In MUSC 209, “copying notes” during class has a different meaning than it usually does around campus.
Seven students sit in Thomas Hall 517, all working through different arrangements of their fingers on the strings of their guitars.
Guitar Skills and Techniques, taught by professor Daniel Garcia, is a course that teaches students not only to learn how to play the guitar, but also better understand music theory, read sheet music and appreciate the capabilities of the instrument.
“I get students with all kind of levels,” Garcia said. “Some kids have been playing for a couple years and they know the basics.”
“Some people have never played an instrument and come knowing nothing.”
This can be challenging to balance—especially when at the end of the semester Garcia must assign each student a grade. So instead of reaching a certain skill level, he expects all of his students to understand the basics.
“I make it very clear that I don’t grade anybody according to anybody else’s level,” Garcia said.
“What I want to see is an effort, that everybody is playing with right technique and everybody understands the idea of practicing the instrument.”
Throughout each class session, Garcia alternates between demonstrating at the front of the room and working with students one-on-one to evaluate their progress.
He continually offers words of encouragement and praise to his students, but is also not afraid to reach and correct improper grips on the frets while continually stressing the importance of practicing at home.
For this session, the students are continuing their work on learning “Dust in the Wind” by 1970s era rock band Kansas and mastering the style of playing known as Travis picking.
“You have forever and ever to get this right,” Garcia tells his students as they work through a verse of the song.
As someone who has been playing guitar since he was a 10-year-old living in his native Madrid, Garcia lives this advice.
He came to the United States to study classical guitar and boasts a Master’s degree in classical guitar performance and a minor in jazz.
Since 1998 has lived in New York City performing, producing, recording and teaching in various capacities.
At Manhattan College he also holds a class on audio recording, something he incorporates into MUSC 209 as well.
This semester, the group is working on perfecting a quartet version of The Beatle’s “Yesterday” that they will record on the last day of class. It will be yet another time students are forced to show their progress to their peers.
“We have had to perform a couple times in front of the class,” senior Chuck Pallas said. “It’s a little nerve-racking, but he [Garcia] helps you get adjusted to it and teaches you to overcome.”
Pallas is an experienced drummer, but wanted to take the class to both fulfill a humanities requirement for his civil engineering degree and pick up a new instrument.
“I’ve learned a lot in a limited amount of time,” he said. “The more you practice the more you get the hang of it.”
As with learning any instrument, Garcia frequently reminds his students that perfecting their skills takes time and dedication.
“Once we get the notes right we take it to the next level—which is making music, not just reading ink,” he said after watching the quartet run through the song.
Listening to the students who are hard at work twice a week in the Performing Arts room, they are clearly on the right track.