Meet Our Teaching Faculty

San Francisco’s Best Music Teachers & Educators

 

Our Team, One Commitment

Our faculty is deeply committed to teaching as a profession, dedicated to helping students meet their unique goals.

Blue Bear teachers also work as musicians, expert in their individual crafts, with significant experience in the music industry.

Teacher Bios

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Derek Barber

Derek Barber is a Bay Area-based guitarist, songwriter, and music educator. In 2008, Barber graduated from the University of Michigan with a BFA in Jazz Improvisation in Guitar. On a full-ride scholarship to the University’s School of Music, he studied privately with internationally-acclaimed Jazz musicians/educators Geri Allen and Robert Hurst. There, he honed his improvisation, transcription, and music theory – skills he brings to his musical pursuits as well as to his fifteen-plus years of teaching.
An active contributor and member of critically acclaimed Bay Area bands Bells Atlas, Astronauts, etc., Barber’s solo project is Perhapsy.  He is also a sought-after session guitarist, with recording credits at Tiny Telephone Studios, Fantasy, Decibelle, and several others. Aside from his experience in teaching, music composition, recording, editing, and mixing, Barber is also a regularly hired visual artist.
He believes in a cheerful and professional attitude towards teaching his students and is a firm believer that music and art is a truly exciting and life-long pursuit.  Derek teaches private lessons in guitar, bass, and ukulele. Request a lesson with Derek.

Stellar songwriting with some especially gorgeous guitar work from Derek Barber.
– Premier Guitar Magazine
Derek Barber’s guitar work flits from jagged edges to smooth licks like vogue.
– AFROPUNK

Kent Brown

Kent Brown was a professional actor, singer, and guitarist in Atlanta and the Southeast for 11 years. Kent’s musical career started at age five when his dad taught him how to play the riff to “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” He was quite proud of his newfound skill and wanted to show it off, which he did soon after at show-and-tell in kindergarten. When he tried to tell his audience that he also wrote the song, his fraudulence was quickly exposed by the school’s music teacher, who was also in attendance. That was Kent’s first and last attempt at plagiarism, he is proud to say.
 
Since those scandalous days, Kent has performed with a number of cover bands and original bands of all genres.  An instructor at Blue Bear since 2000, Kent teaches group lessons in all levels of acoustic guitar as well as private lessons in acoustic and electric guitar, ukulele, and bass.
 
What students are saying:
  • “Prior to his class, I had never touched a guitar. I joined as a student in my mid-30s, and Kent’s patience and natural ability to teach (any level) have proven to be my musical lighthouse.” – David K.
  • “From the beginning, Kent has listened to my aspirations, and my lessons have been based on my specific goals. Not only is he is a highly skilled musician, Kent is a fantastic teacher!” – Alicia C.
  • “Learning to play a new instrument as an adult can be intimidating, but Kent creates a very relaxed and supportive environment that makes learning fun and enjoyable. With his tips and tricks, I was able to play my favorite songs in just a few months!” – Jaclyn H.
  • “He is an outstanding teacher: extremely skilled with an enormous breadth of experience; fun and engaging; patient and encouraging.” – Jeremy K.
  • “Kent takes the time to explain everything in plain language so that the whole class understands. He focuses each week’s lesson around a song that incorporates a new chord or technique (usually music that most people know – Beatles, Stones, REM, Pixies, Eagles, etc) which I find is a great way to learn.” – Dan S.
  • “With all the knowledge I have learned from Kent, I have been able to write my own songs and play at open mic. I highly recommend you study guitar with him.” – Yuchun C.

Randy Clark

Randy Clark arrived on the West Coast in the early 1990s after completing a music degree from Ithaca College.  He has since taught hundreds of students in the studios at Haight Ashbury Music and at Blue Bear.  He is also the founder of Crowsong, which has released three critically acclaimed records. Surf guru Phil Dirt gave the instrumental album Eternal five stars, calling it “… lush Surfadelic music in the grand tradition.” “Tribal drums, rising thunder…dramatic and commanding…Superb!” writes REVERB CENTRAL, SURF’S UP KFJC 89.7FM. Clark has been called “a master guitarist with a slide style to envy, a vibrato that melts butter, one of the sweetest tones since Ry Cooder and the chops and flash of Blow By Blow Jeff Beck” (Al Muzer, Aquarian Weekly).
 
Clark has played and recorded with The Mermen, The Billy Nayer Show, Oscar Brown Jr. and many others, and has worked with producer Jeffrey Wood at Berkeley’s Fantasy Studios (Hank Williams III, X, Giant Sand).  He has composed film scores for independent festivals in Chicago and San Francisco, contributed music to the Save the Waves Foundation’s documentary Lost Jewel of the Pacific, and worked on many other independent films.  Clark is the author of The Alternative Guitar Chord Book (1996), as well as a series of columns for Guitar Player magazine.  Learn more about Randy at crowsong.com.  Randy teaches private lessons and group classes.
 
What students are saying:
  • “Randy Clark is an EXCELLENT slide guitarist and fingerpicker. His technique is pristine and his attention to detail when teaching is awesome. Because of this, if you practice, you can become an excellent slide and/or fingerpicking guitarist in NO TIME!” – Riz A.

Imam Hamdani

Imam Hamdani is a Bay Area-based guitarist, producer, and music educator. In 2018, Imam graduated from Berklee College of Music with a BA in Contemporary Writing and Production. While at Berklee he was selected as one of five guitar players to perform at Berklee’s Guitar Showcase. Since then, Imam toured with Boston Music Award winner Ali Mcguirk and performed with acts such as Binky Griptite & Orchestra and BT ALC BIG BAND to name a few.
Imam is also a Composer. In 2018 he worked with Nathan Barr, composer for the TV show The Americans, and since has scored multiple short films and documentaries. He currently works for BoomBox Sound as a freelance composer.  
Currently, Imam is leading his project Imam Collective while studying Indian Classical Music at the Ali Akbar College of Music in San Rafael. 
Imam teaches private lessons in guitar, bass, and ukulele.

Rick Harrell

Rick Harrell has been a voice and guitar teacher in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.  He currently serves as the Founding Director of Heroes’ Voices, a nonprofit service organization for veterans. Rick leads therapeutic singing and guitar music workshops for veterans with PTSD and other challenges.
 
Rick teaches singers in many genres including classical, folk, rock, country, and Musical Theater. He has been a voice teacher and guest Master Class instructor at universities and training programs including Yale, Indiana University, Chautauqua Institution, Loyola University, Mannes School of Music, University of Richmond, Virginia State University, and the University of Florida.
 
Recently a music professor at City College of San Francisco, Rick has served as Director of the Juilliard Department of Vocal Arts, Director of the San Francisco Opera Center, Head of Faculty for the Opera Training Program of the New National Theatre in Tokyo, Director of the Opera Program for the San Francisco Conservatory, Artistic Consultant and Principal Stage Director for the Bangkok Opera, and senior faculty for the Opera Studio of the Netherlands.
 
Rick performed as a baritone soloist with such companies as Lincoln Center Theatre Company, La Scala, Vienna State Opera, Washington Opera, Baltimore Opera, Fort Worth Opera, Opera Omaha, New Jersey Symphony, Richmond Symphony, and National Symphony. He recorded the role of Bernardo on the album West Side Story conducted by Leonard Bernstein and is featured on the recording of Bernstein’s last opera, A Quiet Place
 
A frequent judge for vocal competitions, he annually adjudicates for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Originally from Oklahoma, Rick grew up in northern Virginia, attended college in Washington, D.C. and New York City, and has lived for many years in San Francisco.  Rick teaches group classes and private lessons in voice and guitar.

Sean Leahy

Berklee College of Music grad Sean Leahy has toured the States and Europe with Kofy Brown, Red Archibald, Marginal Prophets, Boomshanka, Four Year Bender, Guitarmageddon and London Street.  An experienced guitar teacher, Sean released his first solo project in 2008.  Learn more at seanleahymusic.com.  Sean teaches private lessons and band workshops.
 
What students are saying:
  • “Sean is one of the nicest people you will ever meet and he knows how to teach music on the fly. He can quickly strip down complicated songs, whether it’s keys, rhythm and lead guitar parts, or the back up singer’s note, and have you sounding good within the first day of playing with your new band.” – Brett O.

Francesca Lee

Francesca Lee graduated from Sir Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute For Performing Arts (Music) in 2002 majoring in pop vocal performance and songwriting with disciplines in both guitar and keyboard.  She is best known for her soulful/sultry vocals and music that merges styles of Folk, Pop, Blues, and Jazz.
 
During her residency in the U.K., Francesca performed as a backup singer for the popular televised awards show, The Top of the Pop Awards at The Manchester Arena alongside artists like Nellie Furtado, Tom Jones, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, Kylie Minogue, Wyclef, and Travis.  She was also featured in a pilot episode for the MTV Networks show (The Real World).  She recorded her first debut independent album with Scottish Sony recording artist Sandi Thom, who later topped the Billboard charts in the U.K. with her song “I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker.”
 
In 2004 she moved to San Francisco and established herself in the Bay Area music scene as a singer-songwriter.  A top ten regional finalist in The Lilith Fair Talent Search through Ourstage.com, songs from her album The Pieces Left, produced by Michael Winger, Executive Director for NARAS (The Grammys), was featured on KFOG’S LOCAL Scene Vol. 6 and Songwriters Unplugged-Live at Yoshi’s.
 
She has been working as a professional musician in The Bay Area since 2004 and has been a staff show producer for Bread & Roses Presents since 2010.  She is passionate about guiding students on how to discover their own unique sound, carve out their niche, and how to develop their craft as singer-songwriters.  She has also served as a previous judge for West Coast Songwriter’s monthly songwriting showcase & competition.
 
Francesca teaches private lessons and group classes.

J.T. Locke

J.T. Locke has been playing guitar, writing and arranging songs for over 25 years. He has recorded and performed across the country for over ten years and has taught professionally since 2007.  J.T. trained at the PCC Music program in Portland and M.I.T in Los Angeles. He has played, performed, and recorded with many great musicians, including The Wildhearts, Genitortures, Gilby Clarke (GNR), Dizzy Reed (GNR), CC Deville (Poison), Ryan Roxie (Alice Cooper), Slim Jim Phantom (The Stray Cats), Greg D’Angelo (White Lion), Dee Dee Ramone (The Ramones), Guttermouth, Eric Dover (Jellyfish), Rex Brown (Pantera), and Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath).
 
J.T. has given private instruction and personal tutoring to students of all ages in rock, jazz, classical, blues, metal, pop, and other styles, on both guitar and bass.  He has developed and worked with lots of youth programs, helping students create, learn and perform all types of music.  Teaching levels range from beginner to advanced.  He has had great success teaching songwriting and composition, and also instructs students how to utilize their own ear for training.  Each student learns all the tools, techniques, and theory to help write and create.  This allows each student to maximize their own potential and develop their own style.
 
His current band is Deathtrap America, which is recording their next album and performing all over the Bay Area.  J.T. teaches private lessons in guitar, bass, and ukulele, group classes, summer camps, and is Co-Director of Blue Bear’s All Star Band program.
 
What students are saying:
  • “J.T. has been awesome to work with! Part drill sergeant, cheerleader, spiritual guru, fashion police and now great friend he has given me musical knowledge and ability way beyond my expectations!” – Alan N.

Elias Mathus

Elías Mathus is a multi-instrumentalist who was born and raised in the Bay Area.  He started playing guitar and bass at eight years of age; as he got older he added drums and piano and as many other instruments as he could.  He has played at the Chapel, Bottom of the Hill, the Fillmore, and many other venues in the Bay Area.  He loves many genres of music, but he’s most known for playing metal, punk, and jazz.  Elias teaches private lessons in guitar, bass, ukulele, and drums, and is also a summer camp instructor.

ab Menon

ab Menon started playing music at a young age and graduated from Sonoma State University with a B.M. in Jazz Studies and Applied Music.  He teaches guitar and has experience performing in groups ranging from New Orleans jazz to progressive rock to R&B.  Currently he plays with Soul Glitch, a live interpretation of EDM-inspired conscious pop while also freelancing as a jazz guitarist.  Some of ab’s notable performances include the Philadelphia Folk Festivals (’16 and ’18), the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival (’17 and ’18), and the Strawberry Music Festival (’15 and ’16). 
 
ab’s teaching philosophy is based on Victor Lin’s doctoral dissertation, “Practice makes personal: A study of the formative experiences of jazz pianists.”  Lin studied five great jazz pianists from different generations and his findings can be distilled into four two-sided points that make an excellent guide for any musician.
 
1. Playing by ear & reading
2. Social listening & individual study of recordings
3. Frequent, low-stakes performance (club dates, jam sessions) & infrequent high-stakes performance (recitals)
4. Casual social playing (the hang and jam) & individual practice
 
ab’s approach to teaching uses material that students are interested in as a vehicle for learning about different elements of music.  He teaches online private lessons in guitar.

Richard Michos

A full-time musician since 1995, Richard Michos shares his extensive expertise of all aspects of guitar techniques with students beginning to advanced.  He has performed extensively, locally and internationally, and is an established studio player and music producer.  Originally inspired by classic rock, his education includes music composition and technology degrees from UC San Diego, and he studied jazz guitar at Berklee College of Music in Boston and with virtuoso Tuck Andress.
 
As a music producer, he has recorded albums for record labels such as Universal, Hearts of Space, Sony Music, and City of Tribes. He is well versed in music from India, as well as other world music styles. In recording, Richard specializes in fusing traditional melodic forms with modern grooves and instrumentation.  His album credits include the groups Shabaz, Georges Lammam, and Riffat Sultana (available on iTunes) who have been reviewed with stars by Billboard and highly rated on world music radio charts.  His music has also been featured on NPR, as well as in Rhythm and Folk Roots magazines. In addition, he has worked with artists including Quincy Jones, Narada Michael Walden, Richard Bona, Cheb Khaled, and has performed at venues such as the Greek Theatre LA, Montreal Jazz Festival, LA’s Grand Performances, and “We are the Future” in Rome. Richard’s solo performances display a rich tapestry of sound and influences, playing a mix of pop, international, latin, light jazz, and classic rock styles.
 
Richard is available for private lessons in guitar, ukulele, bass, and beginning piano, and also teaches group ukulele.  He enjoys teaching adult students of all levels and loves to work with kids and teenagers as well. His teaching methods include using songs that students like as a vehicle for learning about playing techniques and music structure.
 
“I love to teach music to all ages and have taught hundreds of people. Every student is different, and I can guide each toward their musical goals. I am a clear, patient, and understanding teacher who is able to meet you where you are on your musical journey, and assist you in expanding your knowledge and mastery of music and the instrument. Usually having a whole lot of fun along the way!” – Richard
 
What students are saying:
  • “Richard has been teaching my son ukulele and electric guitar for over a year. Richard is a fantastic guitar player and a great teacher. He has a knack for knowing what will keep the child interested and engaged and is willing to be flexible to make sure that his students develop a passion. My son has gone from dreading practice to not having enough hours in the day to play to his heart’s content. He now wants to be a professional guitar player!”

Kevin Mullane

Kevin Mullane graduated from Columbia College in Chicago with a B.A. in Music.  He has taught students of all ages and levels in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, focusing on the individual student’s development of the skills necessary to enjoy playing the music they love. He has been a performing musician for many years and currently plays guitar and sings lead vocals with the Bay Area bands System 9 and The Nakano Jazz Quintet.
 
Kevin teaches electric and acoustic guitar, bass guitar, voice, ukulele, and band classes, using song suggestions from students as a vehicle to learn about chords, melody, rhythm, song structure, and technique. Students can explore theory, harmony, and composition in a variety of styles, including rock, jazz, blues, soul, funk, folk, and more.  He encourages students to play music on their own, jam with friends, or perform with a band. Whether you want to pursue music professionally or simply develop your skills and have fun, Kevin offers all levels of instruction.
 

Lucia Pontoniere

A native of San Francisco, Lucia Pontoniere began playing violin at the age of 6. After pursuing classical violin seriously for 10 years, she began to explore other styles of music on the violin, including jazz, Irish, Scottish, and old-time fiddle. Lucia graduated from Berklee College of Music in 2018 with a Bachelor’s in Violin Performance and American Roots Music. During and after college she toured the country and recorded albums with her band The Ladles, a space where she began to explore writing songs and playing the guitar. Lucia teaches all styles of violin as well as guitar, voice, ukulele, songwriting, and beginner piano. She particularly likes to work with violinists who have mostly played in a classical setting and are looking to explore other styles of music. She loves teaching and her music philosophy is built upon the idea that we should always follow the spark of our creativity.

Janak Ramachandran

Janak Ramachandran has been playing guitar for the better part of two decades and teaching it for more than 15 years.  His acoustic guitar technique is designed to progressively build the skills needed to become a one-man or one-woman band.  With the use of songs specifically chosen for their instructive value, Janak’s teaching approach can take you from your first notes and chords to the complex rhythms, chord progressions and scale knowledge that can make you a complete guitar player. Electric guitar shares many skills in common with the acoustic guitar, of course, but Janak’s electric approach includes more tailored skill building with regards to both the tools of phrasing (particularly as it applies to single-note lead work) and the aesthetic variety of different chord styles.  Since Janak also teaches voice and songwriting, he is a one-stop-shop for anyone wanting to eventually sing and play together, whether learning to create their own music or interpreting the songs of others. 
 
Janak began his vocal training at the age of six and eventually studied more professionally following college in various styles including Bel Canto and Speech Level Singing.  By combining ideas from these and other vocal schools of thought (e.g., Alexander Technique), he forms his foundational vocal philosophy, upon which he layers his own technique.  He has had success coaching beginning students unable to match pitch to eventually perform on stage as well as guide professional singers in the studio when recording an album.  He has fronted (both with and without an instrument) numerous bands, performed in musicals as well as dramatic and comic stage plays, and developed an acting technique for singers and instrumentalists designed specifically for musicians performing on stage. In 2008, Janak’s band Bottoms Up! was the top cover band in a California battle of the bands competition.  His teaching credits include the children of Todd Rundgren and Linda Ronstadt as well as numerous local musicians in bands like Tainted Love and The Doorslammers, some of whom have studied with Janak for years.
 
Learn more about Janak at musiclessonguru.com and secretsofsinging.com.  Janak teaches private lessons in guitar, voice, ukulele, bass, and piano, and group voice and guitar classes at Blue Bear.
 
What students are saying:
  • “Every week is challenging, requiring lots of practice in between, but rewarding because skills that seemed impossible when they’re introduced come easily within a couple weeks. The variety and progression by which skills are introduced simply cannot be reproduced in a self-taught environment & the group setting provides the additional motivation to practice during the week. I feel fortunate to have stumbled upon Janak from the beginning and I highly recommend him to anyone similarly looking to learn guitar from the ground up!” – Forbes H.

Mike Rao

Mike Rao, a graduate of G.I.T. in Los Angeles, studied solo jazz guitar with Ted Green.  He loves blues and classic rock and has two decades of teaching experience.  Mike teaches private lessons and group classes.
 
What students are saying:
  • “I had never played guitar before starting lessons with Mike – he even had to teach me how to hold a pick! I have learned a ton from Mike over the years and still look forward to my lessons each week.” – Kathy M.
  • “Mike Rao has a style that is so patient and laid back that you don’t realize how far out he’s pushing you. Then one day it hits you that you just improvised for 16 bars, and fell right back into the rhythm so the next student can solo –on a song that, last week, you didn’t even know how to play!” –Brian G.
  • “Mike Rao has been an amazing guitar/music teacher. When I began lessons with him I was a 48-year-old non-musician. 8 years later I am playing, learning and comprehending guitar far past my wildest fantasies.” – Ian E.
  • “Year after year, Thursday nights with Mike = best hour of my week.” – Brett O.

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