Lessons and Teaching

Helping others learn music is so rewarding for me. I love teaching all levels and all ages. My focus is on bluegrass, old-time, and related American folk/roots music styles, although I have some experience playing (and teaching) a bunch of other genres too.

Note: I am no longer in Santa Cruz, and I am currently not taking students at my new home in San Luis Obispo. Sorry!

Instruments I Teach

First, the ubiquitous instrument: the voice. I’m a firm believer that everyone can be a good singer, and I’ve helped many “non-singers” discover the joy of singing, often by using their instrument to aid in their singing. I also teach harmony singing.

Guitar: Possible topics include rhythm/strums, using the capo, singing with the guitar, bass lines, playing melodies and improvising, fancy left-hand techniques (hammer-ons, slides, etc.), flatpicking (a la bluegrass, Doc Watson, etc.), Carter-style picking-and-strumming, Travis-style/blues-style fingerpicking, and more.

Fiddle: Beginners, this is not your typical classical-style teacher; I’ll get you in good form, but then I like to start playing tunes right away. Beyond the basics, I can help you with bluegrass-style fiddling, old-time fiddling, or anything in-between or beyond. Chords and double stops, slides, bowing, improvising, even singing with the fiddle…I’ve taught it all.

Banjo: Yay! I have a special place in my heart for the banjo, the first stringed instrument I really focused on. Both fingerpicking (bluegrass/Scruggs style) and old-time (clawhammer/frailing) are fair game. I specialize in helping folks go beyond the basic “rolls” to incorporate the melody in their playing.

Mandolin: As with the other instruments, I like to start beginners off right away with both strumming and picking melodies. The melodies are the really fun part. I can teach you patterns that allow you to easily play chords and melodies in any key by simply moving around the fretboard. I can also cover tremelo, fills, and more.

Private Lessons

Styles I Teach

My focus is on bluegrass, old-time, and related American folk/roots music styles. See above for details on the specific instruments I teach.

I love teaching all levels! Whether you’re just starting out or perfecting your techniques, I’d be happy to help you reach your goals.

Where I Teach

I teach online lessons through Zoom and Skype. In non-pandemic times, I teach at my home in San Luis Obispo, CA.

Prices and Policies

Private lessons are $30/$45/$60 for 30/45/60 minutes. I take cash and checks, and credit cards with a 3% processing fee.

I plan my day around my lessons. If you need to reschedule a lesson, please let me know ASAP. If you have to cancel the day of the lesson, I may request that you still pay half of the lesson fee to cover my time and inconvenience. Thanks for your understanding.

About My Teaching Method

First and foremost, I try to tailor my teaching style to each individual student, by understanding exactly where they’re at and where they would like to go, and then figuring out the next step(s) to get them there. It’s great when a student comes to a lesson with an idea of what they want to learn; I can also listen to you and suggest areas to spend time on.

For beginners especially, I often use the ToneWay Method as a way of developing musical ability and understanding especially as it relates to playing music by ear. I general, I try to cultivate techniques and skills that are more internalized and not just learned “rote”.

Your First Lesson

The only thing you really must bring is your instrument. Also bring any accessories you may have: picks, tuner, capo, strap, etc. If you have a recording device, you are welcome and encouraged to record your lesson. In addition, I encourage you to take a few minutes to think about what you’d like to spend our lesson time working on. Don’t worry if nothing specific comes to mind, though. I can always think of something. 🙂

Online/Skype Lessons

I can offer private lessons to anyone in the world via Skype, using a webcam, which works surprisingly well. You can pay me via PayPal. Note, Skype is problematic for students with little prior experience on their instrument.

Classes and Music Camps

I teach occasionally at special workshops and music camps. I’ve taught at Walker Creek Music Camp, California Bluegrass Association’s Youth Academy, Cordova 4-H Music Camp, and other places. Contact me if you’re interested in having me as a teacher at a music camp, workshop, or even private group classes for your family!

Reviews and Testimonials

From a beginning guitar student of mine:

When I decided to return to the guitar after many years, by biggest goal was to learn to actually sing while playing. My first attempts at it were very frustrating, because I could not establish a beat for the song to help my singing, and I couldn’t train my brain to play and sing at the same time. After about 3 months of lessons from Luke using the ToneWay method, I found that I was actually capable of singing and playing, and that I can sound beautiful! I was introduced to some great, old American songs, that connected me to an old folk tradition that has universal appeal. I’ve also been able to appreciate listening to acoustic music more, either live or on the radio, because I can recognize some of the techniques being used. In all, taking lessons from Luke has enriched my life, and opened up a new musical world that I never thought capable of inhabiting.
—Larry Dewell

From the dad of a young Skype fiddle student:

I couldn’t be more pleased to have Luke as my daughter’s fiddle instructor. Under his guidance, she has made terrific strides in her ability. Her attention to meter and knowledge of her instrument have increased, of course, but most impressive is how they keep the lesson fun while staying focused. As she is young (9 years old), keeping it fun so that her natural love of the fiddle isn’t discouraged is terrifically important. She is proud of the results that she sees after concerted effort and loves the attention that this skill brings her way. The Skype lessons work well with our busy schedule, eliminating getting in the car and shortening the amount of time that the whole activity takes us. Keeping it easy and fun is the best route towards helping her to thrive on the fiddle and Luke is an excellent instructor towards this goal.
—Dave Haugaard

From one of my mandolin students:

Having you for an instructor has been so good for me. I have been facing learning roadblocks for years and finally have a new sense of ease around learning and playing thanks to you, your family, and ToneWay. Thank you so much!!!
—Nana Nasef

From another mando student:

I am 55 years old, took guitar lessons way back in high school and played for a year or so and not so well. Last summer I impulsively bought an antique Mandolin, took it in for repair and purchased a how-to beginner Mandolin book. Quickly became frustrated and determined that I needed help and found Luke thru Sylvan Music and the ToneWay web-site. Luke is an easy going pleasant young person and directs lessons in a positive professional manner. Luke is a talented musician and teacher! From the beginning I have had so much fun learning Mandolin! Had to then rent a modern mandolin for the ease of playing and learning and am ready to attend beginning jam sessions. It is easier and more fun to play with others. I have started experimenting with the ToneWay beginning music handbook and CD. I have learned several bluegrass ditties, lyrics, picking and strumming chords. I can pick by ear a bit too! Very fun times and I would recommend to everyone to include making music an active part of life for the sheer joy of participating! As Luke noted do not worry about how you sound when you sing, just sing and play, practice as often as possible and it comes to you. I hope to be playing with my family in the near future.

From an old-time fiddle student of mine:

I had wanted to play fiddle for years when I came to Luke for lessons. I love old time and folk music, and had been playing guitar and banjo informally for several years without a teacher. I had picked up the fiddle and been practicing for about a year on my own, and was frustrated. My strategy up until that point with all instruments had been: Learn basic chords. Pick fun songs and figure out how to play them. Avoid music theory at all costs–seems too complicated and confusing.

This worked pretty well up until a point, when I really wished I could sit down and play anything with anybody. I wanted to be able to hear a song and play along right away, instead of spending hours alone in my room with a recording on repeat, listening to the melody notes and finding them on my instrument. When I came in for lessons, I didn’t know where to begin–fortunately, Luke did!

Luke is patient, and unconditionally accepting of whatever level of experience you walk in the door with. I am comfortable making mistakes and asking him what might be embarrassingly simple questions, and he genuinely makes me realize that wherever I’m at is a perfect place to be. And when I bombard him with countless questions about seemingly different things, somehow he is able to figure out the root of my confusion and show me something simple that brings everything together.

I have noticed that many accomplished artists keep their methods secret, hoarding their talent. Fortunately, Luke is not one of these people. He is an amazing musician, and when I hear him play, I think–Yes! I want to play like that! …and so he slows down, shows me exactly what he’s doing, and gives me things to practice at my level that open the door to the next. I can’t express in words what a treasure this is.

Learning music is like learning another language, with vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, and dialects. When I started fiddle lessons, I felt like all I had were a bunch of little pieces, and so many things I wanted to be able to say, but couldn’t. With Luke’s help, I am putting the pieces together, and my world is opening up! It is exciting and invigorating, and I am so grateful to Luke and the Toneway community for offering this gift to anyone who is looking for it.