With the school year comfortably underway, our topic this week is "teachers who made a difference." In the comments section, tell us your own story of a teacher, mentor or instructor who made a difference in your life. Below, guitarist Jason Vieaux remembers three teachers who changed his technique for the better.
I had three formal teachers who had a great impact on me: Jeremy Sparks while growing up in Buffalo, N.Y.; John Holmquist at the Cleveland Institute of Music; and David Leisner at Bowdoin College one summer.
Jeremy Sparks' advice has helped me to this day. He showed me that sometimes, in order to improve difficult pieces, it's necessary to slow passages down or break them down into smaller pieces. This really helps me, even today, with the thorny passages in some of my pieces — like "Torre Bermeja" by Isaac Albeniz. There's a passage of fast triplets (at about the 1:00 mark) that has some pretty nasty shifts on every beat.
Playing guitar can be pretty hard on the hands and tendons, but we often tense up more muscles than we actually need, usually in a well-intentioned effort to achieve our goals. David Leisner injured his right hand in this way — but he recovered enough to continue his career, and his awareness of muscle tension is incredible. In just a few weeks at Bowdoin College, I learned a great deal from David about playing with minimal physical effort. I worked hard to incorporate that into my day-to-day playing. Nowadays, I'm working on a lot of fast, virtuosic things, and I remember David's approach with every new piece I learn.
Courtesy of the artist
Guitarist David Leisner overcame a muscular condition known as focal dystonia.
Guitarist David Leisner overcame a muscular condition known as focal dystonia. Courtesy of the artist
I had always used color and played with a pretty good dynamic range before college, but it was purely instinctive. I hadn't put much thought into specific colors up to that point — I did whatever I felt at the moment. John Holmquist inspired me to use the dynamic range and color range of the guitar to highlight the architecture of a good piece of music, and he also got me to listen more deeply to sound.
For example, the first movement of Manuel Ponce's Sonatina Meridional requires a variety of sounds and colors. Plucking the strings closer to the bridge gives me a specifically brighter tone color for Theme One, and plucking over the soundhole results in a darker color for Theme Two.
I loved hearing that come out of my guitar during my freshman year at Cleveland Institute of Music. And then, carrying those color/character ideas through the development section... wow, I didn't know we could do that on the guitar!
Things like that opened up new doors — and a new world of possibilities for me musically.