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Guitarist Koch's music scene includes lesson at Wauwatosa school

Dec. 18, 2012

The sound of a rock guitar echoes through the hallways of St. Jude The Apostle school as Greg Koch plays Hendrix, Clapton, Queen, B.B. King and other guitar greats.

As he plays, the middle school students sit around Koch, a participant on this Monday as the latest piece of the school's Fine Arts program.

It marked the first time the musician has done a full school day on his craft, and it wasn't all in performance mode.

The idea for full-day lessons started when Koch got a call from his wife one day while he was on tour. She asked if he could fit some time between his tours to spend playing music for the students. He agreed, having done performances for the school before.

A lesson plan

He started lessons off with a history of the electric guitar, bringing in icon instruments such as a Fender Stratocaster and showing the students tricks and tips on how to play. The lessons continued to a history of the blues, juxtaposing blues legends like Otis Rush with classic rock greats like Led Zeppelin. He even had the kids make their own 12 bar blues.

"They are middle-schoolers, which are the most hormone-crazed years of doom and destruction," Koch said. "It's hard to keep them all engaged, so I try different things."

The students in Koch's class can barely sit in their seats, with some even getting up and dancing.

Many students shout out requests: "Play the Beatles!" "Play the SpongeBob song!" "Play One Direction!" The guitar's booming sound along with Koch's inclusive nature help toe the line between chaos and learning.

Class groupies

To the students, the class is something to look forward to, and in which they open up.

"People don't talk so much and someone fun comes in and you get to see a whole new side of someone, said seventh-grader Zoe Falk. "My friends who are really shy are opening up because it's fun."

David Kopriva, a sixth-grader, added that fine arts was his first class of the week and he always looks forward to it.

Koch wants simply for the students to come away as better listeners of rock music.

"Maybe some of them aren't going to appreciate it now, but they will," he said. "They'll connect the dots and say that was pretty cool. That's all you can do, plant the seeds in the minds of the youth."

His own path in music

Koch was about these kids' age when he found his way.

He picked up the guitar in eight grade after a failed attempt at playing Jimi Hendrix on the cello. An instant natural, he played his first gig nine months after picking up a guitar.

After going to school at Steven's Point, Koch started to play the music scene in Milwaukee.

While he working at a local music store, a few representatives from the guitar brand Fender came in. Koch told them to come to his show, and they apparently liked what they saw and heard. He was signed to their label shortly after.

Koch has done international tours, playing Fender-sanctioned concerts all over Europe. He was also signed to legendary guitarist Steve Vai's Favored Nations label, worked on several Hal Leonard books and has recorded 2,000 guitar showcase videos.

When he's not touring, helping teach, recording videos or writing books, Koch is working with local musicians on a blues album. He's recorded 50 songs with John Sieger from Semi-Twang and other local musicians for an upcoming project.

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