Though I own no college degrees and am technically an autodidact, I have had tremendous private teachers every step of the way.
Meet my (most significant) guitar teachers:
1. Terry Matten (rock): Teri was my first teacher. We worked together in middle school and high school. A conservatory grad and jazz fanatic, he had the good sense to asses my goals and talents, and teach me rock & roll. From him I learned to love relevance, and loathe pedantry: to teach what students need to know, not what I want them to know. This is probably the most difficult lesson for any would be teacher to learn, and thanks to Terry, it was my first.
2. Buck Brown (jazz): When I felt ready to break from my rock past I found Buck. He was an older, rugged man, who played many instruments, in many styles, and loved them all. He was also an autodidact (a Berklee School of music dropout—there are thousands). Buck is most well known for playing in the Nils Lofgren Band (of E Street Band fame) on second guitar, mandolin, and keyboard (he’s even been on stage with The Boss himself!).
It is with him that I first learned to read and write music, and to play jazz. He broadened my theoretical basis to include jazz harmony, helped me pen my first compositions, and instilled in me a love for fingerstyle acoustic playing. He pushed me hard, for many years, and gave me a musical discipline that I’ve never lost. I still recall our first phone conversation fondly. It went something like this:
Hi my name is Manny.
Hi Manny, I’m Buck. Before anything else there’s one thing I want you to know.
No matter what you can play now, it takes at least 10 years to become a great guitarist.
God bless you, Buck Brown!
3. Rafael Padron (classical): After Buck moved to Nashville to do session work, I was ready to push my finger style playing to the next level. He suggested classical, and said not to mess around with anyone but the best. The best was named Manuel Barrueco, and he taught nearby at the Peabody conservatory in Baltimore. Mr. Barrueco is the greatest living classical guitarist, and I couldn’t get near him. Fortunately, after bouncing around through several local teachers, I moved to Miami to study with one of his protégés: Rafael Padron.
Rafael was disappointed at my pitiful Spanish (he is also Cuban-American), but encouraged by my playing, and took me on as a student despite not being enrolled at the University of Miami. He revolutionized my technique in the first six months, with methods and exercises borrowed from the master, Mr. Barrueco. My tone, timing, and mechanics were dramatically altered, and I began to sound like a genuine classical player. My right hand became precise, quick, and powerful, and my little left hand suddenly felt twice as large, and it’s never felt small again.
From Rafael I learned the meaning of technique, and the reason it is worth acquiring: to transcend physical limitations so that the music can speak. Though I have lost some of it since then, as my focus shifted back to jazz, popular styles and especially the piano, I still listen to his two amazing albums, and remain eternally grateful for his firm guidance and unmatched musical insight.