SUNSET -- Nearly 20 eighth- and ninth-grade guitarists at Sunset Junior High, together known as the Sunset Strummers, were all smiles as they played for their families and friends during their end-of-semester performance.
Knowing her students are having a good time is what the beginning guitar class is all about, said their teacher, Melanie Wilcox.
"I love the exploratory nature of junior high music, and it's not as competitive as high school," said Wilcox.
Ninth-grader Becca Gerling said one of the best parts of the class is being able to laugh, even when mistakes are made.
"It's just an easy environment to laugh and make a lot of friends," said Gerling. "I appreciate music more now. I had never thought of myself as a guitarist, but it has definitely turned into a hobby."
Learning to play the guitar is more than just fun though, Wilcox said. It's a real-life skill they can use down the road, as evidenced by the songs performed during the concert such as some traditional holiday carols and classic Rock 'n' Roll songs, like "Rock Around the Clock," and "Surfin' USA."
"I like them to learn music they can use in real life," said Wilcox, as the students began playing their guitars and singing Happy Birthday to an unsuspecting audience member who was celebrating a birthday.
Each of the students then had an opportunity to perform a solo in front of the group.
Learning to play the guitar is one of the simplest instruments to learn, said Wilcox.
"It's easy and stylistic, and takes some work, but it's a pretty fast learn," she said.
Ninth-grader Shania Reiter learned to play rather quickly, despite discovering her fingers had a lot of calluses at first from forming the chords with her left hand.
"At first, it was hard learning the chords, but I just had to practice a lot, and make my fingers adjust, even with the calluses on the tips of my fingers," said Reiter.
Having played for the entire semester, now free of painful calluses, she plans to keep it up.
"I like it because I am terrible at singing, and this is a way to express myself musically," said Reiter.
In addition to enjoying the musicality of the class, one student discovered how much he gained from the experience. After moving to the school as a new student last fall, ninth-grader Andrew Johnston signed up for the guitar class in hopes of making some new friends.
In the process of learning how to work with a group and playing in front of other people, he has gained more than new friends.
"I've learned I can stand in front of people playing my guitar, so I'm changing my schedule to take debate," said Johnston. "This class has also helped my leadership abilities by interacting with the group, so I'm not just the guy sitting on the sidelines anymore."
There are only a handful of junior high schools in the Top of Utah that offer a guitar class.
"I know schedules are really tight in junior high because they want to take other classes too like art, and dance," said Wilcox. who said she likes having a smaller guitar class so they can progress faster.