Get with the Program
Ten-year-old rock music education company Rock House Method has had no shortage of new ideas throughout its existence. A punchy upstart with a flair for securing top-notch talent in a line of instructional media, Rock House made a name for themselves as a popular piece of many companies’ starter guitar packs recently. This year, the company has again moved on to a new chapter: a full-on teaching curriculum for guitar, bass, piano, ukulele, and vocals that includes teaching materials, workbooks, certification, and loads of online support. It’s an ambitious undertaking that could change the way music shops run their back-room private lesson programs. But as founder Joe Palombo says, “It’s definitely bold, but I think we’ve always been more than just a DVD or book.”
MMR caught up with Palombo and John McCarthy, who’s taken charge of designing the curriculum, to talk about the new method.
MMR: You’ve recently rolled out the beta version of your new website, with several layers of educational interactivity. Tell us about the idea behind this, and how it connects with the brand new teaching program you have in the works.
Joe Palombo: What we’re really focused on is that we’re coming out with a curriculum. You have all these methods that have been out there for years and we’ve come out with something else – why the whole new website is important is that it’s integrated. When someone buys our product, they’re able to come to the site and be on the forums and all that. There are daily blog posts, a feature called, “Ask the Teacher” where people can search a database of questions and anything you have will get answered, and we have Tony Pasko, who used to be with Peavey, doing our “Gear 411.”
Our primary market has always been the entry-level player, but the issue becomes: “How do you keep people moving along?” That’s what we’ve always been about. On the site now, what happens is that they can continue to ask about their playing and their gear.
MMR: How does the curriculum support that?
JP: We’ve come out with a three-step method that is really about getting them to stick with it. It’s a teacher-based method. When you buy one of our books, it’s more than the usual. It includes video that you can download to educate you on gear – what are these pedals? What’s the difference between a tube amp and a solid state amp? – the basic stuff that the beginner needs so that when they go back to the store, they’ll have some education. It really helps the store. We’re going to teach the most basic things that have always given beginning players fear to go into a store and buy products.
MMR: So this is an all-around rock education.
JP: Exactly. There are also videos about how to care for your instrument – how to tune it, how to change the strings. Of course there will be play-along stuff like everyone has, but the whole key here is to really take people to the next level – not only teach them the instrument, but to make them customers. Not only are these books hip, new, incredible, but they’re going to continue that mission that we’ve been on.
MMR: You’ve had a unique access to a customer base already in line to design this program around thanks to the years your products were included in all-in-one beginner guitar kits, right?
JP: Up until about two years ago, when the guitar pack sales were flying,
we were in everybody’s pack – Peavey, Ibanez, Silvertone, Ovation, Washburn – every guitar company that had a pack that was significant, we were in. Well over a million different packs over three or four years. No one has had a lab of customers like we’ve had of beginners who let us know what they like and don’t like and what keeps them learning and what doesn’t keep them learning. Who else in the business has had that? We know better than anyone else how to get a student, teach them, and get them exactly what they’re looking for and what will turn them off.
MMR: What kind of things have you done to improve the educational component of the method?
John McCarthy: A lot of the Mom and Pop retailers get 50% of their revenue through selling lessons in their store. Usually they just hire a guy in the area who they think is a good guitar player and no one knows what goes on in those lessons. With our approach, it’s a standardized way of knowing what’s going on there. There are quizzes in the book and when the students take them, the quizzes get emailed back to the store owner, the teacher, the student, and the parent. So everyone knows how effective the student and teacher are. If you have three teachers and one has a bunch of kids acing the quizzes and the other one has kids only getting half the questions right, you know something’s wrong. Parents love getting reports on how their kids are doing.
MMR: So this is really a program to solidify a store’s teaching programs as a whole.
JM: Right. The teacher’s edition shows you how to teach each lesson in this book. Even basic stuff like if you need to go through the chords one note at a time. There are lesson quick tips, which are for people who have taught before but who might want a few pointers to make it exciting. I know that not everyone who uses this method is going to be a brand new teacher, so these might just spark some new ideas.
Then there are lesson notes, which will give instructors in-depth explanation to teach the lesson. There are worksheets on certain lessons to work on scales things like that, and there are teacher play-alongs, which show the teachers how to play along and interact with the students. That helps them to learn, whether it’s strumming along while they play a scale or anything like that.
MMR: What can students expect when beginning the program?
JM: There are three levels for guitar. There are three for bass guitar, three for piano and keyboard, and one level for ukulele. It goes from the very beginning, from holding the guitar, all the way to the Cage system, modals – the most advanced. It could go five-to-seven years for students. I like them to know everything – a little bit of fingerpicking, a little bit of everything just to get a taste of it and know what they’re doing.
JP: John is a great instructor and has taught all of our guys to teach and it’s unbelievable to see. He’s trained them all and his thing was, years ago, a great guitar player came up to him and said, “Man, I’m working in haberdashery – I’m selling clothes!” John asked him why he didn’t teach and the guy said, “I don’t know how to.” The light bulb went off.
MMR: The whole thing works to build up a community of musicians, then.
JP: If your teachers teach their students successfully, what do they do? They stay and become customers. If they don’t, they leave. We have a whole checks and balances system. John will even do a phone interview with the teacher. The number one thing is that we want to make sure the teacher knows how to teach. They’ll take the quiz and get certified, then the store can say, “We teach the Rock House Method.” The store owner can have confidence. He knows what they’re teaching, he knows how they’re teaching them, he knows they’ve been educated on how to teach them, and he’s got the checks and balances system. It’s a home run for everybody. It’s ambitious and bold, but I think we’ve always been more than just a DVD or book.