116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Marion School of Rock takes a performance-first approach to teaching music
The school opened in April with classes for children 3 and older
MARION — School of Rock isn’t a typical music experience where some students might study the works of Vivaldi and Mozart. Here, paintings of the Beatles, David Bowie and Freddie Mercury line the walls.
Marion School of Rock opened in April, part of a national chain of schools that focuses on performance-based music education.
Ian Draves, general manager at School of Rock, said in addition to typical half-hour one-on-one lessons with an instructor, students get a chance to play with others of a similar age and skill level.
“They get to learn skills that a lot of times you wouldn’t actually learn until you go out on a gig — like what happens when a cable goes bad in the middle of a show,” he said. “Those kinds of things you don’t really learn until you’re thrown out in the wild.”
Kids as young as 3 get a chance to experience creating music in a group, though individual lessons with instruments usually start around ages 6 or 7, depending on a student’s maturity level. Lessons cost between $150 to $350 or more per month, according to the School of Rock website.
Draves said the majority of the students are beginners taking part in the school’s Rock 101 program.
“It’s rare that you’ll get students that already have a couple years of practice under their belts,” he said. “I would say a good 75 to 80, or maybe even 85 percent of the kids that we have now came in here never touching the instrument they’re playing.
There are currently three students in the performance group, which teaches rock music at a higher level.
“The kids in those performance groups get to vote for what they’re interested in,” he said. “If they pick Weezer versus Green Day, they’re going to have anywhere from eight to 12 songs and then they’ll perform at the end of the season.”
There are now 75 students at the school, which offers lessons in guitar, bass, drums, vocals and keyboards.
Draves said he expects more students will move up to the performance level over the next few months.
“We already have a couple kids who are really enjoying it, taking it seriously, practicing at home and showing such incredible growth over a short period of time,” he said.
When there are enough students playing at a high performance level, the school will eventually form its own house band, he said.
“Those kids, we get to book more legitimate shows with them,” he said.
The school, located in downtown Marion, has several practice rooms, all adorned with colorful paintings of rock legends on the walls. The Building also has two large practice spaces for groups to get together and play.
Greg Moore, who owns a School of Rock in Des Moines, expanded the franchise to Marion. There are more than 200 School of Rock locations in the United States, with the first founded in Philadelphia in 2002.
Jack Moore, 17, son of Greg Moore, is the studio coordinator for the School of Rock in Marion, and has been playing in bands since he was in sixth grade.
He said the community aspect of School of Rock is a big factor in keeping kids motivated to practice their music.
“I think a big part of it is the vibe of the place,” Jack Moore said. “We like to make kids excited to be here, and enjoy their time. I think having a positive environment around music helps kids do that.”
It also helps to have a band to keep you accountable for learning your part.
“I grew up playing, and I think it just helps to keep kids motivated to have that positive peer pressure,” he said. “Not wanting to let down your friends with whatever part or song that you’re playing.”
Chris West, 40, plays guitar in the adult band at School of Rock. He was self-taught and had played the instrument for 25 years, but decided to jump into performing in a band in March.
“The way School of Rock teaches is light years above trying to learn from YouTube or teaching yourself,” he said. “The ability to get out on stage and play for people is one of the highlights.”
His two sons are beginners learning drums and bass at the school.
West, who works as a software developer, said the School of Rock is a good way to fit music into his schedule.
“For me this is a hobby and a passion, but with everything I do I try to hold myself to a high level of skill,” he said. “This provides all of that for me.”
Dillon Rairdin teaches piano, guitar, and bass to students from ages 6 to 30 at School of Rock.
“I find that teaching older students, its especially rewarding to make sure that this place feels fun and free and non-judgmental, because nine times out of 10, as soon as they take a breather and pick up the guitar, they learn just as well as a kid would,” he said.
This is Rairdin’s first year teaching music.
“It’s been a mixed bag of unpredictable situations I never thought I’d be in and unexpected. It is really exciting to watch milestones being reached,” he said. “It’s particularly satisfying to watch a kid who hasn’t touched an instrument before (and) three months later, be able to play a song all the way through and get it.”
Shelby Brewer teaches voice lessons at School of Rock, and instructs the schools youngest students in the little wings and rookie classes.
“A lot of that is getting their hands on an instrument and letting them explore what they are interested in,” she said. “And teaching that love of an instrument and getting ingrained a love of music while they’re young and super formable.”
At young ages, a lot of work is up to the parents to keep kids on top of practicing and continuing an interest in music, Brewer said.
“It’s a lot easier to keep the interest of the ones who have an interest in music specifically, versus the ones who are just trying to figure out — do they like music? Do they like art? Do they like sports?” she said.
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