Although 12-year-old Jimmy McIlvain of Darien hasn't quite mastered the guitar solo in Guns N' Roses' classic "Sweet Child of Mine," he's well on his way to becoming a rock star.
McIlvain is one several students participating in Garage Band U at the Hinsdale Conservatory of Music, where pre-teens, teens and adults learn how to perform in a rock band in the 12-week course.
"It fulfills something private lessons can't do," said Oak Forest resident James Di Girolamo, the Garage Band U teacher.
Di Girolamo came to the conservatory because the Oakbrook Academy of Music and Art closed in December. He taught Garage Band U classes at the academy as well as at Downers Grove-based Beautiful Music, which also closed in July.
Ryan Miller, director of the Hinsdale conservatory, said he was excited to have Di Girolamo start the rock band program because the other lessons are for students who play wind or brass instruments.
"I had no idea what to expect," he said. "The style of music I learn, it's almost all written down. Rock music is not written down. There's a lot of self study, self teaching."
The rehearsals are in the basement of the Hinsdale United Methodist Church where all the Conservatory lessons are held. Garage Band meets in the youth room where the five students set up equipment in the center of the room, surrounded by four red corduroy sofas and bright blue walls.
The band members choose the songs but Di Girolamo still approves the selection to make sure the group can play them well. "I run it like a real band, a democracy," he said. Their first song, "Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes, is an easier choice but helps the students learn rhythm and staying on the beat together. Di Girolamo plays a recording of the song for the students to play along with.
Vishnu Chakroborty, 9, of Darien and Hinsdale's Madeline McMahon, 9, belt out lyrics to the song. "I sang that my first year and I really liked that song," McMahon said.
Chakroborty said he's glad the group chose songs that don't involve heavy metal screaming. "It's hard to keep up when it's difficult for you to sing," he said. Their second song "Sweet Child of Mine" is trickier and will have McIlwain keeping his fingers busy practicing. He was in a band prior to Garage Band U called Below Zero with his friends from Our Lady of Peace School and played guitar solos with that group. "I played easy ones like 'Holiday' by Green Day," he said.
Katie Clemons, 14, of Willowbrook has only been playing bass for one year. She prepared for practices by printing off the chords from online and playing them in her private lessons. Garage Band U has been a positive influence on her, mainly with becoming a better bass player. "I might think about starting a band with my friends now," she said.
The program includes a live concert with all four Garage Band U bands at 1 p.m. April 11 at the Key Wester, 1975 Glacier Park Ave., Naperville. "I wanted them to do a performance at a stage with a good sound system," Di Girolamo said.
For more information about upcoming Garage Band U dates or the Hinsdale Conservatory of Music, visit learntomakemusic.com. Di Girolamo helps drummer Benjamin Dul, 13, of Downers Grove adjust his electronic drums. Dul has taken lessons wit hgarage Band before as a way to meet other teens his age because he is home-schooled.