“I was born in Athens, Greece. My family raised me in Westchester County, New York where I lived for most of my life. I had a great-uncle that was a singer in the 1940′s, and my grandfather on my father’s side was a classical guitarist. Interestingly, though, there were no other musicians in family. I believe if we’re artistically prone, the genes are passed on but not necessarily used the same way. My grandmother is very artistic, she can draw, paint, etc. My mother is a fantastically gifted cook. The presentation of mom’s food is outstanding, a work of art in itself. We owned a restaurant for many years, too. So whatever avenue you go down, it doesn’t matter. You’re still driving the same car. For me, I drove my ‘artistic’ car down Music Lane.”
Elementary school was the first introduction to instruments. Students arrive in music class and (if they so wish) they can choose an instrument to learn and play in the school band. Niko approached everything with a fair attempt before calling it quits. His mother said, “always try it first. You can’t say you don’t like it if you’ve never tried it.”
“I tried all the traditional instruments - flute, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, tuba, oboe, violin, viola, cello, bass, and percussion. Truthfully, they all lasted about 2 weeks. I wasn’t the least bit interested in learning them. I blame my teacher, she wasn’t fun. I was, however, very interested in the mechanics of the instruments. I was fascinated by how the instruments worked, including the assembly. I loved taking apart my clarinet and assembling it.”
Middle school started and a new change to take up an instrument arose. Still, Niko did not take on formal lessons.
High school is a great time for young musicians. It’s the time when our musical tastes flourish. We realize just what kind of music we love most. Sometimes it’s influenced by our peers, sometimes we just like what we like.
“When I was a child I listened to my parents’ favorites. Pavoratti, John Denver, The Carpenters, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, etc. The music is nice, but it didn’t excite me as a teen. I developed a love for the pop/rock stars of my own 1980′s generation. Through that, I realized none of those songs sounded great on my old keyboard! I tried getting a better one, but even still something wasn’t the same. I really needed to learn guitar – bands like Aerosmith, Def Leppard, Van Halen, Journey, etc… were mostly guitar driven! On my 18th birthday I got my first guitar. My grandparents bought it for me, along with a month of lessons. I had a steady job at the time, so the deal was if I enjoyed learning the rest of my lessons were out of my pocket. We didn’t have much money, so if I wanted it I had to earn it myself. So I did. I didn’t LOVE my grocery job, but it did pay for my lessons.”
After high school came college, but Niko never pursued music in college. He was content with his private lessons and even started teaching young beginners. Teaching is actually a great way to reinforce what you’ve learned. You can’t teach what you don’t know.
“My private lessons went on for about 2 more years and then I started teaching. Teaching forced me to practice more, learn more, and be a better student myself. I focused on music theory a lot. I often got in trouble in college for seemingly not paying attention. During ‘lulls’ in class I’d sit in the back of the room with my notebook and work on some music theory. I’d write out scales, chords, etc. Later on I attended the ‘school of hard knocks’ showing up at various open mics and blues jams. The open blues places were a hoot. I’d be there with guys that had played blues guitar longer than I had been alive. They were fantastic guitar players and I was mediocre at best. I didn’t quit, though. They were really nice guys and they pushed me to get better. I learned a lot! So for 2 more years, every Thursday evening, I’d spend hours at my ‘musical church’ attending these events religiously. The public exposure helped me get over stage fright and prepare for playing with bands. I started reading a lot, too. My favorite book to this day is a book called Zen Guitar. It’s a sort of spiritual, mental approach to music and playing guitar. There are quotes from many musicians, all of which are great quotes.”
Niko has taught full-time in private music schools for over 16 years. With an average of 50-80 students a year, hundreds of students have joined Niko’s roster over the years. He’s taught all ages, all levels, and all popular genres.
“When I was in college, I was given the task (in Math for Liberal Arts) to show how math applied to anything of our choice. People were choosing astronomy, card tricks, architecture, and more. We were to write a 10-12 page paper and then do a 10 minute presentation on the subject. My paper was handed into the professor prior to my presentation. Unexpectedly the professor was floored! He invited the dean of students up to the class to hear my presentation. My presentation went longer than 10 minutes – a near 25 minutes. I brought in my guitar, grabbed my chalk, and demonstrated how math is very strongly associated with music. Everything from basic counting to logarithmic spirals to proper scientific measurements. The dean was very impressed. I learned something, too, that day. Lots of people had no idea just how deep music is… how full of content. When I teach music I also teach science, language, math, history, world cultures. When is the last time a science class taught someone about world history? The curriculums in schools (to me) are very weak compared to a music curriculum. I challenge my students whenever I can, even when they don’t realize I’m testing them. Everything is a test of sorts.”
Along with his very strong beliefs in music and music education, Niko has many other strong philosophies.
“Where there’s a will there’s a way. I saw a man on YouTube with no arms playing guitar with his feet. Rick Allen, the drummer for Def Leppard, plays drums with one arm. Jeff Healey, Stevie Wonder, and Ray Charles – all blind, all talented musicians. Where there’s a will, there is certainly a way.”
A common misconception: Practice makes perfect.
“No it doesn’t. Find me these perfect beings, I dare you. No one is perfect. Actually, music has a natural flow to it. Human emotion is what makes music pleasing. Without it, we may as well listen to machines play music. We want a bit of imperfection in our music. Practice doesn’t make perfect – it makes PROGRESS.”
To date, Niko has taught private and semi-private lessons, workshops (rock workshops, guitar orchestras, songwriting workshops), and summer camps.
“Every summer I organize a week-long project called Rock Band Camp. The students learn songs and how to perform on stage. Along with that, they learn about real-life scenarios that occur in a real band – with me as their manager, of course. A little guidance and they spend the week naming their band, creating posters, learning to care for equipment, and how to properly setup a stage. At the end of the week they have to perform their song(s) – that’s the real fun!”
Teaching has many rewards. Every teacher has different reasons for teaching. Niko’s love for teaching is propelled forward by his hard-working students.
“Teaching is really nothing without a great student. I love students that are always prepared for their lesson. They bring their books, picks, basically all of their necessary supplies. I love students that practice regularly. Nothing is more painstaking for a student (and a teacher) than having to repeat the same lesson over and over for months at a time. The best students, meaning the most pleasurable, are not the most talented ones. They are the most inquisitive ones. Socrates encouraged questioning. Questions are the way to answers and solutions. I’m Greek, I have to follow those before me, after all.”
Niko has played in all kinds of bands.
Acoustic duos and trios. Full bands – rock, jazz, blues, oldies, and more. I’ve worn suits. I’ve worn leather pants.
Musicals – both on stage and in the pit orchestras. Solo
Private parties, weddings, studio recording. Solo album: Rebirth, available via NikoRocks.com
Professional songwriting. Proud moments…
TV appearances in NY, NJ, CT, and PA. NYRocksTV in Manhattan. Two episodes of The Guitar Show With Mike Byrnes. TV pilot: In Tune, The Guitar Show, filmed in Manhattan. Opened up for Chris Barron of popular 90‘s band, The Spin Doctors. Performed a solo show at the Philipstown Depot Theatre in NY for the anniversary of 9/11. Numerous fund-raisers including stem cell research, Parkinson’s, relief for New Orleans, and more.
Remember, teachers and professional rockers are real people, too! In his off time, Niko loves everything from reading about history and science to watching movies, using computers, drawing, and exercising.
“I’m a huge history and science geek. When I was a kid I wanted to grow up and become a marine scientist. I remember watching those videos in school of marine life and wanting to swim with the exotic fish and see everything there was to see. However, later I realized that we are, in fact, VERY far down on the food chain when it comes to our oceans. Music became my primary love.”
“I love computers, but not in a way that’s ‘computer geeky’. I love Apple. I love their devices and their computers because they are designed to work and be used easily by the average person. You don’t have to be a technological genius to enjoy a Mac. I have a MacBook Pro laptop, I’ve had many desktops and iPods. I now have an iPhone. My car has Apple stickers. I write and record music that’s featured on my website for listening and buying. All created on my Mac.”
“I’m a huge Def Leppard fan. I always have been and I always will be. This band is in the Guinness records for playing 3 concerts on 3 different continents in 24 hours. They’ve overcoming amazing obstacles and provided us with decades of fantastic music. What’s more, they are one of the only five bands in rock history to achieve ‘Diamond Record Sales’ status. Even the Rolling Stones are not on that list. True story. Anyone who knows me has caught a glimpse of my ‘DLEPPARD’ license plate. What can I say? I have everything they’ve ever recorded – and then some!”
“I also like to doodle. I used to draw some pretty silly things as a kid. I drew a parody of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when I was a kid. I read tons of Garfield and The Far Side comic strips. When I started creating my own comics (influenced by my warped sense of humor) I modeled a lot of them after The Far Side. Everything was a simple frame or two with a caption. I liked illustrating a scenario with just one picture and a few words.”
In 2010, Niko created a comic strip based on Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. The characters weren’t actually Bill and Steve, but they were inspired by them and the very famous Apple vs. PC commercials of the last decade which lasted about three years.
“I had the idea to take those two bickering Apple/PC guys from the commercials and put them into cartoons. I wanted to pull them out of their white backgrounds that we saw in the commercials and draw them into their own little world. So I created a little corporate world, something along the lines of the movie Office Space. Very often the comics would feature real backgrounds and cartoon people.”
A whole comic strip series was created, and printed into a book available as a PDF eBook, as well as iBooks format for iPad!
Niko isn’t a big TV watcher, but he does love movies.
“I rarely watch TV at all. I like the food shows, or a few of the shows on The History Channel. American Pickers, Pawn Stars, Ancient Aliens – I love those. Don’t get me started on aliens. But TV overall doesn’t entertain me. Commercials drive me mad. Give me a good film to watch any day. I have hundreds of movies on DVD and digital copy at home. Sometimes I’ll just have a movie on for background noise while I work. Interestingly I can’t do that with television shows. The commercials are always much louder than the show, they end up startling me. I can’t stand that! The shows themselves sound more like noise than pleasant sound. When watching “reality TV” and similar shows I feel like everything on TV is either moving too quickly, or too slowly. I feel no joy in listening or watching television. I like movie scores – I’ll often listen to them while I’m writing.”
An active person, Niko loves being outside for physical activities.
“I like biking, camping, boating, etc. I can prepare and launch a sailboat. I’m not very athletic, though. I tended to veer away from sports as a kid. I played with my friends for fun, but really not ever in school or after school. I just didn’t have ‘it’ when it came to sports.”
…there are other fun, physical activities. Like martial arts!
“I do like martial arts. I was always fascinated by martial arts films. My step-brother has a black belt in Karate, I remember watching his black belt test. My dad had a black belt in Judo, which is very different from Karate. You’re not punching, kicking, etc. You can, and he did, but flexibility wasn’t key. Judo is a grappling/throwing art, and boy did people get thrown. My dad owned his own bar for 15 years, he wasn’t just the owner, he was the bouncer. I studied Tae Kwon Do on and off for years between childhood and college. I learned a lot, but never really cared about ranks. I did break boards a few times, it didn’t seem hard, which felt nice. When I was in college I discovered that our Dean was a gold belt (like a black belt) in Hapkido. He taught me a few things. My most recent (and the most formal) studies I’ve had were in Okinawa Kobudo, a weapons art. I have an arsenal on my wall. The weapons aren’t what you’d imagine, though. No big swords, spears, etc. The weapons were developed from farming and fishing tools. The peasants of 16th century Okinawa developed the art based on their knowledge of Karate. They didn’t have weapons and they had to defend against the samurai! It’s a lot of fun. I have a standing dummy in my backyard that I beat up. My neighbors (thankfully) understand and don’t think I’m a nut.”
Look for Niko’s music performance dates and catch a live show!