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Scott Kritzer Interview

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Scott Kritzer

I recently had the opportunity to get in touch with Scott Kritzer and ask him a few questions.  Scott is a classical guitarist and teacher based in Portland, Oregon.  As you’ll see in the interview, his influence extends far beyond Portland; Scott offers distance video lessons.  Mr. Kritzer has had the opportunity to study with some amazing teachers, and has been teaching and performing professionally for many years.  Here’s what he had to say:

ClassicalGuitar.org When did you start playing guitar?  How did you get into it? Classical first?

Scott Kritzer: My older brother Jack played guitar and I wanted to be cool like him. I was nine at the time and the Beatles were just hitting the scene and I wanted to play so badly that I made a guitar out of a cigar box, a stick and rubber bands. My parents took notice and bought me my first guitar – a Sears model electric. The guitar has hardly ever left my hands since.

I went through rock, folk, some jazz and then one day somebody bought me a John Williams recording. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I loved the Canarios by Sanz and found a classical teacher to teach it to me. He informed me that I’d have to learn how to read music and study technique for a year first. I was a very solid player and taken back by his claim – so I took it up as challenge. He was a student of Ramos and he instilled in me a disciplined approach and an appreciation for pedagogy on the instrument.

CG: Could you tell us a little about your experiences studying with Michael Lorimer?

Scott Kritzer: I was drawn to Lorimer’s playing right away. I heard him and clearly decided that I wanted to sound and play just like him. He taught at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music so I decided to apply. You couldn’t just study with him, he had to hear about you. But I was very happy to work with the other teachers there first; Philip Roshegar and George Sakellariou. I learned so much my first year, I was like a kid in a candy store. I finally got the chance to play for Michael in a master class in Bellingham, Washington and I asked if I could study with him privately. He agreed but the problem was he lived in Santa Barbara. He told me to come down anytime he was there and so I’d fly down and live with him and his wife Jude for four or five days at a time, working day and night. It was very intimidating. We’d work a little and I’d head off to practice. We took meals together. Imagine sitting at the table with your idol. It was an amazing experience.

When I graduated from the SFCM he had taken a one year Artist in Residence at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington and he asked me to come back and be an assistant. So I spent a year, on an island, doing nothing but studying and some teaching. The intensity continued from our work in Santa Barbara. Master classes and private lessons – I’d practice sometimes 13 hours a day. It was that year that I got to play for Segovia. I didn’t really appreciate the lineage of Segovia to Lorimer until recently

In October of ’07 I reunited with Michael in New York where we worked on the repertoire for my recording Romance for Guitar. We ended up talking a lot about Segovia and I realized how fortunate I was to be working with one of his favorite pupils. In any case I recorded the following month – the recording is representative of the type of music that first brought me to the guitar, and it’s appropriately dedicated to Michael Lorimer.

CG: Many classical guitar teachers use others’ methods.  You’ve developed your own.  What’s different about your method? How does it work?

Scott Kritzer: I humbly pay homage to every teacher I’ve had, (Robert Orr, Robert Brandon, Jon Harris, Philip Roshegar, George Sakellariou, Michael Lorimer and Aaron Shearer). They invested their efforts into my playing and I wouldn’t be where I am today without each of them. Yes, I’ve developed my own method both from the knowledgeable teachers I’ve studied with as well as from decades of playing on the concert stages around the world and the myriad of students I’ve taught. My studio has always been a laboratory of sorts, taking ideas and concepts and first applying them to my own playing and performing, then teaching the ones that worked to my students. I still apply Lorimer’s ideas of study-perform-teach. This keeps me working at a deeper level on ideas and concepts that I barely knew existed ten years ago.

I would have to say my main teachers were Michael Lorimer and Aaron Shearer. I worked with Aaron for three months in Idaho. We did lessons every other day for three or so hours a day. He crammed so much information into my fingers it took me a year of listening to our lesson tapes, writing and re-writing notes. When I got back to Portland I formed a small focus group that reviewed his then new Method Books and reported back to him weekly. After being reunited with Michael, I planned on contacting Aaron but  sadly heard from his wife that he had passed.

I can’t really say where everything comes from directly but I take a lot of my technique from Aaron’s ideas – although working with Michael last year changed my hand position quite a bit. I’d like to think that I’ve extended Aaron’s ideas into areas where he would be pleased.

CG: What are the phases we read about on your website?

Scott Kritzer: I break down my method into Phases. Phase I covers positioning and basic movement forms, what I call primary skill sets. Even advanced players find this very insightful. Phase II covers the control over tone production including nail filing, tone production, balance, right hand finger independence, dynamics and timbre. I call these secondary skill sets; skills that can drift away if you don’t practice them occasionally. We actually cycle through them in our scales and arpeggio work. Phase III is the one I’m most excited about. It’s where we take the primary skills learned in Phase I and really work them to the point where the student has what I call a ‘perfect hand’. Finger movement and positioning is so well trained that a student can’t do these exercises and have anything less than a great right hand.

Phase IV begins our practice directives that apply mainly to technique. In addition to the ones learned in Phase II we work on left hand thumb placement, burnishing, string crossing, slurs, etc. Phase V continues the practice directives that relate more to repertoire; backward sectionals, counting measures, etc.

Phase VI teaches the player how to use the practice log. I’m all about efficiency of effort, leverage, if you will. At this point the student has learned about 14 different practice directives that are applied to technique and repertoire. The practice log puts all these exercises into an organized format so that the player’s daily practice is focused and directed. This is currently being developed into a software program.

Phases VII-IX are about learning music and performance. Phase VII teaches rudimentary theory and musicianship, Phase VIII is a very systematic approach to reading and memorizing music (mostly off the guitar). Phase IX is Performance Anxiety Rehab and deals directly with how to overcome the affects of ‘stage fright’.

CG: You’re one of few classical guitarists that offer online lessons.  How did you get started with that?  Is it a major part of your business?

Scott Kritzer: A student couldn’t get in for a lesson because she was snowed in. So she sent me a video of her exercises. I pulled out the video camera I had used to tape my son’s football games and shot one and sent it back. We both went, ‘huh’. She had a friend back East and we did the same thing. We were all surprised that not only was this method of learning effective, but even more effective (in many cases) than teaching in person.  Imagine being able to rewind and watch again your lessons.  Well, word got out and pretty soon I had more people requesting lessons than I could handle doing one-off video lessons with.  I slowly started shooting videos and writing my Phases in order to accommodate the needs of the growing e-students. The benefits to these phase approached e-lessons were so strong that I started to make all my local students also go through the same program. Now I have a number of different ways that students can work with me; sending me one video at the end of the Phase, sending me a video at the end of each Part where I comment and confirm, or working with me directly online every two weeks (this is the best – no need to shoot and upload videos and the student gets immediate feedback as well as instruction on the next part).

Through my online lessons, I’m working with people from  the Middle East, China, Maryland, Norway, and etc. It’s pretty darn exciting!

The online business is becoming a larger portion of my teaching – things are changing so quickly that I can hardly keep up. The other day I had three students on a web conference (who were working on the same Part of the same Phase), and we had a mini-master class; four cameras up on the screen – I even had them coach each other. I’m getting ready to launch free web presentations covering an array of subjects.

CG: You run a guitar festival every year as well, what is it and what was the reason for starting it?

Scott Kritzer: It’s called Classical Guitar Immersion-CGI-this year will be the fourth annual event and it’s on of my big passions. In doing this workshop I’m addressing what I feel are two of the greatest needs in guitar today. First, a clear and concise approach that allows the player to reach his or her potential and secondly to bring back the longer class format and thus a greater popularity for the classical guitar.

I feel the guitar has gone back in popularity and I think I know why. Most of the great players in my day (late 70’s), did one week, sometimes two week master classes. I even attended a three week class in Berkeley, California led by Leo Brouwer. I’m talking about Oscar Ghiglia, Michael Lorimer, Abel Carlevaro, etc. These were also intense learning experiences. After 3 or 4 days you’re exhausted but ideas start to click, something almost indescribable happens and you become a better player almost by just being there. In addition these classes drew hundreds of participants. These participants became guitarists, and at the least they became audience members.

Now we have great players who do a one-day class as part of a negotiation to get the concert. For the student it’s a hand shake and a pat on the back and out you go. The players of the earlier era gave of themselves in a way current players don’t seem to. We have better, younger players than we’ve ever had yet smaller audiences for them to perform. Players are a bit dismayed at the lack of the public’s interest compared to the 60’s and 70’s. I even had one Pulitzer Prize winning journalist ask me recently, “Is the classical guitar dead?”

In addition I think there is a plethora of bad instruction for the classical guitar. We are lacking in the choice of good pedagogical approaches.  I’m not talking about tips or exercises, but a proven systematic approach that takes a beginner to the advanced levels allowing him or her to play at their potential. This is far more common in the traditional classical instruments like the violin, piano, etc. CGI was born out of me preaching from my soapbox and a student’s response to put my money where my mouth is. That being said, CGI is what it is, and really has to be experienced to be appreciated.  It’s a lot of fun.

CG: What’s on the agenda for this year for Classical Guitar Immersion?

Scott Kritzer: The most important goal every year is to make each and every player (whether a professional or hobby) play to the best of their abilities.  This is done by assuring each player has appropriate repertoire to their skills and then an opportunity to perform in a more formal performance setting. Master Class students of CGI not only perform in Master Classes but also in a formal event. Last year the students performed a benefit concert for a small town outside of Portland to an appreciative audience.  The event sold out and the students have earned a reputation for delivering solid performance through the years.  Even CGI auditors perform in workshops and also in late night open mic events.  Every year there is one person who swears they are not going to perform. You can guess how that story ends…

In addition to master classes and performances, (both by myself and students), we have technique workshops revolving around the Phase work I previously mentioned and Performance Anxiety Rehab workshops all week. Everyone stays in a beautiful dorm on the Lewis & Clark Campus here in Portland, Oregon. The food is great, the weather is great and the camaraderie built is amazing and a lot of friendships are built. The participants come from a wide array of backgrounds; we have a dancer, computer tech people, a rocket scientist, software developers, lawyers, doctors and even a congressionally appointed member of the US’s National Security Advisor. But as soon as they arrive they become friends of the guitar.

CG: What are your top three guitar tips?

Scott Kritzer: Practice Tip: Slow down and listen to every note you’re playing. Playing too fast and not listening are the single two corrosive things you can do to your playing.

Organization: make goals for your playing – project where you’d like to be in 6 months, 1, year and 2 years with regards to your practice habits, musicianship and performing.

Performance: Don’t be so damn hard on yourself in performance. EVERYONE makes mistakes, well, maybe not Barrueco or Williams, but those of us from this planet do. Give yourself permission to make mistakes, let go, and share the music. You’ll live.

CG: Any business tips for the aspiring private teachers out there?

Scott Kritzer: I guess I‘d say don’t be afraid of challenging your students. Have a concept of what you want to do for your students and direct them towards that concept. It may sound odd but students who work with me get very little choice in how they practice. I’m considered a tyrant of sorts but I know what they need and successful people appreciate a clear and direct approach. I guess what I’m saying is having something to say and don’t be afraid to say it!

My approach is to transform players. My assumption is that they want to be trained just as if they were professional and in such a way as to reach their full potential. I ask no more or less from them than I do of myself. It’s hard to ask a lot from your students unless you have the power and conviction of following your own advice.

CG: Any final thoughts?

Scott Kritzer: Things are moving so fast, I’m adding new services all the time; if people are interested they can write me and I’ll add them to the mailing list where everyone will be kept informed. Here are a couple of recent highlights.

I have weekly tips called Fret Marker – they’re short and to the point.  If you send me an email at scott@scottkritzer.com with Fret Marker in the subject line I’ll put you on the list (your email will remain private and not sold to anyone else)!   I’m working on pulling parts of the Phases that don’t need to be taken in any particular order and making them available at a much lower cost than the whole Phase.