In 1999, Lead Guitar co-founder and Executive Director Brad Richter - who was a concert artist at the time - gave a workshop at Page High School near Arizona’s border with Utah. There he met a group of immensely talented Diné guitar students who had taught themselves and each other to play music from Metallica to J.S. Bach. They inspired Brad to design a curriculum to help the school’s choir teacher guide them and other guitar students at PHS through note-reading and technique fundamentals using the diverse range of music to which they were gravitating on their own. Brad also began to make regular visits to the school to help mentor students, especially the many identified by PHS’s dropout prevention counselor as being both at-risk for leaving school and interested in guitar.
Over the years, the curriculum expanded to address a range of ability levels and include scholarships, retreats and performance opportunities, garnering a reputation for improving grades and attendance among participants along the way. By 2005, Brad and the curriculum that would become the Lead Guitar Method were serving around 90 mostly first-time music students at PHS and had spread to Page Middle School as well as to schools in Bullhead City, Sedona and Tucson, Arizona. That’s when Brad met friend and Lead Guitar co-founder Marc Sandroff, a venture capitalist and philanthropist who credits his career success to studying classical guitar. Marc saw growth potential in the budding program and assembled an experienced Board of Directors to support it. LG gained 501(c)3 status in 2007 and began operating in schools throughout Arizona as well as in Colorado through a partnership with the Aspen Music Festival and School.
In 2013, Lead Guitar began collaborating with the University of Arizona in order to provide students with access to on-campus performance opportunities, matinees, and in-school assemblies by high-profile touring artists. The university also asked Brad and the LG team to co-design programs for other arts disciplines using the model of co-teaching, teacher training and in-school partnerships that was proving successful with Lead Guitar. The effort spawned UpBeat (drumming), and Step Up (dance) as well as the adoption by UArizona of Music First, an early-childhood music program Lead Guitar had created in 2010. These three LG inspired programs served around 4,500 students in Tucson and Phoenix between 2014 and 2021.
The collaboration with UArizona was key to visualizing the elements necessary to expand Lead Guitar into new cities and states and to establishing what we refer to as our Four Pillars of Service: in-class co-teaching, professional development, in-school concerts and university engagement experiences. By 2016, Lead Guitar had established operations in Chicago: with Roosevelt University providing talented Teaching Artists; The University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts providing a magnificent performance space for student performances and Chicago Public Schools helping us pinpoint city schools of greatest need.
In FY22, Lead Guitar is serving 85 schools in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson and many communities in between. Our institutional partners include the Aspen Music Festival and School, the University of Southern California, Roosevelt University, Glendale Community College, the University of Georgia and the Eastman Community School of Music.