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Little strummers

RIGHT: Suzuki instructor Michele Demski helps new guitar student, Aiden Page, a first-grader at Lakeville Elementary, correctly position his fingers on the strings. (click for larger version)
January 26, 2011 - "Guitar Hero" is fun video game that's good for a few laughs on a cold winter's day, but it's certainly no substitute for playing the real thing as some Oxford students can attest.

Twice a week, about 70-80 kindergartners and first-graders gather at Daniel Axford, Lakeville, Clear Lake and Leonard elementaries to learn how to play the guitar according to the Suzuki method.

"They are coming along really, really well," said Michele Demski, the certified Suzuki instructor who teaches small groups at each school. "I've got students who are playing whole songs."

Invented in the mid-20th century by Dr. Shin'ichi Suzuki, the method bearing his name is a way of learning how to play music starting at a very young age.

As students begin, learning music by ear is emphasized over reading notes. In addition to individual playing, the method encourages frequent playing in groups, often in unison, and public performances in order to make the experience as natural and enjoyable as possible.

The Suzuki method discourages competitive attitudes among players in favor of creating an atmosphere of collaboration and mutual encouragement.

Demski explained that students don't just learn how to play, they learn how to sit, how to hold the instrument and how to develop muscle memory, which is the repetition of a specific movement until it can be performed without conscious effort.

When it comes time to strum the old six-string, students learn how on a classical guitar, which has nylon strings. This is in contrast to a typical acoustic guitar that utilizes steel strings.

Each student pays $150 to participate in Oxford's guitar program.

"It's an extracurricular thing that the parent or student chooses," said Demski, noting there are three enrollment periods throughout the year.

The cost covers 20 lessons over a 10-week period, rental of a guitar, foot stool, a folder and pertinent papers.

First-graders are taught before and after school hours, while the kindergartners enjoy their lessons during the school day.

"For the first-graders, it's a 45-minute lesson. For the kindergartners, it's a 30-minute lesson," Demski said. "Because of their shorter attention span, that 15 minutes really does make a difference."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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