Playing an instrument is the best way to learn about music.
That's the overarching theory of The School of Rock, an international franchise that holds interactive music classes for children and adults. There, students can learn guitar, bass guitar, drums, keyboards, and vocals. Currently, there are 150 locations that span across seven countries, including Brazil and Panama.
In 2002 musician Paul Green started the Paul Green School of Rock Music in his hometown of Philadelphia and eventually opened a Silver Spring location at 8634 Colesville road, in the heart of downtown. In 2009 Green sold the franchise to investment firm the Sterling Partners, and the name was shortened to the School of Rock.
Three years before the buyout, married couple Jeff and Laura Bollettino purchased the Silver Spring location after becoming tired of their respective careers in finance, and today the school has a little under 200 students. The Bollettinos also own School of Rock locations in both Ashburn and Vienna, Va.
Each location offers one-on-one music instruction as well as group rehearsals, and one of the primary goals of each instructor is to prepare students to not only play in front of live audiences, but to play well and give great shows. There's also a five-day summer camp for the little ones that costs $495, and each group session for teens and adults costs $160 a pop. Workers at the school said they want to provide students with a reliable place to play so they can keep rehearsing.
“My attitude personally is just keep going and try to keep providing the appropriate opportunity for our students to keep going,” said Forrest Hainline IV, studio manager of the Silver Spring School of Rock. “So vocalists, they need to keep getting good songs for that voice. Guitar players need to keep getting good songs, but everyone needs that stage, because failure is an option.”
The school offers several different programs, including Rock 101 for children just learning to play. There are also performance classes for those who already possess some skill but haven't performed live. The rookie program is for kids who never played before.
Although Hainline said though the School of Rock can teach students to play in multiple ways, it's not just about technique – it’s also about building confidence.
“Confidence is everything,” Hainline said. “Because it's not about technique, as long as [Thelonious] Monk didn't play the piano right, and he's one of the greatest who ever played the piano. Jimi Hendrix played the guitar upside down. Albert King (played) upside down. I don't try to get too specific with anything other than....they need to just make music.”
Hainline said it's crucial for beginners to have a place where they can succeed and fail without ridicule. It's also important, he said, for children to learn a variety of songs from different artists.
“Bands like Funkadelic and Sly [& The Family Stone] and Prince, they came out of having a childhood where they were able to do trial and error as much as possible and find their voice, and learn other people's songs,” Hainline said.
Some of the School of Rock students have already found their voice – if you've ever hung out in the culturally rich downtown Silver Spring area, you might have caught a glimpse of them playing on the Fountain Plaza stage.
The students don't just head across the street to rock out; they also travel to different states like New Jersey to compete against other School of Rock students. They've also played at fundraisers, elementary schools, and on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Some of the students also have their own bands, and the school sometimes plays booking agent and secures gigs for them.
Hainline said before your child is able to play under the bright lights, it all starts with encouragement in the home. It's crucially important, he said, for parents to tell their child that they want to hear them play, no matter how loud or disruptive their rehearsals might be. Equally important is the establishment of boundaries in terms of when the rehearsing should cease, he said.
Hainline said your child should be playing with other kids, since practicing alone all of the time could get a little boring.
Hainline said to never discourage their playing, because it could stop their musical drive right on the spot.
“With kids it's funny,” Hainline said. “If you never tell them they can't, they never show you they can't.”