Most Viewed Stories
Loma Rica Elementary has after-school guitar hero
Elective music class is led by fourth-grade teacher
The school of blues, rock and Christmas carols is a noisy class at Loma Rica Elementary.
Sounding out after hours, the picking and strumming of a dozen students echoes down the corridor from Steve Fussel's classroom. For 30 minutes every Wednesday afternoon, the fourth-grade teacher schools students in guitar greatness.
Open instrument cases are strewn around the room as students sit with music stands or perch on desktops. Guitars in hand, they warm up with scales and move on to practice chords, sound out choruses and attempt the occasional riff.
"This is awesome," Fussel said, as notes begin to synchronize. "Good job, you guys."
He whirls around the room like a Tasmanian devil, flitting from student to student to check string and finger placements. As he helps one student, others work together to figure out the chords.
"It's like this," fifth-grader Wyatt Cooper shows his classmate. "It's kind of hard at first. You get your fingers all messed up."
The students strummed their index fingers first, then pinkies, then ring fingers then middle and index fingers again.
"I like what I'm hearing!" Fussel effuses. "Now we are going to do a little blues. Slam it!"
Fussel, with long brown hair and a white beard, puts one foot on a chair and rests a guitar across his knee, strumming the strings quickly and telling students, "Eventually, it'll sound like this." The kids laugh and impersonate him, bobbing their heads and singing nonsensically along.
They call him Mr. Fussel, Fussel or sometimes just Fussy.
"He laughs a lot and makes jokes," said fifth-grader Hunter Partain. "It's fun, and it makes people want to come to school."
Hunter hopes to be a guitarist when he grows up, he said. Thanks to the weekly classes, he has developed skills and talent and learned the importance of practice and staying focused.
"I love guitar," he said. "It calms me down if I am angry. The music is real."
Citing his own son as an example, Fussel believes music, arts and other electives boost logic, critical thinking and memory skills and dramatically improve children's academic performance. Yet, he said, those subjects are among the first cut from waning budgets.
When a parent asked Fussel to teach her daughter to play guitar, he had never taught music. But with the disappearance of music in schools these days, he thought why not give all willing students a chance to learn.
"I didn't want them to be denied the experience," he said. "Who knows, there might be a future Carlos Santana or somebody out there."
Fussel volunteered the time, helped students track down instruments and applied for a mini-grant through Marysville Joint Unified School District to help purchase supplementary materials, such as extra guitars, picks and tuners. He was awarded a $750 grant and has been teaching lessons for two months.
"We're all guitar people," said fourth-grader Maliyah Severson. "The guitar sounds beautiful."
Fussel teaches using a modified Suzuki method based on the premise of learning by hearing.
"I want their ears to be trained," he said. "I want them to find what it is that really interests them, and they can take off from there."
In the last few weeks, fifth-grader Daniel Guzman has learned some bluesy tunes and "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and looks forward to adding other songs to his repertoire.
"I play 'Guitar Hero' a lot," he said. "I wanted to learn how to do it for real. ... You can use different chords, you can really play."
Fussel has noted a major improvement in students' focusing skills and technique in recent weeks.
"What is really cool, I think for me, is I have to do recess duty right after school up at the top of the hill," Fussel said. "And I hear them out there playing with their guitars, trying to pick things out. ... That is awesome. They are in it."
CONTACT reporter Ashley Gebb at 749-4783.