Rocking with the kids: Little Kids Rock Teacher Training in Chicago

Little Kids Rock (LKR) held a teacher training session in Chicago recently. I didn’t hesitate to accept an invitation to observe the class and to see how this very popular program motivates so many instructors and students.

Little Kids Rock is a nation-wide not-for-for-profit organization that is dedicated to restoring and revitalizing music education in U.S. public schools. The organization brings free music instruction and instruments to under-served schools across the country.

The organization believes that learning to play a musical instrument can be a transformative experience in students’ lives, with the power to inspire the creativity and confidence that are critical to success in school and in life. No wonder Les Paul had been on the organization’s honorary board.

Little Kids Rock teacher trainer Erik Herndon shares innovative teaching techniques.


Arriving mid-way through the morning session, I could hear guitars playing as I entered the school. The training took place in Hurley Elementary School’s gym on Chicago’s South Side.

Teachers sat on folding chairs, absorbing the practical information and wisdom of veteran Little Kids Rock instructor Erick Herndon.


Attendees were music teachers who were training to be Little Kid Rock teachers or they were attending for a refresher course. A couple of teachers were from Ohio, but most seemed to be from the Chicago area.

Despite the Chicago school closings and budget cuts to the district in the past year, LKR has expanded its reach.  Programs now exist in 116 Chicago schools serving over 14,000 kids.  One teacher shared that she had just started to learn to play the guitar three weeks ago, but she was determined to learn so she could teach her students how to play.


Attendees learning new ways to teach students how to play guitar chords.

A video presentation describing music as a language challenged all of us to think about music education in new ways. The video contrasted the environment in which a child learns to speak with the environment in which we expect children to learn music. Erik and Bernardo Media, of Chicago’s LKR program, demonstrated the theory that experienced musicians and students should perform together as they entertained session attendees.


Little Kids Rock instructor Bernardo plays guitar with his 8th grade Little Kids Rock students.

I had the privilege to speak to the group about Les Paul and the Les Paul Foundation. There is never enough time to tell all the great Les stories. Teachers were intrigued with Les’ aluminum, headless guitar and his many other inventions.  I talked about Les as a young student eager to learn about sound.

As I shared that Les credited his teachers for never hesitating to answer his endless questions or help him find answers, I watched the teachers in the audience nod knowingly. I was in front of a group committed to go beyond what is expected to make a difference in students’ lives. Les must have been smiling at these teachers.

Just maybe the next “Les Paul” will be the little kid asking one of them so many questions.

Sue Baker talking about Les’ headless aluminum guitar.

Sue Baker talking about Les’ headless aluminum guitar.

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