Songwriter and guitarist František Chaloupka switches between rock, contemporary and classical music and other genres. Besides that, he founded the Guitar Institute in 2014. We talked about guitar instruction tailored to students. And about the directions in which the Institute could develop further.
During your studies and your subsequent stay in America, you got a taste of blending genres and I feel that you now apply it in the Guitar Institute. Is that true?
Yes, I enjoy all genres. Personally, I listen to classical music, contemporary classical music, old music, and jazz, rock, and actually pretty much all different styles. I have always had great respect for musicians who focus on a different genre than I and they do it well. The blending of different styles is inspiring. We organised a workshop entitled Rychlost where guitarists Vilém Spilka, Aivn and Michal Kůs – i.e. a jazz, rock and metal instructor – met. And I think that even they found out that each of them can do something else and plays differently, that each genre requires a different technique and a different way of thinking. I like to be inspired by various influences and the Guitar Institute has been built on the interconnection of genres since the beginning. We target string instruments – not only the guitar but also the bass guitar, mandolin, ukulele and contrabass. In addition, we strive to promote experimental scores or music of contemporary composers, i.e. contemporary "classical" music. People, who work with us, similarly float between the genres and we pass this concept onto the students.
So, what is the Guitar Institute actually?
It is a creative environment and a school of music for guitar-type instruments. Part of the Institute is the sound archive K.I. Records that should act not only as an archive, but also as a small independent publishing label, where we want to release our own learning materials and CDs. The archive currently contains tens to hundreds of educational videos that we record for students during lessons. An on-line database of teaching materials is generated this way.
What led you to the founding of the Guitar Institute?
In 2014, I graduated from JAMU with a doctoral degree in composition and the question came up of what to do next. Although I consider composition to be my main specialisation and the guitar, which I have played since the age of eleven, to be just some sort of passion, I was giving guitar lessons privately or at different schools throughout my studies at JAMU, i.e. since 2004. So, I just simply decided that since I like it and it works, I will try to continue with it and see. At the same time, I wanted to give it a specific framework that would correspond to the current trends at home and abroad, and mainly to set up the lessons so that the students enjoy them and do not feel like they are in primary school. Right from the start, we want to offer them the widest perspective possible and the possibility of some progressive growth. We want to prepare them for playing in a band, in concerts, studio recording etc. as quickly as possible and in the highest quality possible.
Still, there are other options. Let's try to be more specific. Why should a person interested in playing the guitar or another string instrument sign up with you?
We take into account what the student prefers and we try to motivate them through what they like. We teach them technique on their favourite bands and artists. We are interested in knowing what they like to listen to, because that is usually also the music, on which they would like to focus as a player. For example, the name of one of my students is Tobiáš. He is about 15 years old and over the three years that I have been teaching him, all we play is Led Zeppelin. He simply does not want to play anything else and I think that such energy and enthusiasm can be a big advantage. Compared to the usual form of teaching, this is different in that we try to play together with the students as much as possible during the lessons. That eliminates stage fright if they are beginners. We play in unison with them, so they can hear right away what is not accurate. If they are more advanced, we accompany their solos. The lessons are therefore more like a band rehearsal and we utilise the time in the best way possible. Instead of études, we use riffs and solos of famous rock bands. We teach the beginners two chords and we play a song already during the first lesson. It takes years to get rhythm and proper practice habits, and therefore we practice with students at lessons. We teach them not only the technique but also how to practice. And we teach them how to play with a band, which means timing, feeling, the right groove...
So, do you not teach theory at all?
We try to give insight into music theory to everyone. Every Monday we have a class of music theory for guitar players included in the tuition fee. There, we explain the principles of music theory in a "sheet music-free" way, directly on the guitar fingerboard. I studied classical harmony, Bach counterpoint, Gothic and Renaissance music and various polyphonic techniques, so I know what can be omitted at the given time, and how to get right to the core of things. On Tuesdays, we have a class on intonation and rhythm where we work on developing rhythmic feeling and show how to write simple rhythms. Another huge benefit of our institute is its community environment. It is important that you meet people who think like you and who may inspire you. If the student has the desire to learn something, we try to offer them a suitable environment. Besides the actual instruction, which goes on within the defined genres, we organise guitar or bass-themed workshops for the public almost every Tuesday from 8:00 p.m. We hold workshops on graphic scores and flamenco rhythms for rock guitarists. We try to approach each person completely individually, accommodate them and potentially prepare "customised" instruction.
You have mentioned five genre segments, which are Rock/Heavy, Jazz/Blues, Pop/Folk, Flamenco and Classical. Does it mean that the student must choose one of these topics before starting their lessons?
Students usually choose one segment but we try to find out what they enjoy and try to accommodate them. It is not a problem to study two genres simultaneously.
Which of the genres are people most interested in? And how large is the interest, for example, in flamenco taught by the excellent Dario Piga?
Most interest is in Rock/Heavy or Pop/Folk, which is on acoustic guitar, but even there we play rock songs, of course. Dario is currently teaching one student and organises two workshops per month for the public. Flamenco, although it is beautiful music and it is always an experience for me to hear Dario play – by the way, he plays in my solo project Iszek Baraque – it is a genre that is not yet very widespread in the Czech Republic. I wish everyone to have the opportunity to experience flamenco concerts in person.
How long are the studies at your institute and how frequent are the lessons?
It is usually a 60-minute lesson of the main specialisation, i.e. guitar or bass, per week plus two lessons of music theory, which makes it a total of three lessons a week. The maximum duration of studies is not defined and it is at least one trimester, which is three months. We always talk to the students at the beginning of the trimester and decide what we would like to get done over the three months to give the instruction a clearer shape. However, when a student wants to sign up, they do not have to wait for the start of a new trimester. Again, we are able to accommodate them individually.
Can students of all ages and proficiency sign up?
Yes. We teach all ages and skill levels. The youngest students are currently six and seven years old, another one is thirteen, but they may be fifty or sixty. Even the proficiency level varies. We have students who played the guitar for ten years, then stopped, and those, who have been playing for two or three years and can already do some things, and advanced players with fifteen years of experience.
Do the students receive a diploma or certificate of completion at the end of the course?
We do not want to look too official but at the end of June we hand over some certificates or small items such as guitar picks with our logo or our materials. However, activities organised by the Institute do not end with the end of the academic year. We stay open during the summer holidays. If a student has a desire to continue in the summer, there is no problem arranging lessons. In addition, this year it will be the second time we organise the 2016 Guitar Institute Summer Courses in late August. They will include morning courses for children and afternoon courses for adults.
Which guitarists form the core of the team of instructors?
I see our team of instructors as all the instructors who have ever worked with the Institute. On our website, you can find their profiles with a note that they are guest instructors. In terms of regular instructors, we have recently started working with jazz and rock guitarist Martin Bertič, student of jazz interpretation at JAMU Honza Navrátil, who played in a very demanding production of Andriessen's composition De Staat with the Brno Contemporary Orchestra a few days ago, as well as Veronika Hrdová, student of classic guitar at JAMU, and the aforementioned guitarist Dario Piga. Since I enjoy teaching and it is an opportunity for me to be in constant contact with the instrument, I teach most lessons myself.
With which other guitarists do you cooperate?
We held a workshop with Michal Pavlíček, we have arranged the great jazz guitarist David Dorůžka, the equally famous Zdeněk Bíma of 123minut, and one of the most popular Czech bass players Maťo Ivan to join us for the summer courses. The circle of guitarists keeps growing, and it is great to see how they support each other and I am glad that we can connect them through the Institute.
You are based in Brno. Have you been able to reach those interested in studying from other regions?
Students commute to us from various places in South Moravia, we also have someone from Olomouc. In the future, we hope to expand to Prague, even though it is probably not our main priority right now.
And what are your top priorities in the coming months and years?
At this point, it is the preparation for the Summer Courses, which will be held on 22-26 August at our location at Gorkého 1. Eventually, I would certainly like to expand the technical facilities of the Institute and add, for example, a recording room or an additional rehearsal room and expand the activities of K.I. Records.
Are you planning any graduation concerts or other public display of what your students have learnt?
We don't. To be honest, I always found this format to be somewhat forced. If a student gets to a certain level and there is a possibility, we may contact them to play at a "real" professional event – concert, party, etc. Their parents and friend can then come and see how it looks in real life outside the school environment. Three members of my current "guitar orchestra" Iszek Baraque were initially my students whom I started teaching when they were about fifteen. Now they are eighteen or nineteen years old, and they get to meet professional musicians Dario Piga and Mirek Zachovalý in the band.
Will the Guitar Institute remain a guitar institute? Are you planning to expand instruction to other than string instruments?
We don't. I would like to keep the format of instruction for string plucked instruments and instead expand it, for example, to lutes, banjo, and the like. It seems to me that the generated energy is far more comprehensive and concentrated. Dario brought a keyboard to the rehearsal room but I had a problem placing it somewhere. For now, it is lying in the corner but it still annoys me and I have to hide it somewhere where it cannot be seen! But if something has strings stretched across it, it belongs to the Guitar Institute. (laughs)