Young musicians jam at Blueridge Rock School
CHRISTIANSBURG – Just off North Franklin Street, a young generation has been jamming at Blueridge Rock School.
Students are learning music by playing together as a band and putting together songs through structured jam sessions.
“We are more or less branding ourselves as the alternative to traditional music lessons,” owner Andrew Petersen said.
As the students jam with each other to learn their songs, they cooperatively progress as a grown-up rock ‘n roll band would. Andrew Wilson, the school’s director, believes allowing them to learn this way is the key to unlocking hidden potential, especially with more advanced forms of music.
“From my experience, I don’t think younger kids get enough credit for understanding stuff,” Wilson said. “You just have to break it down nice and easy, and they can do it.”
Currently, Petersen and Wilson are the only two instructors at Blueridge Rock School. They both teach a wide range of instruments, from guitar and bass to drums and piano, even voice.
The two also perform regularly with the band at Blue Ridge Church. In addition, Wilson, who graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in music performance and technology in May, is putting his education and experience to work.
Petersen got the idea to start the school when he was working as a contractor. He was talking with one of his clients, who was worried that her children would quit their music lessons due to lack of interest.
Petersen said he wanted to create an interesting learning experience that yielded results, while being an enjoyable experience for the students.
“Our goal is to have the kids drag their parents to the music lesson, instead of vice versa,” said Petersen.
Blueridge Rock School is the first of its kind for the New River Valley, which Wilson hopes will give them the advantage they need to succeed.
“We’re lucky that no one else jumped on the idea first,” Wilson said. “We’re hoping that we found our niche in that way, at least.”
Courses at Blueridge Rock School are set up to facilitate progression. As they learn, the young musicians advance through levels themed after the music business.
They start with the beginner class (“Roadie”), then move up to intermediate (“Sound Check”), then to performance (“On Tour”), and eventually to advanced (“Record Label”).
The levels are marked as 10-week sessions. Students have private lessons once a week and then come together for a structured jam session on the weekend.
Blueridge Rock School’s first-ever class is currently in the fifth week of its beginner session.
The class is made up of three elementary-aged students. Gracie Blackwell, 10, is learning to sing and play acoustic guitar, while her younger brother Eli, 7, is learning electric guitar. Liam Fentress, 9, rounds out the group and is learning to play drums and sing.
Although the starting class is small, their instructors say they have progressed significantly in the first five weeks. They are currently working through several songs, including Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel,” and Anna Kendrick’s “Cups (When I’m Gone).”
According to Gracie, learning music in a situation like this at an early age can be beneficial later in life.
“The younger you are when you learn it, the easier it is when you’re older,” Gracie said. “It’s harder when you’re older to learn tons of stuff.”
In addition, Gracie and Eli’s mother, Lori Blackwell, believes that the collaborative atmosphere at the school makes for a great learning experience.
“They get to create something, rather than just be in a lesson by themselves,” Blackwell said. “It give them something to work toward.”
While Petersen and Wilson fill in where they’re needed, the kids at Blueridge Rock School collectively take the lead during the structured jam sessions.
“It’s not just about learning how to play an instrument, but also everything that goes along with it,” Petersen said.
Wilson said musical collaboration also helps challenge the mind.
“If you can play multiple things with your feet and hands, your brain’s doing a lot more than you think,” Wilson said.
Although they are just starting, Petersen and Wilson have multiple plans in store for Blueridge Rock School.
With a radio advertisement and a grand opening planned for the near future, they want to see their school grow and develop along with their students.
The duo hopes to include a small retail section in the school that provides music accessories as resources for their students. They also plan on setting up a recording studio, which will be used in their curriculum.
Both hope Blueridge Rock School will help the local music scene, and drum up interest throughout the community.
Their priorities, however, include bringing in more students and instructors.
At this point, it’s just a matter of finding the students willing to learn and the instructors willing to teach.
“It’s all about what the students want to learn,” Petersen said.
For more information about classes and how to get involved, visit www.blueridgerockschool.com.
– By Calvin Pynn, Special to The Burgs