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If you have a kid who’s interested in learning an instrument, you can go one of 2 ways: Sign them up at age 4 to practice mind-numbing piano scales and violin screeching. Or, the more metal way — turn “Hot Cross Buns” up to 11.
Before the flick School Of Rock, there was the School Of Rock, where the philosophy that kids are better music students when they get to play classic rock instead of classical. Zeke Trosper, General Manager of School Of Rock in Seattle, applies his 20-plus years in the music industry, playing everything from jazz fusion to death metal, to teach kids how to reach their rock stardom potential (minus the sex and drugs). Here are his tips on taking your kid from banging pans on the kitchen floor to banging gongs like John Bonham.
Shut Up And Play The Hits
The main idea behind letting kids learn through rock ‘n’ roll is to get them excited. The more they like the music, the more likely they’ll be to practice. Classic rock bands (which somehow now include Nirvana and Green Day) are great places to start. If you and your kid gravitate more toward contemporary rock, then do that. Nu-metal? Maybe not so much
AC/DC and Led Zeppelin are two of the core bands in the school’s curriculum, but try on The Rolling Stones, The Stooges, Fleetwood Mac, and Trosper’s personal favorite: Metallica. “They have a couple songs that very clearly illustrate very traditional scale techniques,” he says. “One of my favorites is a song off their first studio album, called “Jump in the Fire.” The opening riff is basically walking up and down inside of a blues scale.” Don’t let Parental Advisory warnings get in the way of your kid’s rockstar destiny. You’re the parental advisor, now.
All The Young Dudes
Younger kids (ages 6-to-8) in beginner programs at School Of Rock don’t necessarily take formal lessons, but instead start with exploring different instruments and talking about the fundamentals. “They’ll listen to stuff like Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You,’ and talk about how to count off the song,” says Trosper. “Or, sit behind the drums and talk about how the kick drum keeps the pulse in the song; or pick up a bass and talk about role that plays in the song.” You can replicate that experience with your kid by having them clap along on beat to music at home. You can also take them to the Guitar Center in the mall, so they can try out a bunch of different instruments and a viable career option for failed guitarists.
Try This On For Size
Another tip for tiny hands that are just getting used to instruments: Rather than handing your kid an adult-size guitar you already own, get them one in their size (they come in half and 3/4 models). Go for a lower string gauge so it won’t hurt their fingers and the chord positions will be a little easier to hold. “I tell all my beginners that it’s going to take time and you’re going to get frustrated because you just can’t get your hand to do what you want with it, so take breaks,” says Trosper. “Take a walk, play with your dog, and come back when you’re a little more relaxed.” And if you don’t own a dog, find someone else’s.
School Of Rock lets students play alongside their teachers, giving them a sense of what jamming out can be. “It creates a context for the lessons,” says Trosper. “They’re taking the skills they’re learning with their instructors and going and immediately applying those things. It helps the concepts stick a lot better.” If your kid hasn’t found bandmates yet, just sitting down with your own instrument at home offers a similar experience. If your musical skills are lacking, put on their favorite album and let them jam out without you. You can be their roadie.
Get Them To Carnegie Hall
Rock and roll doesn’t have rules! Except this one: Practice. “It’s much better to practice for 15 or 20 minutes a day, every day, than to try to practice for a long period of time once a week,” says Trosper. “So much of what they’re doing is muscle memory and repetitive motion.” A helpful hint: Put their instrument on a display stand in their bedroom or in the living room, so that it’s always handy. And, if they want to be a vocalist, encourage your own Carpool Karaoke on the way to school and playdates. But call it something else to avoid copyright infringement.
Don’t Be A Square
When the rock gods command your kid to lay down some sweet licks, they must obey — even if they have to be at school in 15 minutes. “Sometimes that bug to practice hits at bizarre times. Try not to discourage your kids from practicing, even if it might not be super convenient.” says Trosper. And yeah, part of the practice process is patience. “Patience is the name of the game for parents, too. Be prepared to listen to some loud, maybe not-all-that-great playing for a little while,” he warns. It’s an investment in their future!