AP Music Teacher Bob Ratcliff

‘The Garage Band Method’ – a music teacher’s how-to for starting up rock, blues bands

Jacqueline Chao
AP music teacher Bob Ratcliff

In 1997 “The Garage Band Method”, co-authored by Bob Ratcliff and Bill Hargrove, was published. Hargrove and Ratcliff would alternate writing certain sections of the book, send them to each other to review and then agree on a final version. The book, which was about how to teach recreational music, is still available on Amazon.


Q: When did you first have the idea for “The Garage Band Method”?

A: I had developed this teaching method while I was a student in college by playing with blues and rock musicians who had not had formal educational training. I saw the way they learned, and I just codified their process. Everybody learns in different ways, but there are some fundamental elements that I could write about.

In the early ’90s I had a student (co-author Bill Hargrove) who was a published author and a writer. He took a saxophone lesson with me, and I asked him, “What do you want to know how to do?” He told me, “I want to play in rock bands and blues bands.” As I was teaching him, he told me he had recently published a book and was looking for a new book to write.


Q: When did you start writing the book?

A: (Bill) wrote an article in Newsweek magazine, which got him some radio interviews, and people asked him to be a keynote speaker at music shops. He brought me along because he needed someone who was knowledgeable (about) music education.

Everywhere we went people said we should write the method down. That started in 1992. The book was published in 1997. In the meantime I ended up going to graduate school, so that made the writing process a little longer.


Q: What was the book about?

A: It’s a 272-page paperback about a teaching method but written in a narrative form. Much of it takes you through this student who is taking saxophone lessons and how he develops during those lessons. At the end of each chapter, there is a summary about what you learn, but the chapters themselves are written as if you were sitting there taking the lesson with me.

One of my assignments I gave all my students was to get together with other musicians and play. They always asked how do you do that. For each person I always had a way they could do that.

In the book I tell the student when he tells me he heard a garage band down the street that he should go play with them. Just play together. And so eventually he gets up the nerve to do that.

After the presentation of the teaching method, (the book) talks about other sections of music education, such as where to purchase music, instruments, where to meet people and what you’ll (eventually) want to do. It addresses a lot of different things.


Q: Do you talk about any other major concepts in the book?

A: I talk about the idea of a toolkit. Everyone has a toolkit that they use to play music. Whenever you play music, you comes with a certain amount of knowledge – that is your toolkit. The most powerful tool you can have is the ability to read music. In the book we don’t say it’s necessary to know how to read but how important it is to know how to read. I talk about all these tools. If you know your scales, good tool. If you have a good ear, that’s a tool. All of these skills make up the toolkit.


Q: Did you ever consider writing another book?

A: I started work on method books, (working with) a guitar teacher, and we had a piano teacher. But right during the publishing time, (Hargrove) died. It was a very difficult time in my life because my father had died, my sister was very sick and then (Hargrove) died. I had just finished my master’s degree and my mother was diagnosed with cancer.

I had just finished (“The Garage Band Method”), and I had television interviews and radio interviews to do. I had just played at three of my closest friends’ funerals. And then this publishing company kind of dropped (the method book) in my lap. Plus I didn’t have any money; I needed a job.

And so I pretty much spent a year taking care of my mother and taking care of my life. And then my mother passed away. I ended up moving up to Seattle, and a lot of people contacted me about doing another book and doing the method books. But I ended up taking a job (in Sacramento) and I moved down here.

My life has moved in a different direction. The book was cool, and it had a great impact on some people’s lives. A lot of them contacted me about it.


Q: Was there ever a really interesting reader who contacted you?

A: I was a guest artist at Pacific Lutheran University. They were having a jazz week. They had a couple guest artists perform, so I flew up there and did my thing.

I got on the plane to fly back to Idaho, and when I was on the plane, some guy saw my saxophone and asked what I was doing. I told him I was performing in Tacoma, and he said he had just read a great book on being a saxophone player and started asking me about some methods. I asked him the name of the book, and he said it was “The Garage Band Method.” So this guy had spent the last few minutes teaching me methods from my own book!


Q: Do you think you might ever taking up writing again?

A: Never say never. But it takes a specific type of student for me to teach (like I did in “The Garage Band Method”). Right now I’m a music educator and I believe heavily in music education. And my book is about teaching people how to play saxophone and creating recreational musicians, which I still believe strongly in.

But there is a difference between music as a subject and music as an activity. Right now I view it as an academic subject. Both have different amounts of weight. I don’t want to discount either of those, but they are two different things. As a music teacher my job is the former rather than the latter. I want my kids to enjoy music and to enjoy playing, but at the same time I don’t want to do that in place of the education.

Music education covers such a broad range of subjects. There is music history and AP Music Theory on one side; then music composition  and pedagogy; then performance; then rock band class. As a music educator you try and cover all of that. We play rock tunes in the band because rock is a type of music. We’ll use Bach chorales to warm up. We will play concert marches, classical music and jazz music, because there is a wide area of stuff.

That’s the music education. The book is about recreational activity.

—By Mehdi Lacombe

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