By Steve Graham
Like many young children, Grace Kuch started taking piano lessons at age 4. She also played bluegrass mandolin in a strings program at Laurel Elementary School. But her first ax changed her life.
“I got an electric guitar when I was 10 for Christmas, and that kind of swept me off my feet,” Kuch said.
Five years later, she has taken her electric guitar to blues festivals all over the country, and the Fort Collins teen is now a celebrated local blues musician.
She credits Mary Claxton and other local mentors for getting her into popular music and helping her pursue her passion.
Claxton is the director of Colorado programs for Little Kids Rock, a national program that brings guitars, bass, drums and keyboards into school music classrooms for modern band lessons, focusing on contemporary rock, pop and hip-hop music.
Schools in Poudre, Greeley, Thompson, and Weld County school districts offer Little Kids Rock programs, one of many area programs helping kids rock out
“Music is near and dear to the hearts of nearly every adolescent, and providing the space for students to share what moves them in an academic space is a very powerful, community-building message,” Claxton said. “When I go into classrooms, I see students writing lyrics and chord progressions, and beginning to understand and de-mystify what they are drawn to in music.”
Claxton said the kids are also exploring the new musical territory.
“There is also this huge, seemingly invisible, the population of young music makers who are working on electronic music production on their laptops in a wide range of styles from hip-hop to EDM to indie-pop and whatever million other styles of music I’m not cool enough to know about,” Claxton said. “…It’s not my job (or our teachers’ jobs) to know everything about all styles of music. It is our job to teach students about the creative process, to guide them to solid resources and to help steward the joy of music-making.”
Beyond the public schools, there are plenty of other instrument instructors and music schools in northern Colorado. Foundation Music School is a non-profit school on Mason Street. In addition to music therapy and preschool music classes, FMS offers a variety of private instrument lessons for students of all ages.
FMS also hosts a Foundation Rocks class, with students 6 to 14 years old jamming together on guitar, keyboard, drums bass, and vocals. Each student tries out all the instruments. While they are having fun, making friends and playing a rock star, instructors say they are also learning.
“Not only is playing an instrument fun, but there are also important “life skills” that come with learning an instrument,” said FMS assistant director Nicole Wilshusen. “Students learn perseverance and discipline. They learn from experience that even though something is hard if you continue to work at it, most of the time it gets easier.”
The Piano and Guitar Institute is another Fort Collins music school, with a focus on performing.
“Students get to play in front of each other to really get comfortable on the stage,” said director Dirk Kraus.
He said music students in any genre learn much more than chords and strumming patterns.
“Learning an instrument creates independent learners, builds self confidence, teaches students to follow directions, increases attention span, develops fine motor skills, teaches responsibility, helps students overcome shyness, teaches perseverance, provides for rewarding accomplishments, anyone can do it, and finally, it allows the two halves of your brain to work together thus making the student smarter,” Kraus said.
And Claxton said the skills will last a lifetime.
“As they are getting older, we are seeing them have the skills to continue to make music for the rest of their lives — whether that is around the campfire with friends, in their bedroom just for themselves, in the studio, or in venues near and far,” she said.