Masterclass Gems & Nuggets – 2017 Wilson Center Guitar Festival

The 2017 Wilson Center Guitar Festival afternoons were devoted to various master classes in several musical genres. While the classical guitar masterclass with The Beijing Duo focused on addressing specific technical issues intrinsic to each performer and their selected piece, the other classes mentioned here offered a more general overview and, unfortunately, I missed out on Troy Stetina’s Rock & Blues masterclass due to a photo session with Kevin Eubanks and his band.

Kevin Eubanks leading his jazz master class at the 2017 Wilson Center Guitar Festival.  To the left is guitarist Jocelyn Gould, who won 3rd place in the Jazz division.  Photo credit:  Julia Crowe.

Kevin Eubanks leading his jazz master class at the 2017 Wilson Center Guitar Festival. To the left is guitarist Jocelyn Gould, who won 3rd place in the Jazz division. Photo credit: Julia Crowe.

Kevin Eubanks advised his jazz masterclass attendees, “You should be able to play with a 4-fret reach, which encompasses 20 octaves. Transcription is an excellent skill for listening and ear training. In my contracts, I request that recorded music be sent to me 30 days in advance of working on a project so I can listen to it and absorb it by ear.” His suggestion for practice is to, “Practice for as long as it takes. And if you must, get a teacher to help you narrow down and focus and coach you on what to practice, to help save time. Practice for the right reasons so you are not counting the hours.”

He also pointed out the value for young players in not striving to emulate their favorite players note-for-note as much as learning to figure out the basic expression of the music in order to develop their own voice. “When you hear just two notes played by B.B. King, you know it is B.B. King who is playing.” When asked if there was anything he hoped yet to achieve with his own career, he responded, “A lot of my musical dreams have come true.” He expressed the hope to create a tribute album to Wes Montgomery with his favorite soloists and those musicians who played with Wes.

To the delight of the audience, Eubanks closed his masterclass with an entertaining comp session with 3rd place Jazz division winner, Jocelyn Gould.

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Mandy Rowden, Creator/Instructor of Girl Guitar at the 2017 Wilson Center Guitar Festival.  Photo credit:  Julia Crowe

Mandy Rowden, Creator/Instructor of Girl Guitar at the 2017 Wilson Center Guitar Festival. Photo credit: Julia Crowe

Mandy Rowden, the Creator/Instructor of Girl Guitar, offered the masterclass, “Adding Flare to Your Guitar Parts” for Singer Songwriters, filled with practical advice and good humor. When one participant confessed to being called, “A jailhouse singer–always behind a few bars and can’t find the key,” Rowden replied, “I’m not here to bust your brain but help add to your guitar bag of tricks.”

Rowden swiftly identified what she dubs, “The Folkie Death Trap,” of the up-and-down strum. Her advice? Strum less. “Think of the guitar’s six strings in zones of the treble, middle and bass. Break up a chord by hitting just one or two of the strings as you sing.”

She informed the students, “If the music seemed too easy, I used to think I was doing something wrong–like I wasn’t being fancy enough with my playing. Step back. Don’t be fancy.” She demonstrated how to perform basic add-ons to cowboy chords and alter the tonality of a cowboy chord by lifting up a finger here and there. “Also, I will take that chord shape, lift up a finger and move it along a few frets for movement.”

“If you feel the need to get yourself out of strummy strumland, you can punch up a note within a chord by giving it a hammer-on note,” she said. “And you can always write a bridge. A V chord always leads back to a I chord. A B7 leads back to an E chord. So you can be playing a sequence of D-A-B7, then E.”

Mandy Rowden

Mandy Rowden leading her “Adding Flare to Your Guitar Parts” master class at the 2017 Wilson Center Guitar Festival. Photo credit: Julia Crowe

“If you are guitar-centric, you may have to work on your lyrics and tone down the guitar,” Rowden advised. “As that old Harland Howard quote goes about country music, ‘All you need for good songwriting is three chords and the truth.’”

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Antoine Dufour and Mike Dawes at the 2017 Wilson Center Guitar Festival.  Photo credit:  Julia Crowe.

Antoine Dufour and Mike Dawes at the 2017 Wilson Center Guitar Festival. Photo credit: Julia Crowe.

Antoine Dufour and Mike Dawes presented a masterclass for fingerstyle guitar devotees, offering an earnest, and at times, droll exchange:

“I have no rules about writing,” Dawes said. “I wrote the groove for “Overload” for my Era album while sitting inside a lavatory at the Blue Note in New York because there was no room elsewhere backstage, really, and the reverb was pretty good. So I sat there with my guitar propped upright, like so, because of the limited space, and I came up with this line.” He explained that he generally records a video of his pieces-in-progress and does not bother to write them down.

“I notate my music,” Dufour shrugged.

“Melody is the most important part of the piece,” Dawes said. “I attempt to facilitate the best tuning possible. For example, I used CAGDAD for the Goyte song, “Somebody That I Used to Know.” I altered the tuning of the first string from D to C in order to obtain the harmonic I wanted at a certain position. Also, I need to be interested in a cover to be able to adapt it. I just can’t select a popular song and cover it because it is going to land me a million hits on Youtube. I have to be able to relate to the song.”

Dufour told attendees, “I dislike unison strings on the guitar so what I will do to avoid this is search for at least three different places along the fretboard to play the same pitch.”

Mike Dawes urged students to take good care of their hands, “Warm up before playing. I had tendonitis at one point and have learned the hard way that you must respect your body by engaging in proper warm-up exercise.”

Dufour concurred and played out an example of his warm-ups, which tend to be a combination of hammer-ons that utilize each left hand finger and then rasqueados performed with the right hand.

When asked how he maintains his right hand nails, Dawes answered, “I clip my nails and I play lightly. The only time I ever lost a nail, I saw a piece of my nail fly off in spiraling slow motion and land inside a woman’s drink at a place in Chicago. I couldn’t say anything because I was in the middle of playing in a duo. She drank it.”

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Please visit the Wilson Center Guitar Festival page for more information, in addition to forthcoming details on the 2018 event.