"Boogie Chillun" - Teaching 4th Graders About Cigar Box Guitars

The floor was shaking as the kids stomped, clapped and sang along to my cigar box guitar.  I was asked to present the instrument and its history to the 4th graders of Foose Elementary School in Harrisburg PA from a grant by the Susquehanna Folk Music Society.

I knew that the students were studying the early days of Rock n Roll in their music class, so I used that as a starting point for the history.  "Carl Perkins, the man who wrote Blue Suede Shoes started out on a 2-string cigar box guitar," I told them.  They knew the song and were immediately engaged in what I was saying.  I then pulled out a 2-string cigar box guitar and played a rockin' little riff on it.  "This is how Rock n Roll sounded," I said, and then proceeded to slow the music down.  "This is the blues, the music that came before it."

My presentation included a show-and-tell of antique cigar box guitars in my collection.  Much to the teacher's surprise, I made sure to pass several of the instruments around class.  I believe these instruments need to be touched and inspected closely, allowing the students to see all the homemade bits that went into building them 100+ years ago.

I rounded out my lecture by pulling two crazy instruments out that showed anything could be used to make guitars:  The Exit Sign guitar by Gary DeRosiers and the ShovelCaster Shovel Guitar by Richard Newland.  

A short Q&A followed which considted of kids asking "can you make a guitar out of _______?" (Shoes, tires, birdhouses, glass, etc etc.)

I have a feeling there's going to be quite a few new homemade guitars being made in Harrisburg PA tonight!

Note:  The Susquehanna Folk Music Society is the non-profit behind the upcoming Susquehanna Folk Music Festival in Central PA on July 28-29.  I will be performing there alongside Rory Block, David Bromberg, Claire Lynch Band and many more.  Get tickets now at www.JulyFolkFest.org.

Musician and author, Shane Speal is responsible for the resurgence of cigar box guitars in modern music. He fronts the DIY-instrument band, Shane Speal and the Snakes, curates the Cigar Box Guitar Museum inside Speal’s Tavern in New Alexandria, PA, and has made 2,000 cigar box guitars to date. His latest book, Making a Poor Man’s Guitar (Fox Chapel Publishing, August 2018) combines DIY instrument projects with their deep blues history.

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awesome sauce . ;-)

Really great read well done .

Even if it's not musical instruments that the children are motivated to build, a workshop like this can inspire a child to explore something new; to be creative; to see a thing with a new perspective; and to be engaged in the present moment. 

Good on you, Shane. Come what may of this, you're doing good work.

Beyond you just doing something nice for those kids, man, you've planted seeds!  These kids will grow up knowing there's more music out there, than corporate controlled, soul-less tunes they hear on terrestrial radio!  Keep changing the world for the better, Shane!!!


Goodonya Shane! I teach, and the point is empowerment, you have just empowered those kids to discover handmade, homegrown, DIY music. Well done. 

So many programs are getting cut from our school system.  That is so good of you to do this.  


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