Bird instructors

Our instructors

Meet the talented group of teachers who instruct and inspire at Bird:

Dave Mihaly: Drums, Guitar, Bass, Piano, Banjo, TheoryDave Mihaly
Dave has been teaching music for 31 years, in New York, New Jersey and California.

He received a B.A. in music theory and history and a B.A. in psychology from Drew University, and studied drums and percussion privately in New York and San Francisco with Andrew Cyrille, Barry Altschul, Zakir Hussain, Jack Van der Wyck and Richard Perrini.

He also plays piano, marimba and guitar. Dave has toured the U.S, Canada, Europe and the South Seas and is featured on recordings by Iron & the Albatross, Jolie Holland, Sean Hayes, After the End of the World Coretet, and his own Shimmering Leaves. His first string quartet was played at U.C. Berkeley’s Center for New Music and Audio Technology and the S.F. musician’s union hall, and he has written for singers, jazz bands, dance bands, rock bands and other idioms.

Dave taught music in New Traditions, the Video Drums Clinic, and though the auspices of the S.F. Academy of Sciences. He has had hundreds of students from the ages of 3 through 70 and learns much through his teaching practice.
Photo: Andrew Carver

Marty Thenell: Drums, Piano, &  Guitar

Marty Thenell is enjoying a rapidly blossoming career in percussion based in San Francisco. Beginning with drumset, his studies began at age fifteen and pivoted toward concert percussion at age twenty. As an orchestral musician, he has been a guest with some of the finest musical establishments such at the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony. He has given solo performances in San Francisco, New York City, and Verbier, Switzerland. As a chamber musician, he has been a guest with the Elbtonal Percussion Quartet performing in venues as unique as the Lufthansa Maintenance Hanger at the Hamburg International Airport for an audience of 2,200. Marty has had the pleasure early in his career of touring, performing in six countries including appearances at the Munich Gastieg, Berlin Philharmonie and Kozerthaus, and Hamburg Elbphilharmonie. He has been a fellow at the festivals of Verbier, Spoleto USA, and Aspen. Marty has had the honor of sharing the stage with the world’s finest conductors such as Simon Rattle,Valery Gergiev, and Fabio Luisi. He began his music studies on drumset with John Xepoleas.

He is a graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music where he studied with Trey Wyatt and The Juilliard School where he studied with Greg Zuber, Daniel Druckman, and Billy Drummond. He has also been privileged to be mentored by Jake Nissly and Ed Stephan. Currently, Marty is teaching at the Bird School of Music in San Francisco specializing in drums, piano, and guitar.

Nikola Printz: Voice, Piano, & Ukulele

Nikola is a professional opera singer, classically trained as well as an avid performer of jazz and folk music. She hasbeen a classical musician since the tender age of 8. Having started piano lessons and later transitioned to playing organ. At 15 she began playing ukulele and mandolin. She jumpstarted m her singing career after beginning her studies in voice at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 2009.
Since then she has performed all over the Bay Area with local companies in lead roles such as Opera San Jose, Livermore Opera, West Edge Opera and West Bay opera. She also starred in and created the role of Velma Louise Cole in Boxcar Theaters immersive theater show “The Speakeasy”. She has also performed all over the country and in Hanzhou, Beijing and Suzhou with I sing Beijing.
In 2016 Nikola was a resident artist with Opera Memphis, where she also received her Artist Diploma degree in Opera performance. She now resides in San Francisco where she performs and teaches voice, piano, theater, and movement.


Thomas Graef: Piano, Guitar, Drums, Brass & Production

Originally from Tacoma, WA, Thomas Graeff got his start with music at a young age. He began learning guitar at age 10 and soon added bass, drums, and tuba to his musical endeavors. His early musical exposure came primarily in the forms of classic rock and blues, but as a teenager he fell in love with classical music and performed as a classical guitar soloist with his high school orchestra and at state solo/ensemble contest as both a guitarist and tubaist.

Thomas earned a Bachelor of Music Performance degree from Western Washington University in 2009 after studying tuba with Dr. Carla Rutschman. During this time he also worked closely with Chuck Israels, studying jazz history, improvisation, and arranging with Israels. During this time he also took guitar lessons with John Stowell, Dave Peterson (Cornish), and Steve Brown (Ithaca).

Thomas loves teaching different instruments and has helped hundreds of students in achieving their musical goals. As a performer, Thomas has played in a majority of the United States and also enjoys working as a recording engineer.

Nate Salmon: Piano, Guitar, Voice 

Nathan Salman is a singer-songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist who teaches guitar, piano, ukulele, bass, songwriting, and electronic music (synthesizers/sampling/drum programming/etc.).

After graduating from UC Berkeley in 2011 with a degree in music, Nathan recorded, released, and toured his self-produced debut LP, Nowhere Now, under the name Waterstrider. The release caught the attention of noted producer Brian Burton (a.k.a. Danger Mouse) who subsequently signed Nathan to both his Columbia Records imprint, 30th Century Records, and publishing company, Figure 8 Publishing. Waterstrider has played alongside The Pixies, Miike Snow, Toro Y Moi, Bombino, Gardens & Villa, Big Black Delta, and Diane Coffee among many others. Recently returned to the Bay Area, Nathan is currently exploring new lyrical and sonic landscapes for his second full-length record.

Curtis Aikens: Bass, Piano, Guitar, Strings

Curtis Aikens Is a performer and music educator, based in the Bay Area.  Curtis’ main instrument is upright bass, and has worked with many Bay Area orchestras, jazz ensembles, theater companies and bands, but he also

plays and teaches guitar, piano, drums and voice.

He is an in demand music director for youth theater productions, and has most recently directed at 142 Throckmorton theater and the Yes! Foundation: Ross Valley School District. Curtis is also the rhythm section coach at Berkeley High School, and teaches privately.  Curtis studied Jazz education at the Stanford Jazz Workshop and string pedagogy at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.


Niels Sorensen: Bass, Guitar, Piano

Niels Sorensen graduated from the Berklee College of Music in 2018, earning a degree in Professional Music with honors Cum Laude. While at Berklee, Niels developed his performance skills while studying various musical styles including, Pop, R&B, Jazz, Metal, and Rock. In Boston, he played in numerous bands and quickly became a seasoned performer, playing out regularly in the greater Boston area and on small club tours that traveled across the United States. During the pandemic, Niels has continued his music by recording remotely for bands and singer/songwriters on his primary instrument, bass guitar.  As an instructor, he is eager to teach his students how to emulate their musical heroes, while also developing their own voice on their instrument. Niels teaches bass guitar, guitar, and basic keyboards.

Dave Sepulveda: Piano, Ukulele, Composition

Dave Sepulveda is a pianist composer who feels strongly about music’s potential to connect people and ideas. He received his Bachelors in Music Composition from Canegie Mellon University before continuing his education earning a Master of Music in Music Composition from the Manhattan School of Music. He has played the piano for over 20 years and also works with students on Voice and drums as well. He believes that all people can connect through music, and that everyone has something meaningful to say through music.

Heather M. Ellison: Ukulele, Voice, & Piano

Uni is Heather Marie Ellison

Early Bird Musical Teacher and Vocal, Performance, Ukulele and Beginner Piano Instructor at Bird Music SF. Her band, Uni and her Ukelele began it’s life in 2004 as an outlet for an already accomplished singer to self publi

sh and perform original work independently. Since that time Uni has released three full albums, numerous E.P’s,collaborations and a covers album ranging from lo -fi indie pop to melodic strings to rock. Uni’s sound has been described as eclectic, infectious pop and not your usual Ukulele fare.

Recipient of the SF Weekly Music Award, Uni has toured all over the USA and Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand and has been the subject of  celebrated festival Documentary  “The Mighty Uke.” Heather Marie Ellison began singing in nightclubs in a country band at the age of fifteen (grandpa chaperoned). Then later, during the Swing resurgence of the 90’s, sang in a Northern California swing band by the name of The Savoy Swingers.

She caught the eye of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Johnny Otis and was soon back up singing in the Johnny Otis R&B Revue, opening up for such legendary artists as Koko Taylor, Tower of Power, The Four Tops, Ray Charles and James Brown. So confident was Johnny Otis of Ms Ellison’s potential, he produced a solo album with her entitled Heather Marie With The Johnny Otis Band, ‘Got My Mojo Workin’