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Monday, June 9, 2014

Guitar building teaches Oregon students math, science, history

By Chelsea Davis

COOS BAY — A group of Coos Bay fourth-graders are ending the school year on a good note.

On Tuesday, Nick Krissie’s class of nine students at Sunset Middle School put the finishing touches on their diddley bows, one-string slide guitars that originated in the South and became a big influence on the blues.

When the music class became overcrowded this year, Krissie had an idea. In his spare time, he makes cigar box guitars.

“They’re simple enough a fourth-grader could do,” he said. “When I was in fourth grade, the money to buy a guitar was outside of reality; so was making one.”

So he put a call out for essays. Out of the school’s 125 fourth-graders, 70 wrote essays hoping to get into the class — 10 made the cut. Some talked about why they deserved to be in the class. Others, like Ryan Liggett, went into extensive historical detail about the one-string guitars. He was among the first on Tuesday to find the right frets and play the first three immediately recognizable notes of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.”

The diddley bows are made of very few parts — cookie tins, dominoes, nails and wire — but soon the students were plucking away, trying out that famous riff.

The class did the math. After doing just a few chores, they would each be able to afford the materials required to make a diddley bow.

“It’s organized chaos,” Krissie said to superintendent Dawn Granger, with the students scattered behind him, heads bent over their new instruments.

“That’s OK,” Granger laughed. “That’s what learning is.”

The students built everything themselves, besides the holes that Krissie drilled.

Principal Dale Inskeep even joined in, wowing the kids with his guitar chops as lead of the Dale Inskeep Band.

Fourth-grader Anna Quaglia said the diddley bows took four weeks to make. She plans on practicing over the summer, hoping to add some more songs to her repertoire.

This class is a new realm of hands-on learning, incorporating science (sound waves), math (calculating fret positions) and history.

“If you practice it, you will get better at it,” Krissie told his students. “All you need to do is practice.”

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