Johannes Möller In Concert

I’ve seen a lot of guitar recitals in my time – some good, some not so good, some average, some spectacular. Well folks, let me tell you that the recital that I saw on a cold and foggy Tuesday evening here this week in Melbourne is one of those that I will remember for the rest of my life. It was exciting, enthralling and enchanting all at the same time.

Netherlands-based, Swedish guitarist and composer, Johannes Möller (who I had the enormous pleasure of interviewing a couple of weeks ago – check it out here if you missed it), held the audience captive with the weaving of a truly astounding display of guitar playing virtuosity, authentic and generous musicianship and some of the most imaginative (yet least contrived) use of the guitar as a musical medium I have witnessed. I know I’m prone to using superlatives rather freely on this blog, but please believe me when I say that this concert was simply breathtaking. Guitar playing of the highest order. Möller, dare I say it, could possibly be one of the best guitarists currently actively playing…..

And this wasn’t just my opinion either it seems. The reception from the audience all round was one of amazement and excitement. My friend sitting next to me turned to me on a couple of occasions and we just smiled and nodded at the simply fantastic playing and beautiful original music presented. No words necessary.

I was impressed by his super sensitive and well-thought out dynamics in the classic pieces presented (including Barrios’ Un Sueno en la Floresta and Albeniz’s Asturias (Leyenda)), his super soft (and masterfully controlled) pianissimo  playing that drew you in and urged you to pay close attention and his vigorous and refreshing approach to these classic pieces.

I was even more impressed by his original material. The first of these was a piece called From Her Source To The Sea - an effective musical reflection on the journey of the River Ganges from it’s source in the Himalayas, picking up speed and size before flowing out gracefully to the Bay of Bengal. This piece is one of Johannes many pieces inspired by north Indian classical music, with re-tuning of various strings on the guitar, to create an impressive sitar-esque sound. At one point during the performance of this piece I had to do a double-check of his right hand fingers – I couldn’t quite believe the masterful strumming and simultaneous rapid arpeggios. Incredible. This piece was followed by the incredibly beautiful and moving Song To The Mother, a particular favourite of mine and no less spine-tingling in the flesh (I just love the harmonics in this piece).

We were treated to some new works too, including 8 beautiful little Preludes (which will eventually turn into 24 Preludes in each of the musical keys) and a gorgeous Nocturne, apparently completed just two weeks ago (can’t wait for that one to be published as I’d love to play it myself). And we were also treated to a lovely, little-heard Regondi Nocturne and an inspiring original piece A Star in the Sky, a Universe Within…an exquisitely elegant philosophical reflection and musical exploration of the night sky – and an impressive exploration of the capabilities of the instrument including the highest pitches I think I’ve ever heard play on a standard classical guitar.

The standout piece in the concert for me was The Night Flame – a piece based on an Indian night raga (a raga is an Indian classical scale or mode). This was not only a fantastic display of Johannes’ outstanding capability as a composer, but also as a true virtuoso of the guitar. The passion and 100% commitment to the music and its delivery was awe-inspiring stuff. An intensely, energetic musical performance that is very hard to put into words. You have to see, hear and experience for yourself.

Overall I was really impressed with the incredible creativity and imagination that Johannes infuses into his pieces – use of harmonics, alternate tunings and non-Western classical influences, use of capo across half the fretboard, a number of different left and right hand techniques, tone colours, rhythmic interest and beautiful melodies.

What I was most impressed with was the authenticity, dedication, passion and love for the guitar that was evident in this concert. This is 5 star stuff. It doesn’t come much better.


If you’re in Australia, Johannes’ remaining tour dates are: the Araluen Arts Centre today (24th July), Sydney (25th July), Canberra (26th July) and Perth (23rd August). He has a number of tour dates lined up this year in the USA and Europe and I strongly encourage you to head along to your nearest show. Check out Johannes website for more details:

In summary, Johannes presented the audience with some stunning, mind (and technique) expanding playing that can only inspire players and guitar aficiondos of all types. The future of the guitar and its repertoire is very safe in the hands of this maestro. Bravo Johannes! 10 out of 10!

What To Look For When Buying A Classical Guitar

There are lots of folks out there who are interested in learning to play the classical guitar, but are not really too sure what to look for when picking out an instrument. For a newbie this is completely understandable as there are so many different choices available these days, many for some very alluring prices too. Today’s post is really aimed at the beginner or those looking for the market entry point student guitar.

A guitar’s a guitar right?

Not quite. At the entry level side of the market we see guitars with cheap, roughly made plywood tops, often painted or dyed a bright orange or yellow. They tend to look cheap and nasty and they tend to play cheap and nasty too – no better than the orange boxes they’re made from really. These guitars, whilst seriously, cheap could potentially put you off playing! They are often poorly built, roughly finished, difficult to play (which you may not realise if you’ve just started out) and sound terrible.

Solid top

Look out for a guitar with a solid top (the part of the guitar facing away from you when you’re holding it to play it), as this is the part of the instrument (aside from the strings) that most significantly influences the nature of the sound coming out. Solid top guitars will either be spruce (usually a lighter coloured wood, producing a bright sound) or cedar (usually a darker wood, producing a warmer sound than the spruce).

John Price Guitar

Cedar top


The “action” on a guitar is the height of the strings from the fretboard. Oftentimes the higher the action, the more difficult a guitar can be to play, particularly for the beginner as you’ve got to use more pressure to press the strings down. So check this out when you’re testing out an instrument (always test out if you can) and play the instrument for a while. You may be able to cope with a reasonably high action for 5 minutes or so, but you don’t want to feel like you’re running a marathon when playing your new instrument for 10 minutes or longer.

Extraneous noises

Watch out, or rather listen out, for any buzzes, hums, rattles or any other unusual noises. Even at the cheaper end of the scale you shouldn’t really be getting any of these annoying noises that will be detracting from your playing and enjoyment of the instrument. Sometimes it may just be a case of a loose machine head, which can be easily tightened up, or the end of a string vibrating against the instrument (solved by just trimming the string down). If the source of a buzz or rattle is harder to find I’d say that’s a big warning sign not to buy.


Not all guitars are made the same size – whilst all “standard” instruments are of a similar size there are subtle variations which can make a big difference over time whilst playing. Try out a few guitars and how they “feel” whilst you’re seated and playing them. How is the body depth? Do you feel you have to reach your arm a little too far? How is the width and the depth of the neck? Can you move your hand comfortably up and down then neck? Can you reach and play chords and barre chords with relative ease? If you’re smaller of stature, buying for a younger child or you have hands and fingers on the smaller size you may even want to check out a 3/4 size guitar or similar.

So, which brand or make of guitar should I buy?

Well, for a dirt cheap beginner’s instrument, for minimal investment of your cool hard cash (just in case you don’t like it after all), the Yamaha student guitars are not a bad bet. Don’t get me wrong – these guitars in the overall scheme of things are not the most beautiful sounding, but they are solid as a rock. For around AUD$140 they represent better value for money than other guitars at a similar price point. These entry-level student instruments have a solid top rather than plywood too.

I would then recommend taking a look at the entry-level student range from Alhambra. The Alhmabra 1C is actually a pretty bloody good instrument for the cash (around $500) and you can take your pick between a cedar or a spruce top. The playability of these guitars is very nice indeed, the finish is of very high quality and they are capable of making a pretty decent sound. Definitely a better pick of instrument than any of the others I’ve tried at this price point.  

Most importantly of all – if you can try a few guitars out before you buy, I highly recommend doing so. Then you’re not just taking my word for it! Happy guitar hunting!  

The LMusA Diploma Journey – Update #5 – 3 Months In & Keeping On Keeping On!

Hi Folks, I thought I’d do a bit of an update this week on my LMusA diploma journey, seeing as the last one was a couple of months ago already. How time flies!

For those of you new to the blog (or this wee series I’ve started building) or those that want a recap, I decided to start preparations for taking the LMusA diploma (,_Australia) in April this year.

So where are things three months into the journey?

Well, I’ll say from the outset here that I believe I’m really still in the initial stages of this journey. I’m under no illusions as to the complexity of the pieces I’m learning, will be learning and getting to know inside out over the next couple of years. And I’m under no illusions about the level expected of me going into the eventual recital examination. This all sounds very “heavy”, so don’t get me wrong – I’m finding this an overall journey so far most enjoyable and challenging in the most positive ways!

So, yes, I decided to start out with learning an absolute all-time favourite piece of mine - La Maja de Goya by Granados. And three months in I feel it’s coming together really very well indeed. It’s getting that feel of being a whole piece, not just bits of phrases or sections stitched together with some fluffy bits in between. I’m getting a handle on the more technically tricky bars to the point where there are really only three, perhaps four of these throughout the whole piece. I’m also becoming more and more certain about the direction I’d like to take the music and its “feel” (i.e. colours, dynamics etc.).B&W Down Fretboard shot

What are the next steps, over the next three months, with this piece for me?

(a) Continuing working on the tricky bits until they’re under my control.

(b) Continue to play sections, then halves of the piece, and then the whole of the piece at 75% tempo, 90% tempo and 100% tempo to continue cementing it as a whole thing, a whole piece of work with clear direction and intention throughout, that I can play consistently each time I approach it.

(c) Play it for a live, breathing audience – the first airing of a piece is important as it gives you good feedback about what you feel is working well and what needs further work.

(d) Continue playing it more, and developing my thoughts and ideas on approach, energy levels, dynamics, colours and so on.

(e) Continue the memorisation of the piece (which is probably around 80% of the whole at present as a result of studying the piece closely, not just where my hands are moving).

But this is not going to be it for my classical guitar playing workload over the next three months. Oh no, being the glutton for work that I am, I’ve also made a start in the last week on my next  piece to add into the recital program – and this is a biggie – the whole of the Suite Compostelana by Frederic Mompou. The best way, for myself at least, is to really break this down and get stuck into learning it a page or rather a large section at a time.  I’ll keep you updated as to how I go!


For the previous posts in this series head here:

Update #4 – Keeping Going Through the Frustration

Update #3 – Practicing Whilst Travelling

Update #2 – An Example of a Day’s Practice

Update #1 – The LMusA Diploma Journey

The Start of a New Journey – The LMusA Diploma

Top Tips for Learning Classical Guitar On Your Own

Hello dear readers!

I’ve been contacted recently by a reader who’s just started learning in the last three months, but in a position time-wise and financially where taking lessons just isn’t a possibility.  And I would imagine that said reader is not alone in this.

Yes, it’s ideal if you can take lessons on a weekly basis, but just because you’re not able to do this for whatever reason that should absolutely not be any kind of roadblock or reason not to start learning, playing and enjoying the wonderful instrument that is the classical guitar. I’m all about sharing and helping, so here are my thoughts and top tips for kick-starting your classical guitar journey solo-style.

(1) You don’t have to do it on your own!

With the wonders of the internet these days, you don’t actually have to do anything anymore in isolation. Admittedly it’s not quite the same as learning things in a tailored one-on-one environment, but checking out videos online, seeing if there are any quick “pointers” videos out there – or even blogs like this! – makes things a heck of a lot better, easier and far more pleasant than sitting in your lounge room or bedroom wondering if you’re doing something “right”!

In fact above encourage any of you seeking advice or if you have thoughts on a topic you’d like me to cover to get in touch and ask away. I’m always keen to help if and where I can. I might even be able to post up a video or photo to help with a dilemma or an issue.

(2) Keep on practicing, even just a little bit, every day

We are our habits, and the more frequently you do something, the more ingrained the behaviour comes. Get used to practicing, even if it’s just five minutes – even 2 minutes! – every single day or at the very least 5 days out of 7. This is where you’ll find your development sneaks up on you without you noticing!

(3) Immerse yourself in guitar music and its many sounds

Get to know your favourite players and their sounds inside out. Watch them on YouTube – listen and watch how they produce their sounds. Seek out and get to know guitarists you’ve not heard of before and do the same. Listen, listen, listen. Get to know, feel and understand what good sound sounds like to you. It will take a lot of listening over a period of time to appreciate the subtleties in sound quality, like getting to appreciate good wines or whiskies, but overtime your ear will discern finer and finer differences in sound.

Why is this important?

It will impact on your own playing significantly. Not having someone like a teacher to give you feedback on your sound production and sound quality means it may take a little more time (or not!) for you to understand and appreciate (a) what “good” sound could sound like and (b) how you personally can physically produce a “good” sound (which is totally subjective of course).

By effectively training your ear to become more sensitive to variations in sounds (and observing, where possible, how they’re produced) will mean your own sound production will become more sensitive and informed by what you’re hearing.

(4) Use a well-known and recommended method book

There are plenty out there, and most will give you a reasonable start in learning the guitar. A New Tune A Day For Classical Guitar by Michael McCartney is not a bad book to check out and comes with a CD that plays the tunes, and acompaniments. If you feel you’re not moving ahead with the book you’ve chosen feel free to drop me a line and I can help suggest some alternatives. Similarly, if you feel you’ve moved beyond the book you’ve been using and don’t know where to go to next please feel free to drop me a line.


Thanks again for the reader (you know who you are) for getting in touch. Just to reiterate, as I said above encourage any of you seeking advice or if you have thoughts on a topic you’d like me to cover to do the same. I’m always keen to help if and where I can – Nicole.


It Takes Three To Tango!

Acclaimed composer and performer Máximo Pujol is bringing his tango trio direct from Buenos Aires to Australia for the first time ever – and his first stop is Melbourne this weekend!!

Having honed his skills playing milongas and tangos in the clubs of Buenos Aires, Pujol’s vibrant and melodically rich music is founded on these styles, and makes full use of the expressive powers of the guitar in dialogue with stellar bandoneonista Eleonora Ferreyra and double bass player Daniel Falasca.

If you like a bit of Latin flair then head along to Melba Hall at Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Royal Parade this Saturday 12th July at 7:30m. You’ll be in for a serious (and very rare) treat. I promise!

Book tickets at: events/classicalguitar

In addition, you might like to attend the Tango Lecture Demonstration and Milonga by The Maximo Pujol Trio at Sidewalk Tango at 2:00pm on Sunday 13th July 2014 at 327 Swan Street, Richmond.  Book tickets at:

Check out the Maximo Pujol Trio in action……



Interview with Classical Guitarist Johannes Möller

This week I was fortunate enough (and very excited) to have an interview via the wonders of Skype with Swedish classical guitar superstar Johannes Möller. For the eagle-eyed amongst you, you’ll recall that it was only last week that I posted up a feature on some of my favourite pieces of his recent work, so I was particularly excited about this interview.

Johannes is headed Down Under shortly for his first Australian tour, taking in Muswelbrook (NSW), Melbourne, Araluen Arts Centre in Alice Springs (NT), Sydney and Canberra in July with a program based around his both traditional classical guitar music and his own Indian-inspired compositions. He’s also popping back again for a trip to Perth in August. Johannes was kind enough to take some time out from his busy preparations to share some insight into his world and some words of wisdom.

Photo: Alicia Chester

What are you going to be playing for the Aussie audiences?

The program is “inspired by in one way or the other by Indian music……lots of retuning the guitar and making it more, sort of, Indian. And then some of the pieces are more classically orientated, because my background, I am a classical guitarist right? But I do sort of stretch on the borders, but also maybe you could say I’m taking the classical guitar to another place.”

But there are also going to be some real classics like Asturias by Albeniz, a very classic guitar piece. “

To create a balance with the known and the unknown. If it’s all completely new to you then it’s like can be a little bit overwhelming.”

The second half of the program has a night and dreaming theme “well, the concert is in the evening so by that time it will really be dark. There is one nocturne written in the 19th century by Julio Regondi. I’ll also be playing some pieces based on (Indian) night ragas, some classical night pieces.”

There are some ragas that you play in the morning, some in the evening…… I guess if you’re really very very sensitive to these modes there’s probably truth in that. So there’s this piece called The Night Flame (based on) the night ragas.”

So how does a Swedish classical guitarist and composer get into Indian music and become so influenced by Indian styles?

“Yeah, it makes me wonder too!

It was just quite an attraction since a young age, but it was also… a way that suited me, I felt comfortable with it as a form of expression. And I can’t explain exactly why. In a way the Indian classical music and the Western classical music there are similarities, but at the same time they are completely different.”

It was just kind of coming from that Western persepective, then going into that Indian more free way, and really a more modal way, that at least for me on the guitar was a way for me to create language that I am very comfortable with.”

I also had a great interest in Indian culture and mythology and spirituality, so I guess that goes together with it too.”

Do you play any Indian instruments?

“No I don’t really. I did learn some tabla, and then realised it was far too hard! You have to start when you’re about five!

So instead what I wanted to do was keep the language on the guitar rather than bring up a sitar or something. After all I am a guitarist. A lot of people ask me, should I add extra strings, or do this and that, and make some weird sort of instrument that could be more Indian, but I think part of it is that I just want to take the six string guitar as it is. That’s what’s I know.

You know, so far I haven’t felt limited. In a way I’m already creating a new instrument by retuning the guitar.

What else are you working on at the moment? What else can we expect to see from you in the next 12 months or so?

“Well I’m doing quite a lot of touring. I’ll be over in Australia for quite a bit and I’m actually going back to Australia for another thing in Perth.

I’m doing now a tour of Muswellbrook, Sydney, Melbourne and Araluen (Alice Springs), some small places out in the country.

We’ve been surprised to see what’s going on in Australia because I’ve never been. I’m quite impressed. There’s a lot of live music going on. We’re looking at the possibility of making a tour every second year or so. Making them a regular things as I think there is hopefully a market there for me.”

We also discussed the status of the classical guitar, the guitar in general and his own directions with the instrument:

“The guitar is a popular instrument. I see it in a way that the classical guitar would favour more by becoming just ‘guitar’. We could become more ‘classical’ and really fully enter the ‘classical’ music scene. At the same time maybe we should be more just ‘guitar’. And I guess that’s a whole other audience that could potentially be bigger actually.

Guitar is sort of like ‘everyman’s instrument’. It’s not like a piano, which is really expensive.”

It’s about balance. So I’m doing kind of both anyway. So of course I’m doing to a certain degree the classical guitar scene, but that was really after the GFA prize, before that I didn’t do so much actually. That was actually a great opening. And then I balanced that with my background, which is very classical, Western classical, strict.”

Now I’m also doing this thing where I’m working with a tabla playing, and I’m making it even more Indian. I started off doing it in just India actually, but now there have been a lot of requests to do it in other places too.”

I’m in all kinds of directions! Whatever comes, comes! But you can spread yourself too thin. At the moment I’m enjoying it though. I think that shows in my writing too – one aspect is becoming even more Indian, I’m playing with Indian instruments and I’m getting the Indian more. To the other I’m writing more classical style pieces, more in the Romantic style using harmony.”

The beauty of Indian music in a way is that you don’t have functional harmony, you just don’t have to bother with it. With harmony, it’s the hard thing. There’s different kinds of course, but you always really have to understand your harmony. With tonal music in the Western style you really sort of have to think about that all the time.”

The beauty of Indian music is that you just have melody and rhythm. In a way they become more emphasised. That becomes very powerful, very free. It frees it all up. The cycles become more complex.”

What music do you like to listen to that excites you or inspires you?

“I guess I’m open to a lot of music. At times when I’m working with music, especially if I’m writing a lot, I can’t really take in too much. And then there are periods when I listen to a lot of music all of the time. And that can be all kinds.

I love Chopin, I listen to that a lot. I love listening to Indian classical music. I love listening to a lot of stuff. I like listening to Bob Marley also!

Its like there’s no bad music, there’s just music for different things. You don’t always want to listen to an intricate piano concerto or something. It might put you off.

I guess I’m a music junkie!”

As a guitarist, are there any other classical guitarists who inspire or who have inspired you?

“Of course, there’s so much classical guitar. If you go back in time there’s, of course, Segovia, these names, Julian Bream, John Williams and so on. And it’s almost like there was one, then there was two, then three, then it multiples.

So many more people are playing now and the level is so high. So many interesting things going on.

The only shame there, unfortunately if you look in the general classical music scene, its pretty unaware of this fantastic development that has gone on…….This is where I come back to my thing where we should be just more ‘guitar’ to a certain degree.

Barrios, he was playing perhaps even better than Segovia at the time. He maybe got better, certainly later. Barrios he played tremendously well, transcriptions of Bach, he played Chopin…….his fretboard harmony and so on was tremendous. The man was a genius.

So he was a kind of idol for me, but that’s very far back. I do keep a picture of him though in the place where I work. I really respect him a lot. I really like his playing too.

Many people of my generation also admire David Russel a lot. I think the young generation now also do. He revolutionised the guitar playing. He showed up and played up with so much warmth, fluidity and freedom, that technique and tone. That affected a lot. A bit like Galway was for the flute.”

Johannes has also been greatly inspired by his teachers throughout the years, including the Pavel Steidl, Zoran Dukic and Gary Ryan (not a bad set of teachers!).

As a composer, who or what inspires you in your writing?

“That’s a very hard question actually as it’s been different things at different times. We talked about Indian music being a big influence. I love Chopin, I love Debussy, but I guess on a more deeper level, I guess it’s about human experience and life.”

When you’re not playing and composing what do you like to do?

“Well, we have a son now, so he comes first. Catching up with him, we’re enjoying that a lot. You get to be a kid again also.

What happens to a lot of musicians is that I think your hobby, your interest is your life. It becomes very hard for me to put a line between what is my work and what is my life. For better and worse.

I envy people who can go to work and can then say ‘it’s finished’ and then leave the building and go home and forget all about it. For me that is always a bit, you know….

But on the other hand the beauty of it for me is that I really like what I do.”

What top tips would you have for beginners on the classical guitar?

“The most important thing, the number one, is to practice every day. I think even it’s just 10 minutes it’s better than doing one hour just once a week. Because that creates a routine, you create space for it.

It’s also because it becomes discouraging sometimes, but if you do a little bit every day things develop along very well I think. Even if it’s just 10 minutes. Regularity!

And what top tips would you have for those progressing a bit further, or slightly more advanced students, on the classical guitar?

“It’s important to practice the very basic technical aspects, the very simple things, like doing the perfect stroke, doing the perfect slur even if it’s just one. The very most basic things. Because whatever you can’t do on its own, really slowly, you’re not going to be able to do it fast. So that’s kind of the secret. If you can’t play it slowly, you’re not going to play it any better fast! We all know that!

Guitar is a very difficult instrument, and so you do need to practice the technique separately to just playing the pieces. You can destroy pieces by playing them in so technical a way. If your technique already is strong you’ll much quicker master a piece.”


Thanks again to Johannes for his time!

You can check out his tour dates and purchase tickets here:

Book Review: You Are The Music by Victoria Williamson

I’m pretty much as big a fan of the written word as I am of music and the guitar, so I’m always very excited when I see a new book on the subject of music in my local book store – You Are The Music by Victoria Williamson Long-time readers of this blog will know that I’m somewhat fascinated the psychology of music, so this new title really piqued my interest. The subtitle of the book particularly drew me in – How Music Reveals What It Means To Be Human.

In this first book by Williamson, a lecturer and researcher in musical psychology, fellow blogger (and I strongly urge you to check out her blog at and classical guitarist, she takes us through a wonderful  journey of how music influences us throughout our lives, in many different life situations. She also delves into the realms of what it means to be “musical”, what drives us to make, listen to and dance to music as part of the human experience as well as trained musicians.

As musicians we probably like to hear that we’re a bit special. We practice for hours on end, so it’s got to be doing some good for the ol’ grey matter right? According to Williamson (and many others in her field) this is true. On page 80 of You Are The Music, she takes us through how music changes the brain. I won’t give away as to how or why though – you’ll have to read that for yourselves! I’ll just say the benefits can cross over into our everyday lives though and give advantages in non-musical aspects of our everyday lives.

Williamson also takes us through musical practice and musical learning, both “ordinary and extraordinary” as she describes it. There are some fascinating stories of folks having traumatic incidents only to find they have fantastic music abilities where there were really none previously. She also leads us through and devotes and entire chapter to, music and memory – how we go about memorising music to play, how our brains memorise and recall music that we’ve heard and theories as to the purpose and mechanisms behind those tunes that just get stuck in your head and go round, and round, and round – the earworm. A fascinating read!

Williamson’s style is incredibly readable and very accessible and she is clearly very passionate about her subject. I particularly love how she intersperses little personal anecdotes throughout the book, which creates a very endearing approach.  But she is no stranger to communicating her love and passion for the subject of psychology of music having presented a TED talk, the Latitude Festival and the British Science Festival. She’s also written for the NME and her research has featured on the BBC, Sky and CNN amongst other TV channels.

If you’re at all interested in the psychology of music, music in our everyday lives as well as as musicians then I encourage you to go out and grab a copy of You Are The Music



Watch this space for a Q&A with Victoria Williamson herself very soon!

In the meantime head on over to Victoria’s blog at