I worked with Sandy for two years in both individual and group teaching situations, and he made a huge difference in helping me make the transition from beginner to intermediate-level player. Sandy teaches in a patient and methodical way, punctuated by lots of good humor. I’ve had several banjo teachers over the years, and he’s by far the best of the bunch. I would recommend him without hesitation.
- Alex Wright, Brooklyn, NY
Sandy is a ‘musicians’ teacher & mentor. Most importantly – he shows you ‘how’ to learn to play an instrument. The fact that he has played & gigged professionally is a huge plus. Very well organized and attentive. The fact that he can play so many instruments is a key factor. His lessons are well beyond the typical music teacher and well worth the investment. He taught me Bluegrass banjo, Oldtime clawhammer banjo, acoustic bass, guitar. Still learning!
- R. Hilbert, Commercial and Residential Contractor, New York City
Sandy Israel of the Stetson Ridge Music School has left Brooklyn and landed in sunny California. Our loss is your gain. Sandy is a multi-instrumental tour-de-force. He specializes in playing the banjo and also is a marvelous guitarist, but is comfortable with a number of other instruments as well. Being a talented musician does not necessarily make a man a good teacher. That requires totally different skill sets. Sandy has them all in spades. He can teach a beginner from the ground up or much more advanced musicians. Sandy is cheerful and understanding. Somehow he manages to make the student feel safe to learn new techniques. Since all learning involves building blocks, Sandy has books he wrote himself that support each of the lessons he gives his students. This makes practice at home much easier than it otherwise would be. As a student who was about 60 years old when I started with Sandy, I can attest that it is never too late to take up something new. But, young or old, I hope you will find your way to his school. I recommend him without reservation to anyone who dreams of playing great music.
- M. Rix, Senior Trial Attorney, City of NY
I studied banjo with Sandy for almost five years. I had never played a stringed instrument before coming to Sandy, but he had me playing songs within the first few weeks. Sandy was very flexible as a teacher: he made sure that I mastered all of the technical details of playing, but he built our lessons around my own musical interests. I love banjo, but I am not strictly a bluegrass fan, so we spent hours transcribing some of my favorite Grateful Dead songs to play on the banjo. Sandy has an extensive knowledge of music and his curriculum is entirely his own. It helps that he can play and teach many other instruments as well: he gave me a few guitar lessons so I could get a sense of how a banjo and a guitar could accompany each other. Thinking back over those five years, it’s hard for me to sum up everything we did, but he helped nurture my love of the banjo and cultivate my own approach to playing. He’s a terrific teacher and I would recommend his classes to anyone who was interested in learning to play (or learning to play better).
- M. Hastings, Educational Software Designer, NYC
I bought my first banjo in hopes of teaching myself a bit, just for some fun. I was very lucky to meet Sandy Israel at a bluegrass gig he was playing, just a few weeks later. At that meeting, I got his info and told him I would love to give lessons a try.
I had no real skills at my first lesson with him, and within a couple of weeks I was picking on a few tunes enough to actually recognize the songs! Those early lessons surely helped foster my love of playing & practicing the banjo. (Note for prospective beginner banjo students: after about 2 months of lessons I had the skills to dig into Foggy Mtn. Breakdown!!) I continued with Sandy for several years not only for the good lead breaks to songs, but also for the music theory and other banjo playing foundations he instilled along the way. He was always flexible to my very varied schedule back then. He was always very good at fielding questions, and if the answer wasn’t immediate, it almost certainly arrived the next lesson. We also never shied away from a new challenge, pushing my playing level up while avoiding material too far beyond my skills. I still use some of Sandy’s methods when learning new material on my own today.
Learning banjo with Sandy was always a comfortable atmosphere. So comfortable, in fact, that when I hired Sandy’s bluegrass band to play my wedding I got up myself and played two songs with the band, including a nice break on Foggy Mountain!
- C. Rome, NYC
As a musician, I feel lucky to have worked with Sandy. Sandy will tell you what you need to hear in the way you need to hear it. One of his great skills is assessing the musician. This is why he is so good with experienced pickers. In addition to layering instruction on top of whatever the player is already doing, Sandy will do a thorough assessment of the player’s abilities and style so that gaps get filled in. Consistent weaknesses or even instances of sub-optimal technique are quickly spotted and addressed in this way. Many musicians develop bad habits over the years because they skipped foundational aspects of their instrument. Progress can be quick when these blocks are identified and addressed. I’m fortunate to have worked with a music teacher of Sandy’s caliber. Actually, it might be more accurate to call him a music coach. If you want to perform well in the big game, you need a good coach. He gets genuinely invested in his students’ progress, and improvement becomes a team goal.
- C. Siler Guitarist, Songwriter and Journalist, Ross CA
I learned a great deal in the seven years that I took banjo lessons from Sandy. He introduced me to different musical styles and artists. He was able to adjust his teaching styles according to my abilities. He kept me interested in learning. Sandy used other instruments such as the guitar, the bass, and drums to get me to look at certain music from a different perspective. He found ways to push me and the lessons that I took with him made me a better musician.
- M. Grande, Commercial plumbing contractor, Brooklyn NY
I’m a graduating high school senior at The Branson School. Seniors at Branson got to spend the last month of our senior year working on projects, called Capstone Projects, that speak to our passions and aspirations, so I chose to write and record an EP album with my band mate, Alex, for our band, Landheads. I knew Sandy from when I had met him at the start of the school year at an event, and remembered really feeling the way he spoke about music and sensing his professionalism. So I sent Sandy an email, asking if he would be my project advisor, and he agreed. I remember the first day that I walked into that awesome music building of his and sat down to play him a song I’d written. That day changed the way I define a professional musician, because Sandy showed me what I needed to do if I wanted to sound like one, and challenged me to strive for it with tools that he equipped me with. He proved also to be an unparalleled resource for running incomplete songs past—his taste for composition is impeccable, and the suggestions he made were organic and unbiased to the fact that he is a primarily bluegrass musician. His broad range of taste in general made him an awesome force behind the project. In the making of an album, there’s really no way to go about it if you don’t have someone involved who can say exactly what needs to be said, and that’s what Sandy was for this album – he is certainly a reason for why it wound up as good as it did. If I were to do the project over again, I would have involved Sandy even more. He’s a seriously valuable resource and I would suggest his advisory to any inexperienced musician with a similar project.
- I. Mott, High School Student, Ross CA