Learn to play the Viper way

About a week-and-a-half ago, I took the plunge into ensuring my ukulele kung fu legacy by posting an ad to Craigslist, Milwaukee offering “Guitar, ukulele, mandolin lessons” at what are, I must say, very reasonable rates. I have received a smattering of replies, but so far nothing definite (though I have been busy learning Hannah Montana’s “Fly on the Wall” in preparation for one possibility).

If you’re in Milwaukee, and want to learn to play the Viper way*, give me a ring. Here’s the text of the ad, as I just reposted it earlier this afternoon. As you’ll see, I tempt would-be students with free mp3 samples of my playing in action. Feel free to sample yourself!


Do you play a stringed instrument? Want to?

Challenge your playing by working with a teacher who can draw on more than 25 years of professional performance experience in rock, country, traditional jazz, bluegrass, jug, and other old time styles.

I can help you develop your skills and a broader sense of music theory on acoustic or electric guitar, ukulele, mandolin or, really, any instrument that you can pluck or strum. (And some you can’t — I’ve provided audio examples of my playing on various instruments below.)

I am willing to teach all levels, but am especially suited to working with intermediate-level musicians seeking to become competent on unfamiliar instruments or in unfamiliar styles (e.g., are you a metal shredder who wants to play in a traditional bluegrass band?). I can also help you learn to better accompany yourself as a singer or songwriter.

My rates are $20 for a half-hour session, $30 for an hour, or $45 for sessions up to two hours long. I am located in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Milwaukee, and am willing (within reason) to travel to meet you. Call me at 414-231-3148 and stop letting that instrument collect dust.


Feel free to right-click and download any of these mp3 files.

  • Mandolin – “Heyse Latke Kalte Latke” / “Jerusalem Ridge”This is a klezmer original semi-instrumental paired with a bluegrass standard by Bill Monroe. You’re hearing me play the lead on a Turkish-manufactured mandolin with a banjo body. The band I’m playing with is Maryland’s own Paint Branch Ramblers, caught in rehearsal.
  • Baritone ukulele – “Pennies from Heaven”Solo instrumental performance in a kind of cocktail-bar-jazz style on this pop standard. A baritone ukulele is tuned like the top four strings of a guitar (D-G-B-E) and learning how to play it is a relatively painless transition for most guitarists.
  • Electric guitar, baritone ukulele, and yodeling – “Last Call Waltz”Another original semi-instrumental in a loose honky-tonk waltz style. Wait for the bridge to hear the electric guitar (about halfway through). And, yes, I can teach you how to yodel. The band is an Illinois supergroup drawn from members of Tangleweed, the Kennett Brothers, the Corn Likkers, and the Viper and His Famous Orchestra.
  • Banjo ukulele and jug – “Everybody’s Truckin'”Ukulele accompaniment (and some singing in the middle – that’s me on the hi-de-hos) on this traditional jazz / western swing standard. Listen for the uke, jug, and comb trio in the middle, brought to you by the magic of multi-track recording. The band is the Paint Branch Ramblers.

* Incidentally, this way of framing my pitch (not the one I use in the ad itself) is taken from a famous accordion teacher in Madison, Wisconsin, on whose estate sale I worked as a young handyman for the Bethel Resale Shop in the early 1990s. His name was Rudy Burkhalter, and along with the dozens of accordions he left behind, there were piles and piles of flyers featuring a bespectacled, crew-cutted, pre-teen with a piano accordion and the invitiation to “Learn to Play the Burkhalter Way.”

I just looked him up, and it appears that there is still an annual “Rudy Burkhalter Memorial Accordion Jamboree,” last spotted at the Oregon High School Performing Arts Center in Oregon, Wisconsin (just outside of Madison). As this site notes:

Rudy Burkhalter (1911 – 1994), an immigrant from Basel, Switzerland and the upper Midwest’s foremost Swiss-American traditional musician, opened an accordion school in 1938 with his wife, Frances, teaching throughout south-central Wisconsin. Once a week, the two would travel to Monroe, New Glarus, Darlington, Dodgeville, Watertown, Beaver Dam, Richland Center, Reedsburg and Baraboo, advertising two months of free lessons as well as furnishing the accordion. Eventually teaching up to 500 students per week, with classes of 20 to 40 students, countless people in Green County learned to play the instrument.

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