Guitars in the Classroom program has teachers strumming

Dr. Joan Maute said she knows the power of music in education.

"When I was a kid, that was the way I remembered stuff," the Hilton Head Island singer/songwriter said. "I put it to music."

So when she became a middle school teacher in 1970, Maute made sure to use music as a tool in her classroom. A self-professed "old folkie from the '60s," Maute said her guitar went with her to school every day for more than 30 years. If she liked a song, she would figure out how to play it in the classroom.

Maute said she eventually started writing songs specifically for her lessons. Now her educational songs are available online for teachers to purchase for use in their classrooms. Her songs cover a variety of topics, from rocks and dinosaurs to recycling.

Although she is now retired from teaching, Maute continues to combine her two loves -- music and education -- through a program called Guitars in the Classroom.

The nonprofit program offers free guitar lessons to general classroom teachers so they can integrate music into the academic curriculum. Participants don't even need their own guitars because the program provides them at no charge.

Maute said the program uses a method called "open tuning" to teach guitar because it is easy to learn and gets teachers playing a lot faster than traditional tuning would.

After Maute heard about the program, she contacted executive director Jessica Baron and volunteered to teach lessons on Hilton Head Island. Maute said the group normally pays instructors, but she decided to volunteer her time. She also joined the group's national education committee.

"Not only do they teach teachers how to play the guitar, but the whole goal is to integrate music across the content area and to use music to teach," Maute said. "That's me. That's my life."

Maute said when she became a volunteer with Guitars in the Classroom she put a listing in the paper, hoping she would get seven teachers to sign up. She said she was pleasantly surprised to have 29 people sign up for her class. Now she spends her Tuesday evenings working with her students at John's Music on Hilton Head. Her students include teachers from Red Cedar Elementary School, Hilton Head Island Early Childhood Center and St. Francis Catholic School, as well as counselors from the Boys & Girls Club.

"It's just a real nice cross-section of teachers that are doing this with their kids," she said.

During the lessons, Maute goes over songs with her students and they talk about changing lyrics from existing songs to teach their lessons.

Red Cedar Elementary School teacher Tara Crewe is one of Maute's guitar students. She said she is excited about the program.

To remind her students to keep their shirts tucked in, Crewe said she wrote a shirt-tucking song to the tune of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." She also wrote a song to help the kids with PASS testing.

"It's like glue," Crewe said. "It makes stuff sticky. It makes stuff click. It's a mnemonic that you don't have to exercise."

Maute said she will start another beginner guitar session over the summer and probably another one in the fall.

"It's very exciting," Maute said about the program. "And it's exciting to know that it's not going to go away."