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Finger-style guitar degree only available at UWM

Posted at 7:05 PM, Mar 08, 2016

The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee offers nearly 200 majors but one of them is truly unique. It's no ordinary guitar class, drawing people from every corner of the earth.

"I'm from New Zealand," says one student.

It's highly esteemed.

"I knew immediately I was destined for the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee," says another.

UWM is the only college in the world to offer a degree in finger-style guitar.

"It's wonderful to be in this situation to be a center of the study of finger-style guitar," says Professor John Stropes. "We have performers from all over the world who come in and feel some kinship with our program."

Finger-style uses steel strings and, as the name would suggest, no picks. It's also a format open to a wide range of musical expression. You can earn both a bachelor's and master's degree here.

"I used to be an economics major and had a revelation that I wanted to study music and here I am," says senior Mike Fenner.

"I think the instrument sounds fantastic," says second-year graduate student Rachael Carlson. "I think that steel strings and a box of wood sounds very American to me."

The program was started by Professor John Stropes, who first became attracted to finger-style in the 1970's.

"I wanted to do what I could to see that this renaissance would continue, that the style would continue to flourish," says Stropes. 

In this particular hour, students take turns playing and receiving feedback. Many perform gigs around town too. Most hope to become professional musicians and/or teachers. All thanks to UWM.

"I've loved my time here, I've just learned so much," says Fenner.

"It's fun to be able to bring people from all over the world, it's fantastic," says Carlson.

"I feel certain that students here will emerge as leading artists in the future," says Stropes.

UWM is hoping that other colleges will follow their lead and start some finger-style guitar programs of their own.

If you'd like to book a musician for a gig contact the UWM Music Department.