Interview with Guitarist and Educator Roy Patterson

altCanada has produced some of the most important guitarists of the past hundred years.   Players like Lenny Breau, Ed Bickert, Liona Boyd, Lorne Lofsky and many more all cut their teeth in the great white north.  Roy Patterson is a guitarist and educator from Toronto who is right at home with this select group of high-level guitarists.

Roy’s latest CD “Atlantic Blues”, which features bassist Don Thompson and drummer Terry Clarke, was released in December, 2008 and ranks as one of the best jazz CD’s released last year.

Roy sat down with me this week to discuss his thoughts on guitar education and the importance of being a teacher and a performer.

MW: How did you get your start as a guitar teacher?

RP: I began teaching at small guitar studios like Eli Kassner's here in Toronto and privately at home.  When I finished my Master of Music degree I was hired as a contract faculty member at the University of Toronto because they were expanding the jazz area at that time (1993).  I now teach at York University, which is also in Toronto.

MW: Did any of your teachers have an influence on your private teaching approach?

RP: Yes, my first guitar teacher, Howard Spring, had a lot to do with my approach to chord voicing, and John Abercrombie showed me that it is OK to follow one's intuition, as long as there is discipline to go with it.

MW: As someone who draws from many influences in their playing how do you encourage students to explore different genres and styles of music?

RP: I try to draw comparisons with other traditions that have strong rhythmic and improvised components such as Arabic music, East Indian music and Brazilian music.  If we step back from the stylistic elements and look at the larger architecture of the music we begin to see a set of common principles.

MW: In your opinion how has technology, especially the internet, changed the landscape of guitar education in recent years and where do you see it headed in the future?

RP: The internet has made resources available to students.  For example, I recently saw a web site where the author published all of his research on Freddie Green; chord voicings, was all there.  This is both positive and negative. Positive for the obvious reasons that a student can get the information easily, but negative because there is a great learning process that is lost by not seeking out the good recordings and really using the ear to dig out the information.  When we learn things from recordings by saturated listening, transcribing and copying the time feel and subtleties of the artist's performance, we gain a much deeper insight into the music.  It is like studying privately with the artist and we absorb something on a very intuitive level. 

MW: You are such an experienced and accomplished performer as well as an educator.  How has your teaching experience influenced your performing and vice-versa?

RP: Teaching has had the effect of helping me consolidate the concepts that I talk about and demonstrate during the lessons.  At this point I can see the limitations from defining things so clearly, and perhaps in reaction to that, I seem to be coming around to a much more direct relationship with the instrument and improvising.  I no longer feel the need to understand or explain to myself what I am doing.  If I hear something in context I don't care if the notes are "correct" or not.  I also practice things that I try to play and mess up, without thinking so much about technique in the larger sense.  I simply use the principles that I talk about and demonstrate in lessons, where I use formal materials like scales, arpeggios, bebop lines, melodies etc., and apply the body mechanics to the musical idea that I can't play.  There is an incorrect assumption held by many students and musicians that if we develop a "reservoir" of technique we will be able to play anything we want.  If this was true classical musicians could play anything at any time.  This is simply not the case.  Aside from the principles associated with good body mechanics that we all should develop, musicians develop the technical skills needed to perform certain types of music.  We can't separate the technique from the music. 

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