How Denver School of Rock's New Owners Are Helping Kids Be Great Bandmates

The difference between learning to play an instrument and learning to play an instrument within the context of a band can make all the difference for young musicians. Global company School of Rock was founded on this idea, and Denver's own branch of the school is going strong today, teaching kids how to rock in rehearsal and on stage.

Recently, the School of Rock Denver's operations changed hands, with Jim and Jeannie Johnson taking on daily operations. Jim Johnson says he sort of stumbled on to the school, but after he found out more about it, he wanted to be an integral part of the many programs offered that teach kids about music and the everyday functions of a band.

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"I was really lucky to grow up in a place with a very strong music program and fortunate enough to have parents who were really supportive of me wanting to find my own way," says Johnson. "Being able to bring that to the students really spoke to me. Parents will walk into these schools for the first time without ever having been in one and the first thing out of their mouth is "where was this when I was a kid?""

School of Rock Denver is just one of dozens of locations across the world that offer an experience much deeper than the usual after-school music lesson. Johnson explains that in addition to providing one-on-one guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and voice lessons, students have opportunities for growth in collaborative band environments, starting at the preschool level with the Little Wing program, which explores rhythm patterns and emotional connections to music.

From there, students can audition to be in bands with other musicians at their skill level, working together on themed cover sets that they will eventually debut for a live audience. It's this opportunity for real life band interaction that Johnson says makes School of Rock unique. "It's important to get that live playing experience," says Johnson. "I always say that if you want to be good, you have to practice. If you want to be really good, you have to play with other people; but if you want to be great, you have to play in front of people."

The students -- who sign up to be in themed bands like "Iron Maiden V.S. Judas Priest," "Aerosmith" and "punk rock" -- get three months of practice time along with solo lessons. Each session the musical themes change and students can move into high skill levels. Beyond learning an instrument and learning how to play with others, students learn about the operational aspects of being in a band.

From selling tickets to their own show to loading equipment and caring for their own gear, students get a feel for the real world of music, something Johnson says is crucial to their success as musicians. "We try to get them as prepared as we can for playing in a band in the real world by building a professionalism in them at a very young age," says Johnson. "Once these kids get through the program, they have a solid foundation to be able to do whatever they want with music."

As they progress, students can audition to be in the School of Rock Denver's "House Band," playing public events like the Film on the Rocks, which pairs local musicians with movie screenings each summer at Red Rocks. From there, students can try out to be a part of the national School of Rock Allstars band, which offers real life touring experience as the band goes on the road to play festivals each summer.

Johnson says he is excited about this new role as the new owner and operator of School of Rock Denver and he looks forward to engaging young musicians in the world of live playing. "I really wanted to share my experience with kids and provide a nice safe place where they can come and play in a band and learn about music with terrific instructors," he shares. "I just think every kid should have the opportunity to pick up an instrument and express themselves."

For more information on School of Rock Denver's programming and other School of Rock locations across the state, visit the school's website%3

Bree Davies is a multimedia journalist, artist advocate and community organizer born and raised in Denver. Rooted in the world of Do-It-Yourself arts and music, Davies co-founded Titwrench experimental music festival, is host of the local music and comedy show Sounds on 29th on CPT12 Colorado Public Television and is creator and host of the civic and social issue-focused podcast, Hello? Denver? Are You Still There? Her work is centered on a passionate advocacy for all ages, accessible, inclusive, non-commercial and autonomous DIY art spaces and music venues in Denver.
Contact: Bree Davies