Started: Age 16 in 1969
Instruments: Guitar, Bass, Mandolin, Harmonica, Banjo, Keyboard
Styles: Blues, contemporary instrumental acoustic, folk
Books Publications: (National Guitar Workshop Publications/Alfred) Beginning Acoustic Blues Guitar Intermediate Acoustic Blues Guitar Mastering Acoustic Blues Guitar Fingerstyle Technique Builder Beginning Fingerstyle Guitar Intermediate Fingerstyle Guitar Fingerstyle Guitar Encyclopedia
Recordings: Horsin' Around (Live at NGW 2002) Remembrance (a tribute to America's war veterans 2002
Gear: Alvarez Yairi acoustic guitar, Bazzolo acoustic guitar, Hohner harmonicas
Lesson Text: Learn to Play Guitar with Lou Manzi Lou Manzi's guitar lessons are ideal for absolute beginners and intermediate players. If you're completely new to the guitar, Lou will share tips on how to buy a guitar, explain the parts of a guitar and how to tune it. He'll introduce you to chords and chord diagrams and tablature, and he'll teach you some fun licks and explain relative tuning. His introduction to Fingerstyle and the two-note shuffle are essential playing skills. Once you're familiar with the basics of the instrument, Lou will take you to the intermediate level and teach you arpeggiating chords, how to mute strokes and play percussive sounds with a backbeat. Learn barre chords, explore harmonics and new chords, including augmented and diminished chords and adding 7ths. If you want to play songs, learning Travis picking and strumming with no pick are essential skills, and Lou will tell you all about it. After completing Lou's basic lessons, you're ready to improvise using Minor and Major Pentatonic.
Lou Manzi has been performing his original and dynamic style of acoustic blues since the 1970s. He is part of the duo Fletcher & Manzi whose original acoustic music is an eclectic blend of blues, jazz and R & B. Lou is recognized as a leading teacher of acoustic guitar, blues music and guitar education. He is a veteran faculty member of the National Guitar Workshop.
When did you start to play? I started to play in 1969. It was a great time to get started. The late sixties were a very creative time when musicians were pushing the envelope and blending blues, rock, folk jazz and world music to create new sounds. The Beatles had originally inspired me to play; they looked so cool with their instruments and made it look like so much fun. I did not start to play when I first heard them, but they probably gave me the initial spark. Hearing Leadbelly also inspired me to actually get a guitar and get started. His music was so strong and powerful that it really moved me. He was one guy playing one guitar so I figured I"d try that too. Didn"t need to get a band together, I didn"t know any drummers or bass players. I guess it never dawned on me that a teenaged kid from Staten Island did not have a shot at sounding like Leadbelly. But it got me going and I gradually progressed and wound up sounding like myself. When did you start to notice that your playing was different from everyone else's? When did you find your voice as a player? When I first started to play gigs as a solo player I really became aware that I had what it took to play in that type of setting. I recall my first real paying gig playing background music at a restaurant. I had about 45 minutes to an hours worth of material to play and it was a three hour gig. Of course I repeated some, but I couldn"t play the same set over and over so I improvised and created lots of original music right on the spot. Somehow it worked and I really got into fingerstyle solo improvisation. I had no other choice if I wanted to keep the gig, and I needed it. So I would say that one of my "things� is playing in that style and I found my voice in situations like that. How do you keep your playing fresh? I love to learn new songs. Learning new material keeps your playing fresh. I also love to play in different musical settings. I play in a duo, Fletcher & Manzi, which performs original songs that Rob Fletcher and I write. I also play traditional blues style, a big part of my style and sound. Rob and I also have a Rock n" Roll program that we play at road races and a program called Remembrance that is a tribute to America"s war veterans. I"ve played in many pit bands for Musical Theater productions and often use my classical guitar experience to play at my local church during services. So I would say that playing different styles and in different musical settings can keep the music fresh. I"ve played in concert halls, bars, festivals, nursing homes, hospitals, road races, weddings, church, the Senate Office Building in Washington, a civil war re-enactment and many other settings. What do you do when you get stuck? I don"t feel that I often get stuck as a player, I"ve got my playing to where I like it and am comfortable with what I do. I know the routine of learning new music and although I"m always working on new things I don"t let myself get stuck. I"m primarily a blues/fingerstyle player and I can do what I want and need to in that style. Songwriting is where I can get stuck; working on a new song sometimes you get stuck with a certain verse, creating enough material to complete the song, writing a good bridge, etc. When this happens, I just put the tune aside for awhile and come back to it another day, week, etc. Eventually I finish them or else reject them as below par pieces. At one point I had a tune that had two good verses, I felt it needed a third verse but could not come up with anything I liked. I put it aside but kept my notes on it. Over ten years later I found the original notes and gave it a little attention. Something clicked and I got a third verse and now I perform the tune in shows. What do you still find hard to do? Again, I would mention songwriting. It"s often easy to be inspired to come up with a new lick, chord progression, verse or chorus. The hard part is finishing a tune once you"ve got it going. That"s when the real work of songwriting comes in. It can be difficult and quite frustrating. You"ve got to be dedicated and try to ride it out. I usually have quite a few songs in progress at the same time; I go back to them and try to get a little further with each of them. Through this process I do wind up finishing some once in awhile. I find the process challenging but a lot of fun. How often are you surprised by your playing, or what you"re listening to, or music in general? I"m surprised when I"m writing a tune and it comes together all at once at one sitting. It happens when you"re really on and inspired and the song seems to come from somewhere "out there.� Of course, there is usually some editing that occurs later, change a word or two, or rework the melody a bit, but it is a good feeling to get the main elements of a song down at once. This has happened with me quite a few times but it is always a pleasant surprise. Do you have a regular practice regimen? Do you have a practice "tool-kit" - metronome, tuner, recorder, etc.? I try to practice everyday. It"s the same advice I give students. We may not get it in every single day but you"ve got to hit it almost everyday. If you"re a guitar player the guitar has to be a big part of your life. You"re only going to get to know the guitar if you get with it often. Your relationship with the guitar is like a relationship with a person. You"ve got to spend time with it to get to know it and feel comfortable with it. If you do this it can give you much joy and a feeling of accomplishment. Although like a person it can also make you feel bad and frustrated once in awhile. Keep at it and it will help you grow as a player and also as a person. After all these years, I still love the challenge of creating new songs and arrangements and learning new pieces and techniques. Many of my students, who are not professional players, say they enjoy playing the guitar after a stressful day at work. It helps them unwind. I tell them it"s actually the same with me. After a long and intense day of teaching guitar at one of the sites where I work, I go home and work on my own music. I find that rewarding and enjoyable. I have a music room/office at home. I play there a lot but can also be found strumming and picking in the living room, bedroom, deck, etc. I don"t teach at home but I often have breaks in my schedule at the schools where I work and these are perfect opportunities for me to work on music. Is there a piece of gear you just can't live without? I love my mini-disc recorder. I keep it in the bag I use when teaching and take it on gigs. It"s usually nearby. Any new musical ideas I come up with get recorded right away. Are there one or two core ideas that are central to your teaching that you make sure every student learns? Fun and Creativity. Of course they need to learn good technique and theory but playing an instrument has to be enjoyable. I have fun with it. I thoroughly enjoy teaching and playing guitar and try to share my love of it with my students. I tell them that the more they learn the more fun it will be. I feel that it is important to learn to improvise and write your own music. I tell my students that creating their own music makes them special. By writing their own songs and improvising their own music they come up with something totally unique. Do you find yourself returning to listen to the artists who inspired you when you first started to play? Who are they? As I mentioned before, The Beatles and Leadbelly were inspiring in my early days of playing. I also greatly admire Dave Van Ronk who was a great fingerstyle player/singer and was an incredible interpreter of other people"s songs in a folk/blues setting. He would do blues from the 1930s along with Joni Mitchell songs and jazz standards. He touched so many different styles and made them all his own. A very inspiring performer. I also love the intensity of Howling Wolf and the songwriting of Ray Davies of the Kinks. I admire the playing of Ry Cooder, Leo Kottke and Michael Hedges. Does your playing change when you switch instruments? I do use different approaches on different guitars. My three main instruments are all acoustic. My Alvarez-Yiari steel string is great for acoustic funk strumming styles. When I"m focusing on fingerstyle music I grab my steel string Bazzolo. It was made by a luthier, Thomas Bazzolo, who lives near me in Connecticut. He makes a few guitars a year. The Bazzolo has the sound that I had been looking for in a guitar. I feel it has "my fingerpicking sound.� I also have a Alvarez-Yiari nylon string for classical playing. I"m not a serious mandolin player but I love to pick one up and play some Celtic tunes once in a while. How often, when you're playing, do you find those moments of pure music, when your head is clear, your fingers are working, there are no distractions, and it"s just you and the music? We play music because it moves us deeply and we really feel the emotions. It"s hard to put those feelings into words. There have been many times when I"m in the moment and play something without thinking about it and it surprises me. It may be a musical clich� but it does feel so good when you are playing with others and you"re really "in the pocket.� It"s a feeling of joy and confidence. I find these moments occur when you"re playing in situations where you are really comfortable with the music and the other musicians. What music would you suggest to your students? �In Roots Music/Blues style: Ry Cooder, Leadbelly, Howling Wolf, Taj Mahal �In Rock/Pop style: The Kinks, Fountains of Wayne, XTC �Fingerstyle: Leo Kottke, Michael Hedges, Lenny Breau What are you listening to these days? Do you search out music that's new and unfamiliar to you? There is so much great music out there it is hard to keep up. I would say that I don"t listen to music that much. I spend much more time playing and working on my own music. When I do listen it"s often to look for new material for me to learn to play. I"ll check out blues players to look for cover tunes, listen to classical players to find new classical pieces to play. My students turn me on to new music that they are like. That"s how I heard Death Cab for Cutie and I like their sound. Do you have a musical wish list - other instruments to learn, people to play with, artists or styles to explore? It"s too late to play at Woodstock; I started too late and missed my chance. I would love to play with a symphony orchestra or for an opera but I may never realize that goal. I bought an accordion at a thrift store a few months ago. Fooled around with it a little and will learn to play it eventually. I"d like to be a better harmonica player but I do have fun playing what I know on it. What makes a great teacher? A person who is a great player may not be a great teacher. A teacher needs to be a "people person�, one who can be sensitive to the needs and abilities of inexperienced players. A good teacher will be one who has a great desire to keep learning new things themselves and can share their love of learning with students. He or she should have good technique and should stress playing the "correct way� so students can learn efficiently and avoid physical problems later. It may seem obvious but a teacher needs to really enjoy teaching and share that love of guitar with their students. How do you learn best? In real estate it may be location, location, location but in learning music it"s repetition, repetition, repetition. When learning a new piece I"ll play straight through to see what kind of shape it"s in. Then I"ll work on any rough spots by repeating short phrases or bars over and over a few times. I want to see some improvement in that part, even if it"s slight. I want to get the notes to that part under my fingers and improve my muscle memory. This way I can see progress, the piece sounds better and I feel better about it. It"s important to play the whole piece but you need to work on the tough spots separately.
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