There’s just something about guitars. I mean, people are great, don’t get me wrong. But they are not guitars.

Guitars…touch them and they respond. Give and they give back. It’s a mutual relationship of trust, loyalty and devotion, of wood  gut, sweat and steel. A coherent, reciprocal dance of notes, shapes, tones, scales and phrases. After a mammoth session in the guitar woodshed, and in the silence that follows, I know exactly what to do next time. The instrument itself, has shown me. Vibration, resonance, response. It’s marriage and there’s no getting away from it. And then there is a whole world of related ‘tek’ interest…pedals, effects units, amps, strings, assorted plectra of diverse shape and thickness. A pleasurably geeky range of method, kit and vocabulary. In the world  of classical playing, nail care alone is a science.

From left to right, my Sanchez ‘Senorita’ – especially designed for the smaller-handed human, of which I am one. It’s tone is sweet, rather than heavy. Centre – my hand-made Heartwood semi-acoustic. Amped and with battery, it takes on a whole bluesy/folksy energy, warm and fluid. Right below, is my Ibanez twin humbucker pride and joy. I recorded much of my ‘Dangerous Loving’ album on it. I have a secret love of metal/progressive rock and had been coveting the  Ibanez Steve Vai signature series, with cut away hand hold, for some time. After experimentation and an open mind, I was able to pick up something just as good for a 3rd of the price at ‘Rockers’ in Denmark St. I hadn’t planned to compose so much for the guitar. It became a necessity when I lost access to my usual studio and piano. I never envisaged that I’d use it in the same way as I do the keys, as I think of the guitar as a voice in itself, its own melody and accompaniment.

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I was hearing the classical guitar in the womb. It must have always been there, as my father was studying with the Cardiff Guitar Society and practising at home, most nights. I started learning from him when I was about 14. We tried ‘Hey Joe’ by Jimi Hendrix and a good Bob Dylan blues sequence, then later ‘Angi’, (made famous by Davey Graham, Simon and Garfunkel and others), great default party pieces…but it was the Brazilian Villa Lobos preludes that really stuck. By age 18, I was experimenting on my first electric guitar bought for £180 with my paltry student grant (yes, a grant in those days). It meant I was poor for the term, but really, who needs food when you have your first stratocaster? Sending off demos to record labels amounted to not much. Somehow the lyrical flow and cinematic scope of the classical repertoire was still calling me – the samba like polyrhythms and  jazzy complexity of Venezuelan Antonio Lauro, or the rippling film score like progressions and arpeggios of Paraguayan Agustin Barrios. interestingly, I never felt the same about classical piano music, though I studied it up to grade 5.

The guitar, unlike the piano, was originally a folk instrument, inexpensive, portable. The guitar is older, more akin to the drum and voice. The best music written for it is folkloric in flavour. Tango, blues and flamenco all invite song and dance. The contemporary guitar we know today was preceded by lute like instruments – the harp, lyre, oud, tanbur, kora and shamisen. Cultures all around the world, from Africa to ancient Greece, all had their own version of stringing gut between point A and B and twanging it. Then making it tense in various places, thus creating pitch. Early guitars (and picks) have been found in Egypt, dating from 3500 BC.

I consider the best repertoire to be 20th century. That’s when much of the music written for lute – was being adapted to a modern era and instrument, by the likes of Julian Bream. And classical works for piano written by Albeniz and Granados were being adapted for guitar by Andres Segovia. The hypnotic Spanish dances written by these composers certainly make more sense to me away from the recital hall environment. They are best done in the street, an open air jazz cafe or around a campfire.

I’d reached a stumbling point with the electric guitar, by my early 20’s. My hands hurt (especially the right) and I didn’t know how to move my fingers faster or make my hands larger.  I knew I had to relay the classical foundations, whatever it took, or I would never ever forgive myself. Once in london, I found a teacher and  embarked on the whole journey from scratch. It took  many years and a fairly stormy teacher/student relationship, but I did it…all the way up to ABRSM Grade 8. My teacher was taught by both John Williams and Julian Bream, and they  in turn, by Segovia, so I can confidently tell my students that my method and lineage are solid. Sometimes I choose not to teach how I was taught. The ‘school of hard knocks’ is not my way – I enjoy making things accessible and fun. Pleasingly, I can find many parallels with my martial arts practice and guitar playing, particularly the dialogue between left and right brain, yet independence of each.

Proper classical technique is worth it. Economical, graceful, organic, it will keep you safe from injury, but allow you to play fast. I have now managed to build up a set of the Latin/Spanish composers that I love (Tarrega, Lauro, Villa Lobos) and have been playing at Brazilian cafe, Neal’s Yard Salad Bar, also as an accompanist on a ‘Songs from the Spanish Revolution’ album. My latest project is now as a session guitar player for UK chill out phenomenon Lazy Hammock. Watch out for our date this summer at L fest on 21st July. And I continue to compose and write songs on the guitar just for the fun of it, even though the piano is easier and the instrument with which I am mostly associated. Check out my multi-genre all female blog series of guitar heroes.

I now know that speed isn’t everything and that tone, is often everything. I learnt that the guitar sings backs to you, and that the loneliness many people associate with the endless hours of practice needed to play this instrument, is a myth. If in doubt, go back to the source. The ‘wooden box’ as my teacher used to call it. It has never let me down.

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