Chris O'Brien, owner of the Music4Lyfe school in Lake Worth Beach.
Photo by Regina Campbell.
Lake Worth Beach-based music instructor Chris O’Brien worked at several Palm Beach County public schools and the Lake Worth Beach branch of School of Rock for a decade starting in 2009.
What the studious Delray Beach native and resident learned most was that the wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented to instruct 5- to 18-year-olds in how to be competent musicians, only occasionally recalibrated.
So the longtime player/teacher, who can perform and tutor as a singing guitarist, wind instrumentalist, bassist and drummer, decided to open his own learning institution, Music4Lyfe.
“Before, it always seemed like I was micromanaged in everything I was doing,” O’Brien says. “I didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t just open a music school myself.”
Starting in Delray Beach, Music4Lyfe relocated to Lake Worth Beach when an opportunity arose to fill the third floor of the Church by the Glades.
Unfortunately, the move coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in virtual lessons and rehearsals that have since returned to in person.
O’Brien’s business model may be similar to School of Rock, which teaches students through high school at multiple area locations, but there are subtle to significant differences.
“School of Rock rotates learning individual songs through their students too quickly,” O’Brien says. “They have trouble retaining the information. Here, they have up to 25 songs to catalog, learn and master, and they can switch instruments if necessary. We encourage students to learn every instrumental part on a song and to sing, which helps them learn the relevance of pitch and avoid stage fright.”
The 5- to 11-year-olds usually start by learning simpler pop tunes by the likes of Weezer and Sublime, graduate to more nuanced material like The Beatles and Tom Petty, and finally tackle more rhythmic, complex Foo Fighters or Led Zeppelin songs when they reach ensembles for 12- to 18-year-olds.
Music4Lyfe’s biggest success story thus far is the all-female Beautiful Disaster, a frequent area performer. Current student bands include the metal-leaning Maximum Friction, all-female trio Fallout, and the advanced quartet Ripped Jorts, which is now writing original material.
Music4Lyfe's student trio Fallout.
Photo by Regina Campbell.
O’Brien leads his students by example. Returning to Palm Beach County with a music degree from Florida State University, he started teaching and joined the popular originals-and-covers Boynton Beach rock/funk/reggae group The People UpSstairs as a saxophonist. Thirteen years later, he’s still with the veteran quintet, as well as the band J# (or J Sharp).
At Music4Lyfe, instructors such as guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Zack Hechler, multi-instrumentalist Kodi McKean, vocalist/bassist Bill Brutus and percussionist Harley Galeano teach hour-long lessons, mostly during afternoon and evening hours, and aid in weekly two-hour group rehearsals and occasional live performances for the young students.
On the expansive third floor of the church, O’Brien has two lighted sound stages, where student and adult Music4Lyfe acts perform on open mic nights, usually on the first Friday of every other month.
Whiteboards list the names of students with their groups and instruments, artists, and songs to learn and perform. Those boards include other songs by artists ranging from vintage (Sly & the Family Stone, Creedence Clearwater Revival) to more recent (Green Day, The Weeknd).
More than a half-dozen practice rooms are filled with drum sets, guitars, basses, percussion instruments, keyboards, horns and amplifiers, and there are new sound-baffled audio and green-screened video rooms. O’Brien plans to use those to capture performances for instruction, marketing and recordings.
O’Brien’s pricing also is popular.
“I’m not charging an arm and a leg,” he says. “It’s currently $250 per month per student, which equates to $60 for a week of lessons, with no charge for band practices and to participate in live gigs, plus an additional $10 a month for things like guitar strings, drumsticks and drum heads. I may have to bump that charge up by the end of this year, but that’ll only jump to $300.”
Music4Lyfe is in the Church by the Glades at 127 S. M St. in Lake Worth Beach (561-212-6250). For further information, visit www.music4lyfe.org.