Music Ed Mentor Podcast #017: How to Start a Rock Band

Music Ed Mentor Podcast #017: How to Start a Rock Band

Do you know how to start a rock band? Many schools are starting to incorporate commercial and popular music ensembles as part of their music curriculum. While these approaches have advantages for students, especially in smaller programs, teachers steeped in traditional music education pedagogy often don’t have a lot of training in popular music.

In this episode of the podcast, I interview Steve Giddings. Steve literally wrote the book on how to start a rock band at your school, and his tips will help you whether you’re starting from scratch at a small school or have years of experience in a well-established program.

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In This Episode, You’ll Learn How To:

  • Accommodate differences between traditional and popular music in your teaching
  • Get started teaching popular music at your school
  • Access resources for starting a popular music program
  • Explain the benefits of a popular music program to parents and administrators

Three Key Takeaways

“If you have a mix of everything you include more kids in your program.”

There are plenty of students who play a mean guitar outside of class, but don’t have an outlet for that music at school. Including a wide mix of ensembles big band, rock band, classical guitar, and others helps include these students. It’s a win-win because the students get access to music education (and all the benefits that come with it) and your program grows.

“This works with small, auditioned groups, but the activities also work with larger ensembles.”

Steve’s activities work with all types of ensembles, so you can get started quickly. Improvisation, arranging, and collaboration are all cornerstones of popular music, so bring those into your program. You can learn a simple rock tune by ear as a group, incorporate some basic arranging, and include instruments that might otherwise not make it into your classroom guitars, Boomwhackers, and hand percussion.

“I hope teachers can use [rock] to help kids get what they need and flourish as musicians.”

Keeping students engaged by offering them opportunities to perform the music that they care about during the school day makes a huge difference. You’ll see better enrollment and retention, and students will be able to choose music that they’re truly invested in. They’ll develop their ears because they’ll be performing and learning music that they listen to all the time. And they’ll be enjoying it.


Elisa Janson Jones specializes in helping music educators build, grow, and manage thriving school music programs. With an MBA alongside her degree in music, she is also a coach and consultant to small businesses and nonprofits around the country, and serves as the conductor of her local community band. She has been teaching music for nearly 20 years and currently holds the prestigious position of elementary music teacher at a private K-8 Catholic School in Grand Junction, Colorado. Elisa was a top presenter at the NAfME National Conference in 2017 and will be presenting at state conferences in 2018. She is the founder of the International Music Education Summit and the author of The Music Educator’s Guide to Thrive.

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