing the guitar strings hurt their fingers.

"It's worth it when I hear the notes come out," Wacker said.

They have learned notes using E, F and G strings, B, C and D are next.

At this level in music education, the students need to understand the concept of practice, versus picking up the guitar and strumming the strings.

"Practicing is staying on task," Davies said.

The time it takes to tune the stringed instruments before each lesson cuts into practice time.

Still, Davies encourages students to think, ‘I'm going to play it again, but this time I'm going to play it better.'

Davies has to balance keeping the interest of students at the basic level and those who have had outside lessons, such as Dillon Robb.

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Alex Miller earned extra points for performing "Popping, Popping" in front of his fellow fifth-grade classmates, who are learning to be a good audience.

Robb gets to help out and share his knowledge occasionally, because of his outside lessons.

Payson Elementary School purchased guitars with 2006 Credit for Kids money.

Prior to having guitars to play, fourth grade music at Payson Elementary School was "all about maracas and rhythm sticks," Davies said.

To get ready for her new class, Davies, a pianist and flutist, taught herself the guitar over the past summer.

Traditionally, music students learn to read the notes first, but with the guitar, learning chords first is an option Davies may consider for next year.

"My goal, is that if students like playing the From page 6A

the guitar at the end of the year, it I something they will take further," she said.

Recorders

"Hot Cross Buns" and "B A Rock Star" are the songs third-graders are learning on recorders. Both songs use the notes A and B.

Students learn notes as they appear on sheet music.

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Travis Miller, Reagan Weaver and Nikolai Davis, third-grade students at Payson Elementary School, are learning to play a simple flute-like instrument called a recorder.

Davies also writes the letter of the note on music to help the new language make sense.

They learn the difference between whole, half- and quarter-notes.

Fingering the music on the recorder without blowing helps the children keep their eyes on the music rather than their fingers while Davies calls out the notes and rests.

She encourages student feedback.

"Don't remind us to rest," Reagan Weaver said.

"I like blowing and doing the fingerings and hearing the music," another boy added.

Recorder rule include: left hand on top, elbows off knees and warm, slow air.

Keyboards

Walk into Davies' fifth grade class and you will see students wearing headphones while tickling imitation ivories.

Headphones allow the students to warm up and practice their version of "Mexican Hat Dance" without disturbing anyone else.

"Lift your wrist up a little bit," Davies tells one student. The reason being, it makes it easier to play the correct key.

"Popping, Popping" is the song each student recently composed, their own version of using the C, D, E, F and G notes.

"I wish I had a keyboard at home, now that I've played it here," Alex Miller said.

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