By Blair Jackson
Scour YouTube and other parts of the internet and you’ll find a wealth of instructional material for classical guitarists—everything from demonstrations of tremolo and rasgueado technique, to full-blown master classes by top (and lesser) guitarists past and present, to step-by-step tips for playing specific pieces. There’s an awful lot to wade through, but the quality of the audio and video is highly variable, and how can you know in advance whether someone is a good teacher who’s going to give you valuable advice? Some sites offer free lessons, others a combination of free and paid (three cheers for Bradford Werner’s thisisclassicalguitar.com!) and there are varying levels of interactivity, from none to someone as exalted as Jason Vieaux offering personal comments about your progress through his ArtistWorks.com instructional program.
Now there’s an exciting new player in the mix: tonebase (tonebase.co) has only been around since late July, but it’s already shaping up to become a major resource for classical guitarists, especially advanced players looking to further refine their technique and really get inside of pieces on a deep level. Want to learn how to play Granados’ Valses Poeticos or Villa-Lobos’ Prelude No. 1? tonebase has enlisted two superb players—Celil Refik Kaya and Denis Azabajic, respectively—to guide you through a series of video demonstrations and explanations, highlighting specific musical concepts and skills required by the pieces, and accompanied by actual score you can consult. Guitarist-composers as varied as Frederic Hand, Nikita Koshkin, Dušan Bogdanovic, and Ben Verdery break down their own pieces and discuss their intensions. The ever-growing list of guitarists already providing exclusive material to tonebase included 22 top players (as of September 1), a heady mix of young and veteran artists, each of whom has something unique to offer. Some of the others (besides those already named) in the international stable of guitarists are Bill Kanengiser, Andrea de Vitis, Rene Izquierdo, Carlo Marchione, Sabrina Vlaskalic, Eliot Fisk, Scott Tennant, Marco Tamayo, and many more. Among the numerous composers whose pieces are explored in vivid detail are giants such as Albéniz, de Falla, Bach, Ginastera, Mozart, Piazzolla, and Rodrigo. Basically it’s a one-stop source for guitar master classes on the web. So far, everything on the site is free, but eventually some sort of subscription model will be employed.
Recently, we caught up with tonebase co-founder Igor Lichtmann and asked him a few questions about the company and the philosophy. Lichtmann’s partners in the endeavor are Chris Garwood and Abhi Nayar. Igor and Chris met while studying guitar at the Yale School of Music, whereas Abhi was a Yale undergrad majoring in Computing, Art, and Economics; he became the company’s design and technical lead.
Why do you think a resource like tonebase is necessary and important?
We believe that everyone, regardless of their geographical location and financial abilities should be able to reach their highest potential and become the best player they can possibly be. tonebase is an attempt to connect the greatest minds in classical \guitar with players around the world. With today’s technology we have a greater ability to facilitate these interactions than ever before.
Can you talk a bit about the mechanics of how the videos come to you? Do you consult with the guitarists and recommend they perform certain pieces? Do you offer suggestions of ways for the guitarists to shoot and record the videos?
Our current model is heavily based on feedback from the community and direct interaction with the artists. We try to meet requests from our users, which come in through our site every day. On the artist side, we suggest to cover pieces and topics that are very dear and close to them, so that the end result is satisfaction on both sides and excellent content for the learners. We usually don’t need to give many suggestions on the technical aspects of recording a video, but we do assist them in every possible way in case questions arise.
What is your long-term goal for the site?
At the end of the day we hope to create a platform with educational content from the best artists in the world, tailored to the needs of our global user base, within an engaged, beautiful, and interactive environment. We believe technology can be leveraged effectively to open access, and Tonebase’s mission is to democratize high-level music education around the world.
In a world where so much instructional video—of varying quality and dependability—is available free online, what convinces you that a subscription model can work?
I think a good way to look at a subscription to our service is to compare it to how much the average person would pay for a lesson/master class, with a master like Eliot Fisk, Ben Verdery, Marco Tamayo, Scott Tennant, and many others. Rather than having a few artists trying to cover a certain instrument field in its entirety, we want to offer many different perspectives from a variety of great players. In the next few months, we will add many great artists, who will collectively provide a constantly developing catalog of high quality video instructions for our users to choose and pick from. The content on our site is exclusively made for Tonebase and not available anywhere else.
How important for the site will interactivity eventually be?
Interactive elements are a large focus for us. We have already implemented a “Request a Piece” feature on the profile pages of each artist, where users can request that musician to cover a certain piece. In addition, we have a live messaging feature on the site which allows users to have direct conversations with a member of our team 24/7. We allow our users to actively participate in the content curation process, ensuring the videos remain highly relevant to them and their peers. In addition, we are working on several direct interaction features, such as feedback from the masters and live online master classes, which we will be rolling out in the coming months. At the same time, we want our users to be able to share and exchange ideas with each other, as well, and for this we are planning a community or forum feature. We believe learning can happen anywhere, and from anyone, and are excited to see how our users can help each other, too.
For more information and to sign up (for free), go to tonebase.co