They, Say Because Joe Makes Practice “Sooo Fun!”

MIDDLETOWN, NJ - Recent studies sing the praises of the positive effects of music lessons on kids.  Playing a musical instrument not only helps kids academically, but it keeps them out of trouble, too.  But how do you keep kids motivated?  How do you keep them from getting bored?  How do you get them to want to practice, long after the thrill of owning their cool, new guitar is gone?

I recently found the answer:  Have them join Joe Salk's Kids Who Rock Band ProgramSalk runs this exceptional program out of Bayshore Music in Middletown, with a studio there and in Red Bank.  He also runs an Adult Rock Band Program.  And he's working on a new Kids Who Rock Band Program that he plans to run out of Freehold Music.

kids_who_rock_justin_cook
Justin Cook performs as part of Kids Who Rock program. PHOTOS by Marlo Montanaro

So what is it about Joe Salk that sets him apart from other music teachers?  What makes Joe's students actually want to practice, so that they can be a part of one of his Kids Who Rock bands?

Just ask his students.

“Joe is sooo fun!” student, John McDermott told me, when I recently sat in on one of Joe's Kids Who Rock Band rehearsals.  

I should mention that John wasn't there for a rehearsal.  He and some of Joe's other students had dropped by on a Saturday afternoon they told me, “just to say hello to Joe.”  

kids_who_rock_group
The band takes the stage.

Just to say hello to Joe?  Many kids won't take time out of their day to practice.  Why would these students take time out of their free Saturday afternoon to drop by and see their music teacher?  I was intrigued (and impressed). But then I saw Joe Salk in action and I soon understood why.

“He's out there,” student John McDermott told me about Joe.  “But in a good way,” another student, Joey Sullivan, quickly adds.

Some of Joe's other students describe him as “unpredictable” and “so passionate about teaching and Kids Who Rock, he never even takes a vacation.”

One student, Brian Lindner, told me, “Joe's charismatic.  He draws people in.”

kids_who_rock_jake_reid
Jake Reid lays down the rhythm.

And Joe Salk does know how to draw people in.  Think:  Jack Black in the School of Rock movie.   Joe told me that it was that movie that inspired him to start his Kids Who Rock Band Program.  And watching Joe Salk teach his band rehearsal was like watching Jack Black's twin brother.  Joe Salk is as is as close to Jack Black as it gets.  No wonder his kids love him so much.

Joe Salk told me, “I think that, if more teachers were fun, more kids would enjoy going to school.  They would learn more.”

Joe also knows how to draw people in to his kids' shows.  He held his first concert, SalkFest, in 2010, in a backyard and drew a crowd of 300 people.  Since then his program has grown, enabling his kids to play at venues like, the Starland Ballroom and the Stone Pony.

So, how does Joe Salk do it?  

First of all, he lets the kids choose the songs that they want to learn, both in their private lessons and in their bands.  Other schools similar to Salk's, won't allow their students that option.

kids_who_rock_keyboard
Hot licks on the keyboard.

One student told me that he was actually “turned down” by another rock band school in the area, simply because the school “didn't like the song” that he chose for his audition.  

Other schools in the area also turn away kids because they tell them that they aren't “good enough.”  Joe accepts those kids into his program, regardless of their ability.  Unlike the other schools, he's willing to take the time (and patience) to work with them, and help them build their confidence, until they're up to speed.

And Joe Salk's band rehearsals are anything but “boring.”  At one rehearsal I watched him playfully fling small objects at his students to get them to laugh or to pay attention.  He wants his students to relax and have a good time.  He shows kids how to make the heavy metal “guitar face,” which he feels is imperative to the performance.

“You've gotta make The Face!” Joe tells them.

Joe's rehearsal was so much fun, at times, I was laughing harder than the kids were.  But don't get the impression that Joe Salk's Kids Who Rock Band Program is only about the fun.  Salk has high expectations of his students and he makes sure that they know it.  

“Joe gets down to the kids' level, but he never loses their respect,” says mother, Deedee Montanaro, whose son, Victor, is in the program and who is a student herself in Salk's Adult Rock Band Program.

“Your students are amazing,” I told Joe, after I attended his Kids Who Rock band show at the Starland Ballroom in March.  “How do you get them to work so hard?”

Joe replied, jokingly, “I roll up a poster and threaten to hit them with it!”

When I asked students, Jonah Legelstein (bass), Justin Terek  (keyboard/guitar), Victoria Riva (vocals) and Justin Gogan (drums) to tell me some of the reasons why they like Kids Who Rock, they told me that they loved being able to pick their own songs.  Joe even allows and encourages students to perform their original songs.  

Another student told me that he liked Salk's program because other bands he was in “kept breaking up.” He told me that Joe helps his bands work together and stay together.

“Anyone in the band is allowed to vote, No,” Joe tells his students.  

If one member doesn't like a song, it's always a band decision whether or not to play it.  If everyone in the band isn't in agreement about learning a song, they drop it.  

“There are plenty of other songs out there,” Joe says.

kids_who_rock_joe_salk
Joe Salk.  PHOTOS by Marlo Montanaro

Beyond being a superb teacher, Joe is an extremely gifted and accomplished guitar player.  I first saw Joe perform at his friend, Dale Toth's Velvet Curtain Monday Night Open Mic at the Downtown in Red Bank.  

My first question to Joe was, “Where are you playing?  I have to come out to see you!”  

Unfortunately Joe doesn't play out.  Right now he's too busy teaching (six days a week) and organizing the Kids Who Rock band shows, organizing and promoting shows at what his kids call, “cool venues,” like the Starland Ballroom and the Stone Pony.

As a matter of fact, Joe Salk's Kids Who Rock have a show coming up this weekend at the Starland Ballroom (570 Jernee Mill Road, Sayreville, NJ 08872, 732-238-5500), Saturday, June 9, 2012, 12pm to 4pm.  (Doors open at Noon.)  Ten of his bands will be performing, including his Adult Rock Band.  Tickets are $15.  (There are still some tickets left, which can be purchased at the door.)

Joe's Kids Who Rock also have a show coming up at the Stone Pony on July 8, 2012.

For more information about Joe Salk and Kids Who Rock, you can contact Joe at: (732) 233-3427.  or by email at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  Be sure to visit his website: www.rockbandlessions.net.  You can also find Joe on Facebook.  Make sure to check out his Kids Who Rock Facebook Page and “Like” it.  And don't forget to ask Joe about his Summer Program. Joe says that there are still some openings.  What a great way to keep kids busy and learning during the summer.

And you older “Kids” out there, pull that guitar out of your closet, dust it off, and check out Joe's Adult Rock Band Program.  Whether you used to be in a band or always dreamed of being in a band, it's never too late, as Joe Salk says, “to ROCK ON!

Carol Barbieri is a performer/writer/speaker and a former columnist with the Atlantic Highlands Herald.  Her writings have appeared in the New York Times and Star-Ledger newspapers.