McNally Smith College of Music

Discover your life in music

Earn Your Degree in Guitar Performance
1, 2 and 4 year programs available

Guitar Performance

The Guitar Performance program is designed to develop your instrumental technique and stylistic vocabulary so you can fully express yourself as a guitar player. You’ll refine your improvisation skills as a lead guitarist and become a strong rhythm guitar player through a combination of ensemble performance and individualized private lessons. You’ll also learn how to work with pedalboards, effects and different amplifiers to achieve great-sounding tones. Whether you’re into rock, blues, jazz, metal, country or classical guitar, you’ll have the support of experienced faculty to help you master the music you’re most passionate about.

By building a solid foundation in music theory, scales, song structure, ear training, soloing skills and stage presence, you’ll be prepared to succeed in a variety of career paths as a professional guitar player.

Ready For The Real World

As a Guitar Performance major you’ll receive a hands-on education in a real world environment that directly mirrors the music industry. You’ll gain stage experience through the many playing opportunities on campus and around the Minneapolis–St. Paul area. You’ll get to record in state-of-the-art studios with fellow performance majors. You’ll also collaborate with songwriting and music production students on real projects. You’ll learn tour management, how to book your own shows, and how to market and promote yourself as an artist. And through our job board, you can find gigs with original bands and commercial groups.

You’ll get a head start on your music career by building your professional network while you’re still in school. With access to guest artists, internships and the thriving Twin Cities music and arts scene, you’ll be connected to the industry before you graduate.

Teaching For Tomorrow

To succeed as a professional guitar player, you need a well-rounded education that prepares you for the dynamic future of the music business. That’s why our Guitar Performance degree program focuses on developing your creativity and musicianship while giving you the necessary technology skills to adapt and compete in the industry. You’ll also graduate equipped with the entrepreneurial concepts and business savvy you’ll need to accomplish your goals and establish your career.

With a comprehensive education that blends artistry, technology and entrepreneurship, you’ll be ready to make and sustain a life in music.

Your Career Path

Graduates of the Guitar Performance program are prepared for a variety of career options, including:

  • Professional Guitar Player
  • Touring Musician
  • Session Player
  • Music Director
  • Songwriter
  • Music Teacher
  • Private Lesson Studio

 Studios & Facilities

Our campus features 3 performance venues, 6 technology labs, and 11 recording studios where students learn to record, edit and mix music and audio.

Student Life

There’s a lot to explore outside of class, including student organizations, free concerts, music ensembles, and the diverse music and art scene of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

The Auditorium hosts student recitals, guest artist concerts and music industry seminars year round. MIDI Lab. Students learn to write and produce music using hardware and software, including Logic Pro. Pro Tools Lab. Students learn editing, mixing and production techniques using the latest software. One of the multipurpose classrooms used for rehearsing bands, teaching music theory and songwriting. The Sound Bite Café features an intimate performance setting for small ensembles, guest artists and workshops. The 48-input SSL Duality console in Studio 1, with a view into the main performance area. Studio 1. 48-input SSL Duality hybrid analog-digital console; Barefoot MicroMain 27 monitors. Studio 4 features a Digidesign ICON D-Command Work surface and 5.1 surround mixing system. Studio 5. Trident 80B analog console; Otari MTR-90 24-track analog recorder; Pro Tools HD2 system. Studio 10 main performance area. Studio 10 features three racks of outboard mic preamplifiers, compressors, equalizers, and limiters.
Many artists have launched their careers at First Avenue, Minnesota’s quintessential music venue. The Theater Ensemble performs rock musical RENT at the History Theatre located on campus. At The Sessions master class, industry pros like Dom Famularo help artists sharpen their business skills. EDM artist/producer Francis Preve demonstrates remix techniques using Ableton Live during a master class. The X-Tet Ensemble studies traditional cajón technique in Lima, Peru during their South American tour. Concertgoers get the full Flaming Lips experience at River’s Edge Music Festival, downtown St. Paul. The NOLA Ensemble performs authentic New Orleans-style jazz at an Open House event. The Contemporary Vocal Ensemble performs onstage in McNally Smith’s Auditorium. Music Business students plan, promote and execute a SXSW day party in Austin, TX. Students pause for a photo-op while guiding campus tours at Open House. Taking a break during the McNally Smith kickball tournament at nearby Harriet Island, St. Paul.

FacultyView All Faculty >>

Joe Elliott

Joe Elliott spent 30 years playing professionally in Los Angeles as sideman, musical director and composer in a variety of music settings including for network television and movie soundtracks, as well as various studios and concert and club venues. His teaching experience includes 23 years at Musicians Institute (MI) in Hollywood and baccalaureate programs and various clinics throughout the country. Elliot has written and edited several courses for MI’s Guitar Institute of Technology (G.I.T.) and baccalaureate programs. He spent three years as G.I.T. Department Head and 9 years as Vice President and Director of Education at Musicians Institute.

In addition, Elliot served as president of the Theatre of Arts acting school in Hollywood and on the board of directors for the L.A. Music Academy in Pasadena, CA. He has written two instructional books published by Hal Leonard: An Introduction to Jazz Guitar Soloing and Ear Training (co-author). He also released a guitar instrumental album entitled Joe’s Place in 2009.

Eva Beneke

A native of East Berlin, Germany, Dr. Eva Beneke is an internationally renowned performer. Highlights of her career include appearances with the German Symphony Orchestra under Kent Nagano, invitations to international festivals in Perú, Germany, Lithuania, the U.S. and Canada and a live performance with Carrie Underwood at the 2010 American Country Music Awards. Dr. Beneke’s debut CD, Coming Home, was released to wide critical acclaim in 2010. Her performances have been broadcasted internationally and her arrangements for guitar ensemble have gained international recognition. The American publishing-house Clearnote Music published two of her guitar compositions in 2009.

Dr. Beneke began her studies at the Berlin University of Arts with Martin Rennert. She then received the prestigious solo artist diploma at the Franz Liszt Hochschule in Weimar where she trained extensively with Thomas Müller-Pering, one of Germany’s most influential guitarists. In 2012, she received a doctorate with honors from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, after having studied with Grammy® winning guitarist Scott Tennant and jazz-guitar legend Bruce Forman. Dr. Beneke joined the faculty at McNally Smith College of Music in the fall of 2012.


We offer 1, 2 and 4-year degrees in Bass Performance, giving you options for a degree that fits with your plans and budget.

$12,870 per semester for full-time attendance (13-17 credits)

  • Bachelor’s degree: 120 credits
  • Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree: 60 credits
  • Diploma: 45 credits

$990 per credit for part-time attendance More info >>

Financial Aid

On average, more than $1 million in College-funded aid is awarded annually in the form of merit-based scholarships and need-based grants. More than 85% of our students receive financial assistance to help cover their educational costs.

Click here to learn about the many resources available to help pay for college.

Gainful Employment Statistics


McNally Smith College of Music is institutionally and programmatically accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) and is registered with the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. More info >>

Applied Theory I

Students examine how essential elements of music theory (melody, rhythm, scales, form, improvisation) are represented in contemporary music and directly apply classroom lessons on the bass, gaining deeper understanding of a variety of popular styles and standard works.

Contemporary Literature

Students across the Music Performance program form ensembles to study, rehearse and perform contemporary music. The unique roles of the various members of an ensemble are examined and experienced through active participation. Students learn to read charts, take solos and play songs by ear. Emphasis is placed on hands-on execution of the diverse musical styles practiced in the industry today.

Music Interpretation

Students learn to reproduce and interpret songs in a variety of styles. Performance concepts are examined and implemented on the guitar through intensive listening, analysis and performance. Emphasis is placed on practice routines and habits, memorization strategies and overcoming technical and stylistic challenges.