Bach to Rock Franchise Curriculum Chief Explains One-of-a-Kind Teaching Method
Posted on: March 18, 2014
Music education at the Bach to Rock franchise emphasizes music fundamentals, the pleasure of playing music with others
When Aaron Schmidt graduated from college with a degree in physics in 2008, he hit the pavement looking for a job that required math and science skills — but that job never materialized. So Aaron, who also has a background as a classically trained pianist, decided to apply for a job based on his music background. He landed a position as a part-time music teacher Bach to Rock, and within three months he was the assistant director the Bach to Rock franchise in South Riding, VA.
Two years later, Aaron became director of the South Riding school, and in 2011 he moved to the corporate level to take over the reins as Bach to Rock’s director of curriculum and training.
“I have always been passionate about music, so I settled into the Bach to Rock job quickly,” Aaron says. “I’ve played the piano for over 20 years. Luckily, physics and math line up nicely with music. I didn’t see my life taking this route, but I’m glad it did. Being involved with Bach to Rock is gratifying on many levels, not the least of which is knowing that I’m helping kids learn music in a way that they love. I wish Bach to Rock was around when I was growing up.”
What is the job description of the curriculum director?
I basically manage all of our different programs. I sit in on classes and see what the teachers are doing and how the kids are responding. l look for ways we can improve our programs and make them more inspiring for the kids. I do a lot of work outside the curriculum world as well. I am working on developing more programs for our new DJ program, which we will hopefully be releasing this year.
What do you like about the job?
It’s very inspiring to work in a field that impacts kids. When I was a Bach to Rock teacher, and even when I was the director of the school, I got used to seeing that “light bulb” moment happen for our students. I saw them begin to develop a true passion for music. In my current job as curriculum director, I don’t get to see the kids every day, but I get to see their progress through some of the programs that we create. Bach to Rock kids and families are inspired by our approach music, and it’s a really cool thing to see. Seeing our kids really want to learn music — and having a good time doing it — makes everything worthwhile.
Could you give me an overview of the curriculum at Bach to Rock?
We start as young as 6 months and we go all the way up through adults. We even have parents who take lessons, so we are reaching almost all ages. Our youngest group is the Rock N Roll class for children 6 months old to 3 years old. This program is a “mommy and me” type music class. We are really trying to break outside of the box and use fun music that the parents also enjoy. We use different genres of music — rock, hip-hop, classical, Latin and more — to really keep the classes interesting for the kids and parents.
Once the kids are a little older — in the 3- to 5-year-old range — we have a class called Rock City. In that program we start teaching some fundamental music concepts. They learn about music symbols that we use through basic rhythms. They learn about the drum set, the guitar, the violin and many other instruments. Five-to-7-year-olds typically enroll in Kids N Keys, small classes that focus on elements of music such as sight reading, playing by ear, playing in a group and listening great music.
Does the Bach to Rock approach help kids decide what instrument they are going to focus on?
I think so. It gives them exposure to a lot of different instruments and many different musical genres. Once they are 7 or older they move into their private lessons, and that is when they pick instruments. Before that it is a little bit early to get a kid set on one instrument, so we give insight into what various instruments are like. After that they can decide what they want to play.
How did the curriculum develop?
The current curriculum for Rock N Roll was launched it a little bit over a year ago now. I have been involved with that program since the foundation. We came up with the idea to reach out to even younger children. Previously, kids could start at the age of 3 with Rock City. Now children can start out in the Rock N Roll program as young as six months. It’s a great new program that involves caregivers and is very interactive with sing-alongs, group activities and chances to move to the music.
We worked hard on Rock N Roll, and the results have been really good. We went through the process of going to a lot of experts. Then we had a testing phase for the curriculum, and finally we rolled it out to our corporate schools and then to our franchise schools.
What’s new on the horizon as far as curriculum is concerned?
We are exploring what we can do to create a digital curriculum rather than the paper-based one we have now. Eventually, we’d like to use some sort of tablet or laptop in the classroom. We are exploring how we can use that technology to connect with students when they are practicing at home, whether it’s with a student and teacher using it to communicate or a parent who wants to know more about what’s going on. There’s a huge potential there as far as taking the curriculum to the next level.
How does Bach to Rock’s approach contrast to the way you learned music? Are you a little envious of these kids?
One of the first things I asked when I first interviewed to be a teacher at Bach to Rock was, “Where was Bach to Rock when I was a kid?” It really did make me think about where I would be as a musician if I had been given the opportunity to play in a band or to play rock music when I was little. I was classically trained. I learned to read music out of a book, and when I was done with that book I went into the next book. It was very methodical, and I never played with anyone else. Music was just something that I did by myself. The band element of what we do is what sets us apart from a lot of other music schools that are out there. It’s really special.
Is that what sets the Bach to Rock curriculum apart — the band element?
It’s a really big part of it. Teaching kids the fundamentals of playing together in a group is certainly an integral part of our curriculum at all levels. In your private lessons you are learning to play the guitar, but in your band class you are learning how to synch up with the drummer, bass player, piano player and vocalist.
Can you talk about how Bach to Rock changes kids?
When I was a school director, I routinely saw 6-year-old kids in our group piano class — the Kids in Keys program — come out ready for something great. It was amazing to see them graduate and move into lessons on instruments, join a band and then end up participating in our Battle of the Bands and other public performances. One of my very first piano students is still in a band. It’s been six years, but I still go see him play drums up on stage every six months or so. It’s a thrill to have seen his transformation and see how he continues to improve his music abilities over the years.
What is a student getting from Bach to Rock that they can’t get other places?
One important thing — and it ties to the way we blend the private lessons and band together — is our arrangements and recordings. We take pop songs and arrange them in difficulty levels of 1, 2 and 3. So, we have a beginner, intermediate and advanced version of a song.
So a beginning guitar player can play what’s appropriate for his or her level. It allows the student to make progress much more quickly. We have recordings that go along with the arrangements. Even though a student may be playing a simplified part, when he or she is playing along with the recording the student is basically playing with a whole band at the same time. It sounds like the beginner is playing something that is more advanced, something at a higher skill level. The student gets a feeling of accomplishment, and is able to progress at an appropriate level instead of struggling to play something that is way too difficult.
What about the social advantages of Bach to Rock?
That’s a very big thing at Bach to Rock. We always use the sports analogy. If I’m learning to play basketball, I can go to the end of my driveway and shoot hoops for hours, which is great because it will help me with my accuracy. But if I don’t ever go to practice, then I don’t know how to interact with my teammates. So having that band element gives you that social interaction with other kids, other musicians, in a creative environment where you get to play music and make it your own. Even speaking from my personal experience, that was one huge thing that was missing for me. I wasn’t in a band until I was in college, and then I thought, ‘oh, I get this, this is what music is about.’ It is having that sense of achievement and sense of accomplishment when you see what you can do when you are part of a group and part of something bigger than yourself.
How do your teachers react to the curriculum? Do most of them come from traditional music backgrounds?
We have a diverse set of teachers. Some are professional musicians — that is really what they do. We have other new instructors that are music teachers, and that is what they do. Teachers at Bach to Rock can make music and not worry about some of the things they’d have to deal if they were teaching independently with no support. That’s a big draw for them. Bach to Rock handles marketing and scheduling, and they can focus on music and teaching. We offer our teachers a lot of resources — activities for the students, arrangements and recordings, etc. Our teachers don’t have to find lessons or create worksheets; they aren’t doing a whole lot of work outside of the classroom. At the same time, the Bach to Rock curriculum is designed to be very flexible. Teachers can really customize each student’s education based on what the student wants to learn and how he or she learns best.
How do parents respond?
The parents usually instinctively respond well to the curriculum, although I don’t want to say it’s the only reason they are coming to Bach to Rock. It’s so many things. It’s the staff and the teacher they’ve developed connections with. It’s the curriculum that molds their child’s learning. All these things combined really make for a great experience, and the curriculum is one part of it.
Why would you recommend Bach to Rock to a franchisee or investor?
Bach to Rock makes money, but at the same time it’s not selling hamburgers. For many it would be considered more meaningful. Owners can know that they are involved in something that truly inspires kids and gives back to the community. They can be very proud of our programs and our refined curriculum that’s been tested over time. When you invest in Bach to Rock, you’re investing in something that really works. If they want to start their own music school they certainly could, but they’d have to build the curriculum on their own. With Bach to Rock, you have access to all of our books and programs — thousands of pages of content.
When we are talking to our franchisees and our prospects about buying a Bach to Rock site, I like to stress that we are very focused on a well-balanced music education. Parents obviously want their children to have fun and create relationships with their teachers, but at the end of the day they need to be learning something. Bach to Rock is a lot of fun, but it also offers a solid music education. We want kids to be able to read music, improvise and play a piece of music just by listening to the song. Every student obviously has certain strengths and weaknesses, but we want to expose them to all those different elements. If they ever have to read a piece of music or improvise, we don’t want them to be lost.
Interested in starting a Bach to Rock franchise?
Bach to Rock is a music education school for students of all ages — from early childhood through high school and beyond. At Bach to Rock, we know that learning music should be fun and students learn best when they play music they enjoy. We are one of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies — named to Inc. magazine’s annual Inc. 500|5000 list for three consecutive years. To find out why, visit our research pages. If you would like to read another Bach to Rock franchise review, please visit our blog. To learn even more, fill out a form to download our free franchise report and someone will call you to start a conversation. We look forward to speaking with you!