South Charlotte

For those about to rock - he salutes you

At 14 years old, Ryan Bale knows more about classic rock than most people his parent's age.

On his list of musical inspirations, it's not Justin Beiber or Rihanna who made the cut but Led Zeppelin and the Beatles.

He doesn't have a high opinion of current music.

"It doesn't take any real talent," said Ryan. "It doesn't have any emotion. There's nothing to it; it's only made to sell."

It was his father who introduced Ryan to classic rock, particularly Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin; it was the spirit of rock 'n' roll that inspired the teenager to begin guitar lessons.

Ryan, now in the 8th grade, was 11 and had just started sixth grade at Community House Middle School when he took his first music lesson. After a year of learning scales and chords, Ryan knew he wanted more.

"I was getting pretty bored, sitting in my room playing scales all day," said Ryan. "I didn't want to quit, but I just wasn't inspired."

Ryan's mom, Andrea, saw an advertisement for the School of Rock and knew it would be the perfect step up for her son. He went for a trial lesson and never looked back.

"He was hooked," said Andrea. "Before, we had a hard time trying to make him practice. Now we have a hard time making him stop."

The School of Rock, which opened two years ago inside Sam Ash Music on Tyvola Road, has 100 students enrolled, ranging in age from 7-18. Most recently, they've enrolled a 5-year-old into the beginner program.

Ryan has been enrolled for two years. As an entry-level student, he was nervous about performing. He took Rock 101, the school's beginner program and has advanced to the Show Team, a program for the most advanced students.

"You get to hang out with friends and play great music," said Ryan. The School of Rock "gives us exposure to music and makes us comfortable playing onstage. It's just awesome."

Every week at School of Rock, Ryan has regular rehearsal for three hours and Show Team rehearsal for two hours, on top of the time he spends practicing with his band, Abstraction. Between rehearsals, Ryan fits in school, homework and down time.

He said it gets stressful, but he has learned to manage his time well. "I try and do extra work a few days a week, so on the days I'm rehearsing, I can relax a little."

Jill Livik, general manager at the School of Rock, said she's seen a change in Ryan since he first enrolled.

"He was a shy kid and not a very strong player," said Livik. "Now he's a leader and helps newer players know their parts. He's talking more and is a totally different person onstage."

The School of Rock has several goals for students, but the overall aim is to have the kids have fun.

"Fun is what rock 'n' roll is all about," said Livik. "Our second goal is to give them the best music education possible. Sometimes - this area being so sports oriented - music is hard to come by."

Livik said parent involvement is a huge part of the school's success.

"Music is not always an easy sell to mom and dad," said Livik, "but here, the parents see their kids improving and want to get involved."

That improvement, Livik said, is not just limited to the students' musical abilities.

"A lot of parents come to me saying that their kid's grades have improved and that they are more outgoing at school since being here," said Livik. "When you find something you're passionate about and pursue it, a lot of things fall together in your life."

Andrea Bale said she has seen a great improvement in her son since he enrolled. "To see him onstage playing a solo, it makes me cry," she said. "He just has so much confidence now."

Most recently, Ryan has played with the School of Rock Show Team at the Music 4 More charity fundraiser. The nonprofit Music 4 More travels across the country raising money for music programs in schools. The Charlotte event, held Nov. 6 at the Double Door Inn, was one of Ryan's favorite performances.

"If it wasn't for the School of Rock, we would never have these kinds of opportunities," said Ryan. "It was such a cool experience. I've played a lot of gigs now, but Double Door is legendary."

Ryan said if he had any advice for aspiring musicians, it would be to practice.

"It's just like anything you do," he said. "The more you practice, the better you'll get. At first, you don't want to practice. Then you want to practice, then you need to practice, and then you'll be like me - if you don't practice, you'll explode."

Ryan has no solid plans for the future, but he knows one thing: he wants to play music. He admits he worries about the prospects of being a professional musician.

"Sometimes it's not the greatest-paying thing, so I might want to get a job," he said, "but I'll play music forever."