#MNGrade1athon Challenge: John Rousseau

#MNGrade1athon Challenge: John Rousseau
John Rousseau, a Percussion Masters student at TU Dublin Conservatoire and recent awardee of a prestigious George Moore Scholarship, is learning the guitar as part of the Music Network Grade-1-a-thon Challenge. All funds raised during the challenge go directly to our Instruments for Older People Appeal. We caught up with John to find out how he is getting on...

John, you’re originally a percussionist. Why take up the classical guitar?

I always really liked guitar music, like Spanish Flamenco music, because the rhythms are really striking and easy to dance to. Also, my parents both listened to a lot of guitar music when I was younger, artists like John Williams, B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton, were always on in the car. We also have an old Framus guitar in the house, so I even had access to an instrument right away.

When did you start learning to play the guitar, and how have you been finding the process so far?

I started learning in January, after seeing a post about the Grade-1-a-thon on Facebook. I decided it would be a good lockdown project and something to keep me busy! The process has been very rewarding, though I am finding the guitar a little difficult. The guitar is very different to percussion, but just as fun!

Are you getting lessons or teaching yourself?

I am getting lessons from my friend Enda Henehan. He is a great teacher, with lots of patience!

What’s the hardest thing about adjusting from drums to guitar?

They are two very different instruments and require different skills. Proper technique was definitely the hardest thing to get right. Most of the musical aspects carry over from drums to guitar, like rhythm and harmony, but the hand positions on the guitar were completely new to me. The guitar is also a lot quieter than the drums, though everyone at home is quite happy about that.

Do you have any particular practice routine?

Not really, it can be quite irregular. Usually what I do is start practicing percussion, and when I feel I need a break, I switch to guitar. I do try and practice at least once every two days though, even if it is just scales or exercises.

Who is your hero guitarist?

That is a tough question! There are many great guitarists across the genres. I have many B.B. King CDs at home that I always seem to gravitate back to. He’s an absolute virtuoso and master musician, rightfully known as the King of the Blues.

Closer to home, I’ve listened to John Feeley’s interpretations of Bach, like the Cello Suites and the Chaconne. Needless to say, it’s a very different genre with a different style. It really goes to show the broad range of genres the guitar can handle.

Do you have a “desert island” guitar album, recording or video that you’d like to share?

I really love the Blues, so a recording I’d love to share is B.B. King’s ‘Lucille’. It’s a song King dedicated to his guitar, which he always called Lucille.

B.B. King - Lucille

What have you found most enjoyable about the process to date?

Starting a new instrument is a really rewarding experience in itself! I really enjoyed making progress little by little. Playing my first G major scale on guitar was definitely a highlight for me! I really like the sound the guitar makes and using vibrato for the first time was a real thrill!

How does it compare to when you were learning the drums?

I have a lot more experience this time around. I know the music theory behind the pieces I’m playing, and I have a better understanding of the rhythms. That means I can focus on other things when learning the piece, like expression.

Do you have any advice you’d like to share for anyone thinking about taking up a musical instrument as an adult?

Go for it! Everyone has some music inside of them, and learning an instrument is a great way to express that. Music is such a rewarding experience and there’s no better feeling than being able to perform a piece after practicing it for a while. I’m very glad I decided to take part in this project and I’m very excited (and slightly nervous) about my upcoming exam!