Most of us as children remember going to school and attending art, music, theater and dance classes several times per week, if not everyday, from elementary school until high school. These disciplines helped shape us into who we are today. Although the benefits of arts education may not be palpable for children themselves, it actually promotes long lasting changes in motor abilities and brain structure.
These days, school districts are facing heavy budget cuts, and arts education is the first to go. But what we’re seemingly failing to realize is that arts equal smarts. Arts education teaches the very qualities that teachers believe can revitalize our schools: analytical thinking, motivation, teamwork and self-discipline. Thankfully, schools in Wichita are beginning to play a different tune because of Free Music ICT.
What is Free Music ICT?
Free Music ICT, founded in 2016 by Zack Roach, is a nonprofit guitar-driven music education program that provides free guitar lessons to children. Zack teaches classes at local schools, Boys & Girls Club of South Central Kansas and also holds private lessons in his home. “I put a post on Facebook asking for students for private lessons and the response was overwhelming, so I started to work on making it my full time focus,” said Zack on starting Free Music ICT. “I believe these [music and arts programs] are vital components of any educational program, and I feel the need to do what I can to allow our developing youth at least a fighting chance to get music into their lives."
About Founder, Zack Roach
Zack comes from a very musical family where harp, piano and spoon playing were always audible around the house. “I started playing piano through a Suzuki program at a young age—around three, I think,” said Zack. When he was seven, his sister’s friend brought over a guitar and started playing songs that were on the radio. “This blew my mind because I always considered the guitar to be an instrument only rock stars on MTV played,” he said.
He became enamored with the guitar and was committed to learning how to play after a family friend offered to show him the basics. He was self taught for many years until he signed up for lessons in 1996. “I had a great guitar teacher but I never practiced what he lined up for me. I was too busy learning my favorite albums on my own,” he said. In high school, his interests evolved and he began experimenting in finger style, acoustic guitar and guitar repair. He headed to college at WSU, then KSU, but only studied guitar performance for two semesters before getting the opportunity to go on tour as a guitar tech for the band Autopilot Off.
“For the next six years I roadied and filled in for a number of bands until settling into a position with Senses Fail,” he said. He spent 13 years touring with Senses Fail, and for the last six, he played lead guitar and did backup vocals full time. Eventually, touring took a toll on his health and he wanted to spend more time with his family, including his newborn son, Ramsey. “I’ll still be doing a little writing for Senses Fail, but Free Music ICT is my full time gig now,” he says. Currently he’s putting over 50 hours per week into the program.
Private Guitar Lessons
After Zack’s post on Facebook, his inbox was full of messages from parents wanting private lessons for their kids. Currently, he’s at his maximum capacity at 14 students, and tailors their course of study around their personal musical preferences.
“For private lessons, every single student is different. Some kids already know fundamentals and basic chords, in which case I get them started on modal theory. One student is solely interested in becoming a singer-songwriter, and another just wants to play guitar as fast as possible. To be a good teacher you have to be fluid and create custom curriculums for each student,” he says.
Parents are always welcome at Zack’s house for their kid’s lessons. Greeting each student and parent outside before they come in, he makes them feel as comfortable as possible. “The first thing I do when I have a new student is walk them through the house so they know it’s a safe place, then we all go down to the studio to go over how I teach,” he says. Most parents stop coming after the first few lessons, but are always invited to pop in at anytime and even grab a guitar and follow along.
Zack is currently teaching private lessons every Saturday. “Private lessons are my favorite because I have a closer relationship with my students, and they can learn exactly what they want,” he said.
School Guitar Lessons
Zack’s mentor and friend, Lauren Hirsh, opened the door to several schools for Free Music ICT. “She helped me set up meetings with other teachers and helped with my volunteer status. She’s really done a ton to help me get to where I need to be to navigate USD 259. I couldn’t have done any of this without her,” he said.
Depending on the school’s current needs and existing programs, Zack either comes in and teaches on his own or collaborates with the school’s full time music teacher. Currently, he teaches guitar at Price Harris Elementary and Truesdell Middle School, and will be starting at College Hill Elementary and Franklin Elementary soon.
At Price Harris Elementary, Zack teaches groups of seven kids every Wednesday in 30 minute blocks, rotating groups throughout the day. “The elementary aged kids are awesome because they’re just blown away by getting to hold a guitar and learn the instrument,” he says.
Franklin Elementary has an after school latchkey program where Zack will begin teaching students once or twice per week starting next year.
Truesdell Middle School already has a guitar program, so Zack helps the music teacher with the students every Tuesday and Thursday. “The normal class has 27 kids at once. They learn melodies from the music teacher and I teach them chords and theory,” he said. Zack loves working with students in middle school because their hands are more developed and they’re fast learners.
“Since music class is more often than not becoming an elective, or something a student only goes to once a week, I felt the need to change that,” said Zack.
Boys & Girls Club of South Central Kansas
The Boys & Girls Club is an outreach organization that provides enriching after-school care for children ages kindergarten through 12th grade. Their program is designed to give children a safe place to play, learn and foster encouraging relationships with role models.
Zack teaches sets of ten kids at the Boys & Girls Club of South Central Kansas every Tuesday and Thursday. The sessions are two hours long and kids only have to participate if they choose to. “I usually have a new student every time I go, so I have to be on my toes and make sure everyone is learning and progressing,” he said.
The approach to teaching in this relaxed environment is much different than in-school classes. “We use a teaching tool called Yousician that’s a lot like Guitar Hero, but with real guitars,” he said. Much like a game, they watch a ball bounce on the screen toward the notes they are supposed to play, then they’re scored at the end of the game. “They always want to get a higher score,” he said.
Zack hopes to be able to teach at more outreach organizations in the future.
Free Music ICT is a nonprofit organization, relying solely on the donations of people who support the cause. Zack funds his program through a crowd-funding website called Patreon.
“Patreon often offers rewards for donors. In the case of Free Music ICT, this will include written and video diaries of the progress of the students benefiting from the program,” Zack said. In addition, quarterly live showcases at local all-ages venues will allow parents and the community tangible proof of how Free Music ICT is making a difference. For only $5 a month, you’ll receive a Free Music ICT bumper sticker. For a $20 per month donation, you’ll receive a t-shirt. If you pledge $75 or more per month, Free Music ICT will give you access to videos of the guitar lessons as well as rewards from the other two tiers. Video lessons will arrive on the 15th of each month.
Zack says he is always on the lookout for more guitars to teach with. “I have received many guitars but they often need repairs and parts,” he says. Any donations (guitars, music stands, etc) can be dropped off at Hell Bomb Tattoo at Douglas and Washington.
“With your help, we can make a strong effort to not just raise awareness about the importance of music education, but to actually provide it directly and personally to those who need it the most,” Zack says. You can make your donation at https://www.patreon.com/freemusicict.