Conwell Russell is the latest school chosen to be a part of the Rock to the Future Mobile Music program. The program provides an opportunity for underserved youth in Philadelphia to learn music. The Rock to the Future Mobile Music, which started off as pilot program at Hackett Elementary school in January, has brought electric guitar lessons to Conwell.
“We started the program at Conwell in September,” said assistant program director of Rock to the Future and Mobile Music electric guitar instructor Cameron DeWhitt. “Mobile Music is the pilot program for Rock [to] the Future. Through the program, we try to give Philly youth a brighter future through a free music education. Conwell already had a great music program, so we’re just adding to it by incorporating a class on the electric guitar.
He added, the program’s core is its after-school lessons.
“We have 35 students come after school every day and they have private instrument lessons,” he said. “The kids are in bands together where they write songs in contemporary, pop and rock music. We have our own music theory curriculum and vocal class.
“We wanted to reach more students than just 35 a week, so our plan is to teach at the local schools to supplement the existing music programs. We’re not trying to replace any music programs; we’re just trying to assist schools with their music programs.”
For eighth-grader Sara Coleman, being a part of the electric guitar class has been fun.
“I wanted to take the class because I thought it would be interesting to learn how to play an electric guitar,” Coleman said. “That’s an instrument that most students aren’t able to learn about, let alone play in a classroom setting. It’s been fun so far. I’m looking forward to eventually learning how to play a song.”
Eighth-grader Gabriel Soez is also learning how to play the electric guitar.
“I wanted to explore my options as well as learn about other instruments that are out there,” Soez said. “It’s been a good experience so far. I’m constantly learning something new. We’re not just learning about how to play, but also how to read and interpret music. I’m glad that I’m able to learn how to play an instrument like this at my school.”
Eighth-grade students at Conwell are currently learning how to play chords on the electric guitar as well as how to interpret written music.
“I’ll put something on the board, normally a diagram or sheet music, and then I will spend some time together with the students learning how to interpret the written music,” DeWhitt said. “Then I’ll go around and check on each student individually to see if they have it. If a student is having trouble, I have another student that is excelling help assist that other student.
“In a typical lesson, they will learn how to play some single notes or rehearse some melodic exercises or melodies,” he added. “What I’m trying to do is lay the building blocks for the students to eventually play ‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley. I hope that by the end of the year, everyone will be able to play a simplified version of the melody on single strings, a single note version of the melody on the guitar and also know which chords to play underneath the melody. That’s currently what we’re working on in the electric guitar class.”
DeWhitt said since there are 30 students in a classroom, he splits the lessons up into two classes.
“We only have 15 guitars and there are 30 students in a classroom,” DeWhitt said. “To make sure everyone gets the best opportunity in the class we split the students into two classes. Group one will do a guitar class with me and group two will go out into the hallway with Ms. [Lindsay] Groft. She’s teaching from our Rock to the Future music theory curriculum. That focuses on the theory of the music and promoting music literacy. When those students come back in the following week, I show them how to apply that theory to the guitar.
“My goal is to teach the students self-sufficiency. My hope is to get the students started and show them how to learn by themselves. I want the students to learn how to learn and how to collaborate with each other. The same skills you need to have a good band are the same skills you need to do well in the classroom and succeed in the workplace.”