Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., Rock Skool teaches students how to shred

Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., Rock Skool teaches students how to shred

July 26th, 2013 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

Teacher Mark Ferguson, left, rocks with Alec Coffman.

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

Alec Coffman, left, watches as Preston Ingram sings a Metallica song during a Rock Skool concert at the Chattanooga Public Library.

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

Some of the songs they learned

"A Hard Day's Night" by The Beatles

"TNT" by AC/DC

"Blitzkrieg Bop" by The Ramones

"Iron Man" by Black Sabbath

"Hit Me with Your Best Shot" by Pat Benatar

"Godzilla" by Blue Oyster Cult

"Rock You Like a Hurricane" by Scorpions

"School's Out" by Alice Cooper

"Rock and Roll" by Led Zeppelin

"Comfortably Numb" by Pink Floyd

"For Whom the Bell Tolls" by Metallica

"Day Tripper" by The Beatles

"Wild Thing" by The Troggs

"Paranoid" by Black Sabbath

"Rock and Roll All Nite" by Kiss

"Sunshine of Your Love" by Cream

"When I Come Around" by Green Day

"Eruption/You Really Got Me" by Van Halen

"Crazy Train" by Ozzy Osbourne

"Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey

"Enter Sandman" by Metallica

"Come Together" by The Beatles

"Yesterday" by The Beatles

"The One I Love" by R.E.M.

"Sweet Child o' Mine" by Guns N' Roses

THE ROCK LINEUP

* Hadley Tucker: 11, bass, vocals

* Preston Ingram: 15, guitar, drums, vocals

* Indiana Martin: 13, guitar, vocals

* Charlie Christopher: 13, guitar, keyboards, drums

* Tyler Adams: 14, guitar

* Zach Adams: 11, drums, bass, vocals

* Jacob Frix: 14, guitar

* Tyler West: 13, guitar, drums, vocals

* Kaylan Baker: 10, guitar, vocals

* Micah Ward: 7, drums

* Thad Feely: 12, drums, vocals, guitar

* Julia Sain: 18, bass

* Makayla Bennet: 15, drums, vocals

* Alicia Bowers: 12, guitar, vocals

* Alec Coffman: 15, bass, guitar, keyboards

* Alexus Murfin: 16, bass, guitar, drums, vocals

IF YOU GO

* What: Mark Ferguson's Rock Skool parking lot concert.

* When: 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31.

* Where: Mark Ferguson's music studio, 71 White St., Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.

* Admission: None, but donations suggested to raise money for equipment.

* Phone: 240-6827.

* Website: www.markfergusonmusic.com.

created on Tuesday 7/23/2013 at 10:04:21 am by Casey Phillips

modified on Thursday 7/25/2013 at 11:17:23 am by Sara Jackson

For Samantha Martin's 13-year-old daughter Indiana, guitar lessons used to be a weekly exercise in frustration.

"Her first year, she learned 'She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain.' The second year, it was 'Amazing Grace," Martin recalls. "She was just bored."

So about six weeks ago, Martin canceled Indiana's lessons and began looking for new instructors near their home in Ringgold, Ga. Her search led her to Mark Ferguson, a longtime Chattanooga guitarist who last year established a music school in a former hair salon in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.

Instead of forcing students to slog through a repertoire of centuries-old compositions and theory OVERSET FOLLOWS:exercises, however, Ferguson's Rock Skool program is built around a curriculum of rock standards.

Mendelssohn and Brahms? Try Metallica and Black Sabbath.

Like many music teachers, Ferguson incorporate recitals into his program, but instead of recitals in church clothes in front of parents and friends, Rock Skool students are expected to regularly show off their skills by playing public gigs. Although he still emphasizes music theory and developing the fundamentals of playing, Ferguson says learning through group collaboration and live performance as "bands" is at the core of the Rock Skool experience.

"The idea of kids getting together and playing is the coolest thing in the world," he says, his voice edged with a hint of excitement that seems perpetually on the edge of boiling over.

"It's like sports teams," he continues. "They get together and practice, and then they play a game. I thought, 'Hey, music needs to be the same for these kids.'"

On July 13, just six weeks after Indiana walked through Ferguson's door with her Squire electric guitar in tow, she was standing in front of a crowd of about 70 people in the Teen Center of the Chattanooga Public Library downtown. There, she and an all-girl group of Rock Skool students performed The Troggs' British Invasion classic "Wild Thing."

In typical young teenager fashion, Indiana isn't the talkative type, mostly single-syllable words or brief chunks of sentence; she prefers to let the music speak for her. But her mother says she seems excited by music again, and they've both gone from banging their heads against the wall to just head banging.

"I'm in a homeschool community where everyone listens to classical, god-fearing music, and I'm the one person telling my daughter to play Led Zeppelin," Martin says, laughing.

TAKING HIS 40 LICKS

Ferguson, 47, started playing guitar at 14 and was a co-founder of Red, Hot 'N Blue, a local rockabilly group that played about 500 gigs during the late '80s and early '90s, including dates at Riverbend in 1990 and 1992.

He says he based Rock Skool on his favorite movie, "School of Rock." In the 2003 film, Jack Black portrays a down-on-his-luck singer and guitarist who mistakenly lands a job as a substitute teacher at a private school and turns a class of uptight, classically trained student musicians into a rock band.

When he saw the film, Ferguson had been teaching private lessons out of his home and at music stores for about 10 years. The film was an inspiration - he now shows it to his students during occasional school parties - and in 2008, he decided to try a similar approach by founding the first iteration of the Rock Skool at The Sound Post music store in Rossville, Ga.

A year later, however, the economic downturn hit and the store shut its doors. Ferguson says he lost about half his students and had to put the Rock Skool on the backburner for three years until he found his current location.

THIS SCHOOLHOUSE ROCKS

Walking in the new studio, the sense that it's not a typical classroom is immediate, and not just because the door is held open by a metal drum pedal wedged under the frame.

In the lobby, a radio provides a steady soundtrack of classic rock hits, from Van Halen's legendary finger-destroying solo in "Eruption" to Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train." The walls, all painted in electric blues and yellows, are lined with framed photos of Ferguson's musical heroes, from Beethoven and Tchaikovsky to Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon.

In the classroom he calls a studio, a pair of Ferguson's most senior students, 15-year-olds Alec Coffman of Chattanooga and Preston Ingram of Rossville, are set up to jam, but Ferguson suggests they migrate to the lobby so he can start Indiana's lesson.

Down the hallway, Preston finds a seat and plugs his gunmetal gray Ibanez guitar into an amp situated near a rack of books with titles such as "The Girls Guide to Rocking" and "Killer Pentatonics." Alec sits opposite him, strapping on his bass and jacking into another amp.

Both have been in the Rock Skool for four years, and they easily fall into a groove as they riff on a 12-bar blues rhythm.

Preston and Alec say the process of learning to play has been easier since they study material they're familiar with, such as Metallica's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," which they unabashedly claim to have "killed" during the library concert.

"I'm not even going to sugarcoat it. We were just rocking out," says Alec, who has won statewide awards for his performances as a classical pianist. He doesn't like to exercise that side of his musical education in the Rock Skool, though, because "it demeans the rock-ness."

Alec and Preston say they are interested in becoming part of a band and, if they do join a group, they give credit for their ability to interact with other musicians to the Rock Skool method.

"I do owe just about everything I know musically to Mark because he stuck with me and made me learn the songs, which is good," Preston says. "He taught me how to function with a band and be a band leader."

READY FOR DOWNBEAT

As Preston and Alec show off their skills to a group of parents and customers waiting in the lobby, Ferguson walks Indiana through an introduction to power chords. These, he says, will prove critical to her next recital piece, Green Day's "When I Come Around."

"I'm trying to get more girls to play lead guitar," he tells her. "I'm relying on you."

For a while, Ferguson says, the Rock Skool slowly was being taken over by girls, who outnumbered boys about 2 to 1. Now, the ratio has shifted back to being about half and half, but he's batted around the idea of showcasing another all-girl group in the future, potentially wearing pink versions of his school T-shirts, an idea Indiana vigorously shakes her head at.

Ferguson's students describe him as fun to be around, and he takes pains to endear himself to them, from creating amusing acronyms that make memorizing chord sequences easier, to issuing instructions in a gruff voice that sounds like he's channeling Professor Cookie Monster.

The Rock Skool currently boasts a roster of about 16 students, and Ferguson says he has room for another 10 or so. The difficulty, he says, is getting students in the door.

With a concept that's so foreign to traditional music instruction, he worries that the Rock Skool's novelty might actually be working against him. What parents fail to realize, Ferguson says, is that teaching music, not jamming out, is still his primary goal, even if the methods are atypical.

Just like with classical selections, students are always learning core skills as they master songs, he says, from a crucial riff in Kiss' "Rock and Roll All Nite" that appears in many other songs to wrapping their minds around bar chords through The Beatles' "Day Tripper."

Once they come in the doors and experience the program for themselves, Ferguson says, students almost always seem to fall for his approach, which places equal value on fun and cooperation as on scales and intonation.

"It's a fun thing to be a part of. That's what I believe in," he says. "It makes it fun for me. I hate a boring lesson."

Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.com