Quest: So You Want to Learn Guitar?

The final product of my Winter Quest group, called Learn the Guitar: But How? The group of five 7th and 8th grade girls chose a Taylor Swift song and created a custom musical and vocal arrangement, recorded the guitar track, recorded the vocals, edited the combined musical track, filmed the video clips, and edited the video. It’s been a busy semester! Learn more about the Quest program and the details of our Guitar-themed Quest below.


One of my favorite things about my job at St. Anne’s-Belfield School is the push toward innovative and project based learning. So much of the programming and teaching at St. Anne’s put students in control of their own learning – big and small, students are involved, excited, and taking ownership of their learning everywhere you look. Two examples of these innovative programs are FABLab in the lower school and Quests in the middle school. I’m in a unique position, as an employee that bridges the entire Learning Village, working with grades K-8 – I get to see both sides .

The St. Anne’s-Belfield School Quests program is a new component of the Learning Village curriculum in which course options are shaped options around questions, with classroom teachers facilitating group explorations rather than leading a set syllabus.

Quests are student-driven in both choice and content. Students can choose a Quest that is project-based, problem-based, product-driven, skill-specific, service-oriented, or one that evolves with them. With new course options each trimester, students have the opportunity to explore multiple topics outside of the traditional curriculum, or follow one project through three courses with each building upon the last. (source)

Last semester, I helped the infamous Mrs. Mathieson to run a student filmmaking Quest, and I learned so much about letting go of control, letting students guide the conversation, and the way students react when creating and sharing a project that was completely under their control. Feeling inspired, I decided to lead my own Quest this semester, asking my students to consider: I Want to Learn the Guitar: But How? 

img_1664In our first meetings, my small group and I discussed the different types of learners and determined our dominant learning types (I’m a kinesthetic learner!). I challenged them to think about what kind of learning worked best for them – studying books? Listening to lectures? Getting hands on? Once we had determined our learning styles, we looked into the different ways that beginning students typically learn guitar and considered whether they would be a good fit for the way we learn. One guitarist liked to watch YouTube videos and learn from the hand positions; another liked to listen to songs and try to play along; two more preferred interactive apps that graded progress and provided a strong lesson structure.

img_4617Once we had a learning plan, I asked them to consider what they would like their goal to be
for the semester, and their response was unanimous. They wanted to learn a song, record the guitar track and the vocals, and make a music video. From there, we were able to work backwards to build our schedule – when would we need to be ready to record? How many days would we need to film and edit our video? How long did we have to learn our song?

Our meetings fell into a comfortable rhythm. Here is what they looked like:

  • Meet to tune and set our independent goal for the day on our shared Google Doc
  • Work independently using our best learning tools for about 30 minutes
  • Come back together and share progress toward goals
  • Finish by working as a group on our semester goal

Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 3.57.42 PM.pngWhen our recording day finally came, our guest recorder brought professional recording equipment and helped us to record each layer of the track one at a time. First the guitar track with no vocals, then each vocal track separately. The nerves in the room were palpable that day – after so much work and so much time, the girls wanted everything to be perfect. The track that you hear above was recorded with help, but was combined and edited by the group using GuitarBand software.

By the close of the semester, the group had chosen a Taylor Swift song and created a custom arrangement of the guitar, recorded the guitar track, created a custom arrangement of the vocals and assigned parts according to vocal ranges, recorded the vocals, edited the combined musical track, filmed the video clips, and edited the video to go along with the song. The video that you see and hear above is completely student designed, implemented, and edited. I wish I could take some credit, but I can’t!

fullsizerender-14Over time, I was amazed to see not only how hard the girls worked to grow as musicians, but the way that they took control of the project and made it their own. Each student pushed themselves and grew in ways that I never could have anticipated. Not to mention my personal growth over the semester – I am a much better guitar player than I was when we started! I teared up watching them finally record their music after a full semester of hard work, and I’m getting misty again now thinking about how much I will miss this bright spot in my day this spring. Thank you for a wonderful semester of learning and growing, girls. I’m so proud of you!

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