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As a teacher of classical guitar, Vieaux feels the current landscape is vibrant and progressing, but notes the students must love the style of music to really excel. Photo by Tyler Boye.
Do you play “In A Sentimental Mood” off a score, or do you leave room for improvisation?
I left little pockets for things, like the little blues fills—they can be different every time. Like the Images of Metheny record, none of them were written out initially. I fashion an arrangement on the guitar and play it through a few times. They all happen pretty quickly—I think I did that arrangement in about a half-hour. I don’t think I even wrote this one out for the producer. I just gave him a lead sheet.
Jason Vieaux's Gear
Vieaux’s main guitar is a 2005 Gernot Wagner, built with Brazilian rosewood back and sides and a double top of spruce (on the outside) and cedar (on the inside). Along with fellow German luthier Matthias Dammann, Wagner is credited with inventing the modern double-top guitar, which consists of a sandwich of two ultra-thin skins of wood (spruce and/or cedar) around a core of Nomex, a honeycombed Kevlar material. Double-tops are very lightweight and stiff, typically resulting in loud and powerful guitars. Vieaux is waiting to take delivery of another Wagner, built from woods that adhere to CITES regulations for the trade of endangered species, which will allow him to travel internationally without worrying about the customs issues associated with Brazilian rosewood.
Galli Genius Titanium. “I like that the Titanium is very durable, and they allow for a lot of color,” says Vieaux. “They’re adaptable, so I feel like I can suggest a wider range of character than with most strings.”
Vieaux typically plays without amplification, or uses whatever external mic the venue provides. But if required, he uses a Fostex mic he’s owned for more than 20 years and a Fishman Loudbox amplifier.
Like many contemporary players, you perform material that goes beyond classical music. Do you think that the term “classical guitarist” still accurately describes modern players?
It does, because “classical guitar” refers to both the repertoire, which is chiefly classical, and the technique. For example, a rock technique, even of the greatest rock player or blues player, is not going to translate over to playing classical guitar. They would have to study the golf swing, basically! On some mechanical level, they’d have to start from the beginning. You can’t play counterpoint or polyphony without some kind of proper mechanics—it just doesn’t happen. Classical guitarists produce sound entirely from their own fingertips and their nails. There is no signal. There’s nothing between them and the listener.
What advice would you give someone proficient in another style of guitar playing who wants to get into classical?
I would say it’s certainly a noble endeavor, but it takes a lot of practice. I have students like that in my online school. They’re sort of sniffing around the classical guitar, coming from rock or blues or something else. Certainly everybody is welcome, and I can teach anybody, but I they have to be prepared to learn a very detailed golf swing, which is what I call it. Because a golf swing has to be pretty precise—there can’t be a lot of excess movement. It’s the same with the right hand in classical guitar. Also, I’m primarily interested in training classical guitarists in the repertoire that the music was built on for years: Sor, Giuliani, the 19th century continental classical period. So for me, it’s really about the music. You have to love the music.
Jason Vieaux’s YouTube channel features links to several performance videos, as well as to sample lessons from his ArtistWorks online courses. This recording of his arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood” (which is featured on Vieaux’s new album, Play) shows his gorgeous classical tone in the context of a jazz standard.
As an educator, what’s your take on the state of upcoming classical guitarists?
In terms of technical training, the mechanics of it, we’re experiencing something of a golden age. In China, particularly at the conservatory in Beijing, there is a huge movement and output of very fine players—they can really play the most difficult repertoire at a very young age. We’ve seen that in Korea and Japan for many years as well. Even in Europe and the United States, education is starting to catch up with the demand. There were always people who wanted to study classical guitar, but there weren’t that many teachers who really knew the stuff, and now there are many fine players from my generation who are also very fine teachers. As a result, students now are much more prepared. That’s a good thing, because it means the art is moving forward.