The muted sound of an electric guitar echoes through the hallway from one of many rehearsal rooms, adding to the cacophony of The Who drum solos, resonating Pink Floyd bass and Led Zeppelin falsetto.
Young students crowd the lounge area to convene and converse as the overwhelming sound of guitar and drums fills the small building.
School of Rock, located at 2645 Middlefield Road, provides a program for aspiring musicians to improve their musical skills through performance-based learning.
Owner and amateur musician Hansel Lynn fell in love with music twelve years ago when he and his friends started a cover band.
“Every one of us sucked, but we were really good at the marketing and bringing in all these people [fans],” Lynn says. “It was probably the best time of my life.”
Lynn got the idea of starting a School of Rock franchise in Palo Alto when he stumbled upon a newspaper advertisements promoting the school.
The School of Rock was founded in 2002 by Paul Green in Philadelphia, and now has locations all over the United States, as well as seven other countries. Lynn opened the location in Midtown Palo Alto in January of this year.
Alan “Al Showbiz” Bendit, a School of Rock instructor, has taught rock for over 30 years in San Francisco. He takes a different approach to teaching that varies from the classic training in music theory.
“I like to try to teach people songs because that is the most interesting way to learn,” Bendit says.
According to Lynn, a lot of the kids at School of Rock start off interested primarily in pop music, which allows students to become more comfortable with their instruments.
“[The kids] see how easy it is and get them into classic rock, which is more nuanced and there are lot more difficult things to do,” Lynn says.
Zach Chang, an 11-year-old student drummer, describes himself as self-taught. He explains how as a kid as young as four years old he would bang on objects and as his interests grew he was then given a drum set as a gift.
The talent brought in by this program has allowed a community of unknown kids to form lasting bonds with others who share common interests. Kids gain confidence and learn communication through performance-based learning.
“The kids start off really shy but within a couple months they are rocking out on stage,” says Matt Pharisien, a Palo Alto High School graduate who works at the front desk at School of Rock.
Lynn tells of a ten-or-eleven-year-old boy who began playing the drums in January having a great performance while playing a Green Day song at the School of Rock’s recent concert at Illusions, a club in Palo Alto.
“He did completely awesome,” Lynn says. “All the other kids were saying ‘awesome job dude’ and everyone in the back was … so stoked and it was his big, proud day.”
When it comes to show lineups, School of Rock does things a bit differently than some of its local business competition includes the Riekes Center and other private instructors. School of Rock put together different combinations of musicians with different skill levels for each song, rather than forming locked-down bands.
“They get to learn from the advanced kids down to the novice kids, so there’s that diversity sort of mixing together,” Lynn says.
One benefit of being a part of the national School of Rock community is the All Stars program. This exclusive opportunity is only open to the most experienced musicians.
“You get on a bus to do the whole rock tour thing; you’re staying in dorms with 200 other kids that have the same interests as you and everyone wants to rock,” says Lynn. “This all star concert they just had over the summer was in Bedrock with 9,000 people in the audience and when you’re like 14 or 15, that is confidence.”
The Palo Alto location opened too late to send anyone to the All Stars program this year, but plans to do so in the future.
Palo Alto School of Rock formed another, similar opportunity called the Band Competition.
“It’s sort of like All Stars for the kids who were not able to make All Stars,” Lynn says. “I did send six of my kids and they all came back saying experience of a lifetime, and they’ll never forget it.”
Lynn knew upon opening the School of Rock franchise in Palo Alto that he wouldn’t make a lot of money, but he has found that there are immense emotional rewards.
With top-notch instructors and motivated staffers, students become ultimate rockers.
“A lot of kids come in totally shy, totally in the corner, they get drawn out in the band, because there is a lot of energy in the rooms,” Lynn says. “I have just so many stories of these kids getting into it.”