The Brooklyn Paper: String and tonic! Slopers teach boozy music lessons

BY MAX JAEGER The Brooklyn Paper

Photo by Elizabeth Graham Teacher’s helper: Music instructors Ginger Dolden and Pete Lanctot give their adult students a drink or two to help them loosen up.

Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Teacher’s helper: Music instructors Ginger Dolden and Pete Lanctot give their adult students a drink or two to help them loosen up.

Always wanted to learn a musical instrument, but held back by stage fright? Try a little liquid courage.

A pair of Park Slope music teachers are helping their adult students allay first-timer jitters by pairing beginner guitar and violin lessons with alcohol. Instead of starting lessons with scales or chords, string ticklers Pete Lanctot and Ginger Dolden kick off their Booze Violin and Booze Guitar group classes by pouring their pupils a drink or two.

“You have all these inhibitions when you first start, and it’s really hard for people to relax,” said Lanctot, a certified music teacher and faculty member at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music in Park Slope. “We figured if we tied in booze somehow would make a fun environment.”

But the hooch is as much a social lubricant as a creative one, and serving drinks is also about helping students in a group class open up to one another, Dolden said.

“It’s a lonely process if you’re embarking on trying to play an instrument as an adult,” she said. “Having a community is key if you’re trying to started.”

The duo teaches the liquored-up lessons to groups of 10–15 adults over an eight-week semester at their Navy Yard studio. The course culminates in a recital performance at a local music venue — in years past, the classes have performed at Littlefield and Shapeshifter Lab in Gowanus, Lanctot said.

When they’re not rocking Brooklyn bars, Lanctot and Dolden also give private lessons. But they added three “booze” classes to their repertoire in 2013 to reach more people, they said. The lessons were such a hit, the duo is now accepting enrollments for three ginned-up guitar classes and eight vino-imbued violin classes this fall. Students can choose from weekday evening or weekend afternoon time slots for the one-hour sessions, and can bring their own axe or rent one.

A former violin student said the classes provided a comfortable environment for picking up what is often considered a tough-to-learn instrument.

“The group lessons are actually a lot of fun — there’s not as much attention on you so you can relax a little,” said past student Emily Gref, who lives in Kensington. “Of course, the drinks help with that.”

Booze Violin and Booze Guitar courses run Sept. 20 to Nov. 13. Visit to sign up. $200.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at or by calling (718) 260-8303. Follow him on Twitter @MJaeger88.

Fort Greene Focus Q+A with Ginger Dolden

Bantam Studios Introduces Year Two Of Booze Violin & Guitar Classes


You’ve probably heard of drink and draw events–but what about music classes? Ahead of Bantam Studios kicking off their second year of Booze Violin and Booze Guitar courses, we spoke to instructor Ginger Dolden about the Bantam crew’s background in music and the neighborhood, plus misconceptions about adult learning, and why a “Booze” class might fulfill all your childhood dreams.

What are each of your respective musical backgrounds?

Pete and I are both classically trained violinists who studied music in college–Pete at Lehigh University, and me at the University of Minnesota. Both of us started playing violin as kids, Pete through Suzuki, and I just took traditional private lessons. Both of us play violin, viola, piano, and tenor guitar, and Pete plays guitar, tenor banjo, accordion, and mandolin as well.

As classical musicians, we’ve both played with orchestras across the country and internationally, but our primary focus now is on our own project, Pete Lanctot and the Stray Dogs. In addition to our band we play with jazz, folk and avant garde/experimental groups in Brooklyn.

How long have you been living/working in the area? What are some of your favorite places and things here?

I moved to Brooklyn in 2006 from Minneapolis and lived on Spencer and Myrtle, so I immediately was drawn into the Fort Greene/Clinton Hill area because at that time there wasn’t much in my immediately surrounding neighborhood. It was amazing to see small businesses pop up and little restaurants and bars and clubs take off. Today we love being in this area for the cultural diversity and the proximity to such a burgeoning artist scene that is brewing in the Navy Yard.

Some of our favorite places are Brooklyn Roasting CompanyMaggie BrownsDoughApple Art SuppliesBergen Bagels–wow, this list is mostly food related!–and of course places likeBAMMark Morris, and Greenlight Bookstore. I really miss places like BonitaTillie’s, and Ropethat were so present when I actually lived in the neighborhood.

How long ago did you start the studio? Why call it Bantam?

Bantam Studios was born in 2012 and we’re still in our original location on Hall Street. We named the studio “Bantam Studios” after the breed of chicken because they’re small and scrappy. From Wikipedia: “Old English bantam roosters were commonly used for fighting in Europe. They were smaller and faster than normal roosters used previously.”

How did the Booze Violin idea come about?

Mostly it came about because we have often been approached by friends/parents of our young students/people who see us carrying violins about classes for adults. We occasionally got an adult student for private lessons but truthfully, the process of taking on an instrument as an adult is not only daunting but a very lonely and isolated path.

Booze Violin seemed like a good solution for that–having the drinks keeps the atmosphere casual and social, and the group setting is great for staying motivated.

We also ran our first session of Booze Guitar this spring, and we’re so excited to continue with it this fall. Booze guitar is taught by Pete and an amazing guitarist named Adam Brisbin. Alsohowaboutwe offers a Booze Guitar date where couples can come in and try a group class once as a date!


How has the addition of adult beverages impacted your classes?

It’s funny, the class title really sets the tone for a potential student. It lets them know that it’s not going to be intense and scary but as I said before, social and fun. Violin has such a big stigma for being very difficult or unapproachable after childhood. A big part of the class is breaking down those notions and reminding everyone that music is fun, it’s social, it’s a way to express yourself, and it’s for everyone. We find that just the presence of beer and wine is enough to relax the environment of our class and make it more social.

Describe what the very first class might be like.

The very first class is probably the most intense, but in a good way. We like to introduce ourselves, go over our backgrounds, and talk about why we started this class and how we’ve come to this point in our careers.

Then we go around the room and ask everyone to introduce themselves and talk about why they are interested in learning the violin as an adult. The responses that we get to that question are amazing… and mostly very sad! Most people are looking to fulfill some sort of childhood longing for learning the instrument and more often than not it was a financial constraint that prevented them from achieving this as a child.

A big part of our weekly class schedule is our listening portion. Every week we start the class playing the music of a violinist and we really try to pick violinists that started late in life or came to their career highlight in an unconventional way. For our more advanced students, we feature violinists that gig regularly and come through NYC so that they can have the opportunity to see live music as well.

After introductions and listening we talk through the parts of the violin–most of our students are renters–and we talk about the procedures of how to take care of the violin that will be theirs to take home with them for the next 8 weeks. Then we show them how to stand and hold the violin. It’s pretty slow moving at first because physically, holding a violin uses many muscles in new ways and it takes a while to form the muscle memory and control.

Are there any misconceptions about learning an instrument as an adult?

There are so many misconceptions about learning an instrument as an adult, and usually it’s that people won’t be successful. People all learn very differently, we’ve found out. With our kids we can break information down into bite-sized bits and give it to them one at a time. Most kids are pretty okay with that, and when it’s presented in a game form, often they don’t know that they’re actually learning.

Adults are so different. At this point in our lives, we’ve all developed how we learn things, and in most cases we all like to see the bigger picture first and then know the steps to attain it. Some adults learn very well aurally, but some definitely need visuals to complete their picture. We really have taken a lot of this into how we’ve developed our curriculum so that we can give bigger picture goals but still break it down into the bite-sized pieces without it seeming too tedious.

We spend about 4 weeks of the class just becoming acclimated with holding the instrument, and letting people know that what they’re doing is okay! I think violins are often viewed as “precious,” which they are, but they aren’t as fragile as one would think! They’re meant to be handled and played! Once we tear down that curtain, people start to open up and get used to the idea that they’re able to try stuff out without breaking the instrument.

We don’t expect anyone in our class to read music at first; Beginner I and Beginner II both learn their recital pieces by ear and demonstration, and just show and the musical notation and concepts along side. By Intermediate, we start putting the concepts together and have the students start reading music.

Lastly, we really try to emphasize that music is really part of our daily lives and can be fun and a form of expression. If you don’t get to be as good as Joshua Bell, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy playing the violin. Even in our own projects and as side-man musicians we strongly believe that the right feel or vibe will trump perfection any day.

What’s your ultimate goal or hope in teaching your Booze class students?

The greatest part of this class is that we’re able to reach such a wide range of people and for many of them, we’re helping them achieve something that they never thought would be possible and we want to continue to do that. We’ve structured the class to be inviting, fun, very inexpensive, and very accessible because we want to let everyone know that they can at least try to play the instrument and have an opportunity–for many it’s their first–to perform in front of their friends or family.

We want to continue to spread the word that violin is a fun and beautiful instrument that can be played and enjoyed without years and years of training and that a lot of people start introducing music into their lives later on and just because it isn’t already a part of you life doesn’t mean that it can’t be.

We’ve gotten so much more out of this first year than we could have ever expected. Last fall when we started with two sold out classes, we never thought we would be offering 11 this fall. I hope that we can continue to grow our community, which is just lovely! Our students are amazing people with amazing stories and experiences, and my personal goal is to foster that community and grow it as much as possible.

Think a Booze course with Bantam might be the right fit for you? Check out their class options and details, and sign up ASAP–the first 25 new registrations for the fall season get a free Bantam Studios tote designed by Ginger herself. Bows in hand and bottoms up!