More than 20 guitars at Daughtry Elementary School are there for the picking for fourth- and fifth-graders. Along with the parts of an acoustic guitar, they are also learning a little rock ‘n’ roll history.
On music days, and sometimes during recess, the opening strains of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” waft through the halls and across the playground at Daughtry. The song recounts the story of a 1971 fire at a Frank Zappa concert. The fire led to the creation of what has become an iconic rock song.
The only thing catching fire at Daughtry, though, is a good number of students’ desire to learn how to play “Smoke on the Water” and other songs on their pick of 22 guitars that can be found in music teacher Theresa Hobbs’ classroom.
“We played it for the first time for parents at our Sept. 21 PTO meeting,” Hobbs said. “They’re also learning recorders at the same time, learning the same songs. Once they recognize it, it becomes easier for them to learn.”
Other songs in their repertoire include “Hot Cross Buns” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Next up on the playlist is “Merrily We Roll Along.” The songs all have something in common with “Smoke on the Water” — they all are easy to play using the basic classical guitar method Hobbs teaches.
“Right away, they can play a song that’s recognizable,” Hobbs said. “They’re learning fret numbers now, then they’ll move up to chords.”
Hobbs expected her students to be excited about learning to play music. What she did not expect was that they would voluntarily give up their recess to practice.
“They started coming in asking to practice during recess,” Hobbs said. “They come in, get a guitar and go outside to play it where the teachers can see them from the playground.”
Those who are learning faster than other students often stop what they are doing to help a classmate, Hobbs said.
“I love that they’re so willing to help each other,” Hobbs said. “The parents are excited too. Every other week a student comes in with a new guitar. I’ll tune it and help them maintain the strings. They’re learning to love music.”
Students’ parents call Hobbs to ask questions about guitar size, types of strings and accessories. Hobbs bases the size of the guitar on the size of the student and recommends nylon strings for every learner.
“It’s a lot easier on their fingers,” Hobbs explained to a parent who called to ask for advice on buying a guitar with which to surprise a child.
Some of the guitars at Daughtry are new while others have been at the school for at least 10 years. The PTO purchased them after Hobbs attended a Guitar and Accessories Marketing Association workshop on how to teach guitar held at Spivey Hall at Clayton State University.
“Martha Jo McMahon, the music teacher at Jackson Elementary School, has been my mentor for many years,” Hobbs said. “She was the one who told me about the guitar workshop for teachers. She had attended the year before.”
The elementary band program is in its second year at the three Butts County elementary schools and Hobbs said it has helped spark more interest in the music program, which is taught to every student in the school along with computer use and art.
“The students come in anxious to learn,” Hobbs said. “The (fifth-grade) band program is a goal for them. I can see the changes it’s made already and it’s just started.”
Music students also learn to play keyboards and percussion instruments such as xylophones and drums. They can also take part in the chorus and bell choir, which have their own perk. In April 2018, both groups and family members will go to Florida to perform at Disney World.
Hobbs also has plenty of local activities planned. Younger students will perform “Swamped” in October and the older ones will perform “The Lion King” in spring.
After two years at a private school, Hobbs said she is glad to be back at Butts County schools.
“I see all the positive change the schools have made and I love being a Daughtry Colt,” Hobbs said. “All the music teachers collaborate very well and are supportive of each other. There are great things happening with music in Butts County. I’m looking forward to seeing it in the years to come.”