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Rethinking Music Lessons: Backstage At School of Rock Shorewood

Hi, I’m Calie, owner of Milwaukee With Kids. Each week or so, I sit down with movers and shakers in Milwaukee who are making it a great city for families and supporting This week we’re chatting with Jake Gobel at School of Rock Shorewood about their edgy real-world approach to learning an instrument, Jack Black, and how their music school is creating community for kids who can’t find it anywhere else.

It’s been 16 years since the movie “School of Rock” was released to audiences (50 Cent’s “In Da Club” was the #1 hit, and Taylor Swift hadn’t even signed a record deal yet). But the movie inspired real-life “School of Rock” music schools all over the world, and today we have one right in our own backyard.

School of Rock Shorewood takes a real-life approach to learning music that is so fun, kids forget they’re even learning how to play an instrument. If you pop in on a random day, you might be surprised to see eight and ten year old kids in band practice together, playing songs that you hear on the radio. Other students might be taking a break from their band practice, eating pizza in the lounge.

It’s a community that is like-minded in their passions, and it’s a safe haven for some music-loving kids who weren’t quite able to find their niche until they found School of Rock.

Director Jake Gobel left his legal practice to run the school, and we think it’s safe to say his job now is a little more fun. He took us backstage at the School of Rock Shorewood, and pulled back the curtain on their teaching techniques, success stories, and special offers.

Thank you so much for chatting with us today, Jake! Can you start out by telling us the background story of School of Rock Shorewood?

Sure! School of Rock is a franchise of music schools. The corporation was started about 15 years ago, a few years after the School of Rock movie that came out starring Jack Black. The movie was a tremendous success and made the name “School of Rock” generally popular. So they capitalized on that and started School of Rock Music Schools.

The movie interestingly was inspired by an actual School of Rock started by Jim Green in Philadelphia. Much like the character in the movie, he was a disgruntled music performer whose band had broken up. He was looking for an outlet and so he started working with kids, getting them into bands, and it was very successful. The kids were progressing quickly and they were inspired to play, so he expanded. By the time the movie was made, he had five schools out on the east coast.

So the real music school led to the movie which made the franchise music schools possible.

There’s just one in the Milwaukee area, correct?

That’s correct. Currently there are 230 music schools around the world in South Africa, Australia, Philippines, and Brazil, Just about anywhere you go these days you’ll find a School of Rock.

But School of Rock Shorewood is the only one in Wisconsin. The school is a franchise owned by Rock Marasco. He was a longtime resident of Whitefish Bay and currently lives in downtown Chicago. His children went through a School of Rock program in Chicago and he thought it would be great to start a School of Rock of his own so he started it in Shorewood near his hometown.

So what were you doing before taking over School of Rock?

I was an attorney practicing as a solo practitioner. I did family law and criminal defense work. I had about 20 years of that under my belt and I just felt like I could use a different lifestyle. Something a little less stressful. Something that I could wake up excited to do in the morning. And certainly School of Rock fit the bill, so I’m having a blast with it. There are no more sleepless nights trying to write opening arguments in my head!

Can you tell us about the facility you’re in?

You walk into it and it’s like a different world. You almost step into a Rock n’ Roll nightclub of sorts. We have group rehearsal rooms, a stage for performances, a whole slew of individual lesson rooms, lounges, and a kitchen where we cook pizza for the kids when they have long rehearsals. So we make it very comfortable in there, and just a really fun atmosphere. I encourage anyone, if you’re ever in Shorewood, just stop in and say you’d like to take a look around, and we’d be happy to show you.

Tell us about the programs and options you have specifically for kids. What ages, instruments, etc. do you offer?

I’m excited to tell you that beginning August 24th we’re opening a brand new program for an even younger set of children. We’re going to have a Little Wings program for ages 3 to 5. It’s an excellent way to introduce a child to music in a group setting. They learn to keep rhythm together, sing songs, and they get to experiment with all the rock instruments. They get their first taste of playing the drums or singing into the microphone. It’s a general education class to get them learning and get them used to the idea of playing music in a group.

After the Little Wings program, there’s a Rookies program for ages 6-7 that is much like the Little Wings program, but in addition, the kids play actual songs as a group. The instructors divide the class up, designate a drummer, a keyboard player, and a singer, and they’ll actually get a chance to play songs together.

How often do the kids meet?

Each of those programs meet for one hour each week.

And what’s the end product once they do a class?

In the Rookies program, they will learn a song and however long it takes them to learn the song, that’s fine. If it takes them a couple of months just to get one song learned, they will have enjoyed the process and then they can start working on a new song. Students come in and out of the program as they wish so the lineup can change over time. It’s a looser arrangement at this age level.

What comes after the Rookie Program?

The next age group is our Rock 101 program for ages 7-11, and they meet for an hour and half each week. Usually by this time, they’ve chosen a designated instrument to focus on. Their rehearsals are structured in that the point of them is to put on a concert at the end of the season. So they’ll choose five songs that they’re going to learn as a group. They each get assigned parts to play in the song, and then we put on the show to teach music.

So we don’t teach music to put on a show. We decide to put on a show, and then we use that process to teach the kids musical concepts within the songs that they’re learning. So they’ll learn about what it means to be in common time in one particular song, and then maybe there will be a song that has a different time signature. They’ll learn the differences between time signatures in the context of the songs that the kids are learning for their concert.

There’s always context for what they’re learning and the songs are what inspire the kids to practice. They love hearing themselves play songs that they hear on the radio. It’s a very empowering feeling to actually be creating the music yourself and with your friends. It’s an exciting time for the kids.

The concerts are at the school itself on our stage and it is by far the best evening and the best time at the school all year round. It’s tremendous.

I love that it’s a real world method of learning music, rather than just practicing because a parent says you should.

Absolutely. You get immediate feedback for your efforts. Everyone is very supportive when they see these shows. the kids are always so excited to be on the stage and show their family and friends what they’ve learned to do and then they jump right into the next season and start learning new music.

So what comes after the Rock 101 program?

Our Performance Group Series is for children ages 11-17. They rehearse for 2 hours and 15 minus every week. They put out shows every three months out in public at real venues, and that adds a new level of experience in performing music.

They’ve played at venues in downtown Milwaukee, at Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair. We find them exciting venues to play at to get them out in front of the real public where they get real feedback. And they can invite their friends and family to come out and see them put on a real Rock n’ Roll show. We try to make it as authentic as possible.

They learn how to set up their equipment, how to transport their equipment, and a lot of the finer details of being in a band and performing that you wouldn’t get in a classroom.

Can you tell us about what your graduates are doing with music after their School of Rock experience?

Many of them have the confidence to start their own band. They know what to do. They know the equipment they need, how to structure a practice, how to plan for a show, etc. So we’ve seen our students actually take what they’ve learned and create on their own. We love to see that because then we’ve done our job. And they have the confidence and the knowledge and the contacts and friends that will do it with them. Sometimes that’s the biggest hurdle is to get connected with people your age who have similar interests.

I could go on for a long time about the success stories of our students making music part of their life longterm and that is what we love to inspire.

My own son is a graduate of School of rock. He’s now 18 and he went through our program. He’s a bass player. and his bass playing skills improved so quickly over two years in School of Rock it’s hard to believe. He started a band with other musicians from School of Rock called Fighting Bob. They’ve been played on radio stations around the country, mentioned in magazines, and they played at Summerfest this summer and last summer. It will be exiting to see where they go from here.

I’m thinking of my own 8 year old who has never done music lessons. Would I sign him up for his own age group even if he’s never played before?

Yes, you do it at your age level. I’m confident your 8 year old will come in and be playing with other students on Day 1. It can be that easy. There are endless things that you can work on to sound better and be more creative but the entry level is really rock bottom. You can come in at any age, any skill level or experience and be having fun right away.

Rock n’ Roll is so fun because it’s so easy to participate. We can teach a beginner to play a part that will help the band sound better even in just one day.

Do you do individual lessons, as well?

Yes, we certainly have a number of great instructors at the school who provide individual instruction. The individual instruction along with the class and group experience is a tremendous way to progress quickly on your instrument and to stay inspired. it’s almost effortless. You’re having so much fun you don’t even realize how quickly you’re improving on your instrument.

Do most people do both the group class AND individual lessons?

Yes, most people do both. We sell membership packages that include both individual lessons and their age appropriate group lessons. When you combine them it’s a good deal because you get a substantial amount off of the second program. We incentivize it because it works so well for students. It keeps them engaged, gives them the support they need in the lesson, and in the group setting they have the freedom to be creative, to put their own spin on things, and to participate in their own way. And it’s just a great combination.

However not every students wants to be in a group or has the time so they may just take private lessons for a while. Some students take individual lessons outside of the group for violin or trumpet and so they just sign up for the group program and do their best in that group.

Are there any days where someone could bring all their kids who are different ages at the same time?

It’s possible! Especially on Saturdays we have a lot of multi-level and multi-age programs going on. And we teach parents as well, so a lot of times parents will do lessons while their kids are in a group rehearsal.

What instruments can people take lessons for?

Guitar, bass, drum, and keyboard, and we also offer singing lessons.

If someone is interested but they’re hesitant, what would you say to them?

We offer a free trial lesson and a free group trial to anyone who is interested. There is no obligation to come into the school, check out the facility, and get signed up for a trial lesson. After you take your lesson we’re confident that you’ll want to come back but there’s no obligation.

For the children who find a place here, it can change their life. A lot of our kids just don’t feel they fit in everywhere they go. Their interests could be different than their friends or classmates, so when they come here they feel like they can be themselves and be a part of a community they love.

To learn more, give School of Rock Shorewood a call, stop in, write them an email, and schedule your free trial class on a day that works for you.

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