His online guitar course allows students to interact with the Grammy-winning guitarist
by Blair Jackson
“As if I needed to take on any more teaching work!” Jason Vieaux laughs when I ask about how he got involved with ArtistWorks’ online tutorials. After all, Vieaux already teaches classical guitar at both the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Curtis Institute of Music, in addition to having given countless master classes over the past two-plus decades. “When ArtistWorks called me a few years ago, initially, because of my biases [about online teaching] it was hard for me to wrap my head around how revolutionary this thing was and how complete it was. And then when they mentioned that Billy Cobham was going to be the jazz drum teacher; and John Patitucci the bass teacher . . . well, they got me through the jazz guys! And it’s been great so far.”
Among many appealing aspects of ArtistWorks’ online tutorials is that students can interact directly with the teachers, swapping videos to ask and answer specific questions, get tips, or to measure progress.
To date, more than 450 students in 20 countries have signed up for Vieaux’s Guitar School, with more coming on board each month, and he estimates that about 15 percent of those students have chosen to submit videos to be evaluated. “Most are just going to enjoy the massive amount of content that’s on the site.”
And it is seriously substantial: “We’ve filmed an entire curriculum, from the very first lesson on holding the guitar, how to put an index finger on a string, through all sorts of beginning, intermediate, and advanced techniques and pieces. So far there’s something like 30 DVDs worth of material, and in a sense you never have to stop making new videos—I can literally do whatever I want to fill in some gap or add new things.”
The teaching videos are shot at an ArtistWorks studio in Napa, California: “The first time I did 140 videos in five days, the second time it was for three days and 70 videos, and this past November I did another 70—I filled in a bunch of beginner etudes, like Carulli, Carcassi, and Giuliani, and some intermediate etudes as well.”
For legal reasons, the curriculum is weighted heavily toward composers whose works are in the public domain—most living composers of guitar music sell their scores through commercial publishing companies as an income source. Vieaux comments, “I’d love to have the [Leo] Brouwer etudes on there. I’d love to have any modern etudes on there, but there are copyright issues. However, I’ve also said that Giuliani, Sor, Carcassi, and Carulli are something every student should know.
“You’re seeing all these students in Asia all playing incredibly well, but a lot of them haven’t studied any etudes. Some of the students I’ve encountered can play a difficult piece but their technique is lacking—you can tell it was molded to fit this tidy group of concert pieces they have learned to play. I’m a firm believer that in your first five to ten years of study, for the vast majority of students, there should be an equal ratio of exercises to etudes to concert pieces. Sight-reading is also something I constantly preach about. I sight-read pretty regularly as a kid, when I was eight, nine, ten years old, and that was something you quote-unquote ‘shouldn’t do,’ because you were supposed to be practicing the pieces that were assigned to you. But it’s so valuable. It’s a great time investment to make. I’m certainly not the first one to say this—John Williams said this years ago—that one of the biggest problems with classical-guitar students is they can’t read. It takes them forever to learn a passage of music, whereas a pianist or violinist can sight-read; they can peruse something new almost at tempo. But guitarists have this time lag. I guarantee that if you sight-read 30 minutes a day, you’re going to be much more equipped to have a professional life later on as an adult.”
Vieaux also notes that he will occasionally recommend that a student go outside of the ArtistWorks curriculum to buy a particular piece that might be relevant to him or her. “And I stress not to use pirated scores on the Internet, which are often loaded with errors—wrong notes, wrong rhythms.”
A lot of his video responses to students are done on the road; his laptop works fine for that. “There’s lots of flexibility around it,” he says. “I just have to be organized about it. Any subscriber can watch any student’s video submission, and my responses, so they’re all auditors, if you will, of an ever-expanding master class. The students are very supportive, encouraging each other, learning from each other; it’s all been extremely positive.
“Everybody’s different and learns differently, and that’s the great thing about the ArtistWorks approach; it allows me to work differently with every student. I don’t have a methodology that I just spit out—sink or swim—I’ve always had a very individually tailored approach.”
A few other online courses…
Berklee College of Music
The venerable Boston-area music school offers a 12-week “Fundamentals of Classical Guitar” extension course taught by David Newsam, who also covers Brazilian, flamenco, tango, and folk techniques.
Classical Guitar Corner
Simon Powis, a personable Australian guitarist living in New York, has more than 100 free lesso ns online covering the basics of technique, musicianship, notation and sight-reading, etc., and also a much more thorough and expansive selection of paid video courses.
Los Angeles Guitar Academy Online
Many levels of learning (beginner, lower intermediate, intermediate upper, etc.) from LAGA teachers. Private webcam lessons also available. Separate flamenco guitar lessons offered, as well.
This Is Classical Guitar
Much more than just a teaching site, where Canadian classical guitarist Bradford Werner and others offer their expertise, This Is Classical Guitar also includes performance videos by top guitarists, interviews, sheet music, etc. A fine resource even if you don’t want lessons.
Learn Classical Guitar Today
This site is much less video-oriented than others, but it is packed with reading information, exercises, and seems to be set up in a coherent, systematic way.
“Classical” is just one of 19 styles offered by perhaps the largest guitar-teaching entity on the Internet (flamenco and Brazilian are taught separately). Principal classical teachers are Pamela Goldsmith and Danny Vorhis, who, between them, have about 60 videos available.