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Class using video game to teach guitar lessons

In at least one Penn State music class, the red plastic Guitar Hero controller is slowly becoming as vital as a real instrument.

Ann Clements, assistant professor of music education, and Tom Cody, instructor of music theory, are using controllers from the popular video game to show their music education students how to teach novice guitar players.

With the support of the Penn State Educational Gaming Commons, which provided the materials for the class, Clements and Cody began implementing the tool this spring in their MUSIC 112 (Introduction to Guitar) class. It’ll make a big difference in teaching music to children, they say.

‘Those kids in K-12 will be in universities sooner than we know it,’ Clements said. ‘This is the way that they will learn best.’

Because most kids are familiar with playing video games, Clements hopes younger students will appreciate learning guitar this way. She likes the idea of bringing the fun of after-school activities into the classroom.

Though kids trained on Guitar Hero won’t be strumming chords anytime soon, Cody said using the controller can teach beginning guitar students physical motion and coordination.

‘It’s something more than a game,’ Clements said. ‘It’s more than pushing buttons.’

At the beginning of their first class in the spring, Clements said only about 20 percent of the 35 music education students taking the class saw gaming as a legitimate form of music making.

Emily Janser, who had only played Guitar Hero once, was one of the dissenters.

‘I was skeptical to use a video game as a teaching tool,’ Janser, a junior and music education major, said.

But despite some difficulty adapting to the program, Janser said she would now recommend the program as an educational resource.

‘It’s definitely a good way to get kids who aren’t interested in the traditional band experience, but are in their garages playing, and bringing them in and teaching in their own way,’ Janser said.

At the end of the spring semester, about 90 percent of the students said they would use this teaching method in their own classrooms, Clements said.

Clements presented her teaching method to the Symposium for Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) – held at Penn State on April 18 – and saw interest from other instructors around the country.

She and Cody also plan on bringing similar lessons into middle school music classes, where she thinks the method should be well-received.

Students are currently taking the class this semester at Penn State, and Clements and Cody plan to offer it in the future.

‘Why do we shy away from kids being excited about music?’ Clements said.

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