MISSION. Music education improves grades, graduation rates and critical thinking, but it’s not available to five million American children. That’s why Lead Guitar builds free guitar ensemble classes in partnership with neighborhood schools nationwide. Daily mentorship, classroom connections with global artists, and college campus experiences empower students to grow academically, socially, and emotionally.
Lead Guitar’s Vision is to engage every learner with an instrument that appeals across genres and generations, using music from a broad range of traditions, and differentiated materials like Adaptive and Spanish-language curricula. We focus resources on children with the least access to arts education by collaborating with schools where 80% or more of students are eligible for Free or Reduced-Price Lunch.
We Value equal access to education as the underpinning of a free society. At Lead Guitar, we are expanding access to music learning while modeling excellence, inclusion, and accountability.
Lead Guitar's story begins on the Navajo Reservation and in Page, Arizona in 1999...
Page High School Lead Guitar student Sherwin Shepard plays with medicine man Dale Tsosie on a Lead Guitar retreat.
HISTORY. Though Lead Guitar was officially founded as a nonprofit in 2007, co-founder Brad Richter began developing and teaching the curriculum that would become the core of the program in 1999. While on a concert tour in the four corners area, Brad was asked to visit Page High School to give a guitar workshop. There he met students who were both immensely talented and highly at-risk. He was so inspired by the efforts of those students to teach themselves classical guitar that he began writing a curriculum to help the school's choir teacher guide them through the basics of note-reading and technique. Each subsequent year he spent more time at Page High School to expand the curriculum, adding student concerts, guitar retreats on Lake Powell, and scholarship opportunities for the most serious guitar students.
Word of the success of the guitar program in Page, as well as its positive effect on grades and attendance, began to spread to other Arizona communities and by 2005 Brad had established similar guitar programs in Bullhead City, Tucson, and Sedona. Lead Guitar's co-founder, Marc Sandroff, heard about the program when he moved from Chicago to Tucson and saw great potential in Lead Guitar. A venture capitalist and enthusiastic philanthropist, Marc credited much of his career success to his lifelong study of guitar. He wanted to help offer the opportunity to study music to some of the most underserved students in the country. In 2006, Brad and Marc established a 501c3, gathered a motivated and experienced board of directors, and began offering the program to schools throughout the Southwest.
By 2012, Lead Guitar was serving 20 schools in five states and had taught thousands of students to play classical guitar. A conversation began between Marc, Brad, and Chuck Tennes, then-Executive Director of UA Presents, the performing arts presenter for the University of Arizona. In August 2013, Lead Guitar became affiliated with the University of Arizona and three new CFA in Schools programs, a family of in-school performing arts programs, were developed on the Lead Guitar model. Today, Lead Guitar has over 50 programs in four states.