Meet the real Derek behind the website as he answers your questions
When did you start playing Guitar?
I started when I was quite young. It's embarrassing to admit it now, but the Beatles and the other Guitar-based groups of the time influenced all of us at primary school. And so I began with a cheap steel-strung acoustic guitar with a small body.
It wasn't long before I started private lessons and consigned the steel strings to the dustbin. I suppose my lessons began when I was eleven. By the time I was fifteen, the cheap Guitar had been replaced by a proper Clasical Guitar, and then by a Yairi. I'd reached Grade 8 and played in most of the local Music Festivals, and then school exams started to crowd into my leisure time.
When did you start teaching?
At fifteen. Gordon Humfress, my first teacher, was a wonderful chap who also played viola for one of the BBC orchestras. As a result, he often needed a deputy to cover his Evening Classes for adult beginners. I soon became that deputy, and taught around South East London. I still remember with horror my first class as deputy - the first of a new Evening Class season. How was I to know there'd be 32 wide-eyed pupils with guitars completely out of tune?
200 strings at 5 seconds a string is 15 minutes. I'm faster tuning up now!
While I was doing my degree at Cambridge, I took up lessons with Chris Kilvington who sadly died in 1999, way before his time. While I was there I started teaching at the local schools and privately. When I graduated and moved to the South Coast, I started guitar teaching and specialising in adult beginners. Somewhere along the way I was awarded a Diploma from The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.
What instruments do you play?
In common with virtually everyone, I started with the descant recorder, and in many ways it was good to be able to learn rhythm and counting at an early age, and on an instrument which didn't require every ounce of concentration devoted to it. It made the initial steps in learning Guitar that much easier, and I haven't forgotten the recorder, even now!
While doing the Music Theory that the practical exams require, I started on piano. I've never reached dizzy heights with it, but it's been a godsend in arranging for Guitar Ensemble.
When my kids started to learn to play Brass, I joined in and started on the Eb Tuba, which I pursued until I'd reached Grade 4. Actually, I pursued it till I had to give the Tuba back - they're too expensive to buy, and I was able to borrow one for 18 months. My great memory is of doing the Grade 4 at the same Centre on the same as my son did his - I decided to dress up in an adult version of the school uniform, and go into the exam room last...
I can knock out a tune on the 5-string banjo and the mandolin, and played fretted and fretless bass guitar some years back when I was in a Folk Band.
Is Guitar your main instrument?
Very much so. But I'm convinced that playing a number of instruments has helped my teaching a lot. Not only did I put myself through the learning process as an adult when I started to play brass, but I find that I have a clear distinction between the musical aspects of learning (common to all instruments) and the technical aspects of learning (specific to the instrument).
I have to say, too, that the Guitar is the hardest instrument I've learned. My pupils say it too, but maybe that's more a reflection on my teaching!
Do you come from a musical family?
No I don't. Neither of my parents played a musical instrument at all, and, as an only child, I've no idea whether the siblings I didn't have would have been musical.
There was Classical Music in my parents' house, though, and I still wonder how much music came into my soul from my Mum, who was half Welsh.
My wife Pam's not musical, though she has valiantly learned to play all the instruments that our two boys Colin and Simon learned, so she could help them get started.
Elder son Colin plays piano, keyboards, tenor horn, steel guitar and bass guitar.
Younger son Simon plays piano, pipe organ, and trumpet.
I've made it a principle that I've never pushed my boys to learn music. Music for me is a relaxation and a hobby, and I wanted it to be so for them too. What they have achieved, I'm proud to say, is all their own doing.
Why is your website about Ensemble Guitar?
Maybe as an only child playing a solitary instrument, I could say I felt envious of those musical families whose children played in Orchestras. But I'd be wrong.
I came to Ensemble Guitar quite late in life, after a period helping out in a Church Music group, and in a Folk Trio. In both of these, I found myself writing vocal harmony parts and realising that it was a lot of fun. When I started to bring Ensemble ideas into my group classes, I was surprised how it helped motivate the class, especially the weaker players.
Ensemble Guitar is something that many guitarists don't get to try, especially those have one-to-one private lessons. I think it's important to trumpet the cause (pardon the pun) of an area of Guitar which can be very special, very enjoyable and very motivating. I don't see many Ensemble Guitar resources on the Internet, and I'm therefore delighted to be able to share my enthusiasm with the thousands of visitors who have called by my site.
Have you always composed and arranged?
Heavens no. Needs must, I suppose, was how all started. Someone needed to write vocal harmonies for the groups I was in, and I seemed not to step back fast enough. That theory I'd done years ago and I never understood what is was actually for, got dusted down and put into practice.
The wisdom of easy and tuneful countermelodies came directly from the need to get the groups' pieces up and running at a single rehearsal, and this is something I've brought to all my Guitar arrangements. Harder to write, so they're easier to play.
I first started a formal Guitar Ensemble group - my Workshop - in 1988 because of an overwhelming desire of that year's pupils to play part music. Immediately, I was faced with finding suitable material. Does one go and buy music or write one's own? The economics for me were inescapable, and I began the long haul of writing 140 ensembles for Guitar. Much less than half is published, but I was really lucky in discovering an excellent Publisher who has produced beautiful editions for me at the most amazing prices.
And in 1999 I formed the Havant Area (later Hampshire) Guitar Orchestra - hago - which is the most amazing musical project I've ever run - four different sizes of guitar and a massive play list, regular concerts, competitions and a real buzz, all the time.
Do you have a Mission Statement?
I hate that phrase!
But in an informal sort of way, I suppose I do. You see everyone who learns guitar begins by knowing nothing. A lucky few go on to great things. I consider myself lucky that I work primarily with adult beginners, because though I don't get the kudos of working with child prodigies, I do get the chance to introduce Guitar to many more pupils in a year this way!
It doesn't take long to realise that the vast majority of adults who've ever tried to learn Classical Guitar actually give up; indeed many more fail than succeed.
It's with that in mind that my mission, if that's want you want to call it, is to try to
- Encourage every pupil to realise their potential with guitar
- Instil in every pupil the joy that guitar playing can be
- Help every pupil experience the sheer exhilaration that Guitar Ensemble can be
That's the Mission Statement of this website too, of course. You see, this website exists primarily not to sell my music (that's an added bonus) but to try to encourage the guitarist who is reading this right now - that's you!
What publications have you got?
The Shop here on this site contains all my music for sale - please visit and have a look - I work with three publishers. Also, I have an article in Classical Guitar Magazine, and a set of commissions for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.
I work hard to bring guitar into the community, rather than expecting the community to come to guitar concerts, and I was delighted to be awarded First Prize in 2002 in The Portsmouth News "We Can Do It" award for "art, sport and community projects".
What one piece of advice would you give the person reading this?
What a question!
"Never give up" doesn't seem mystic enough, though it's probably the most important phrase I could ever say.
"You can do it" is another hackneyed one.
Can I find something more subtle? I hope so. It's this...
"Never forget that music can touch people's hearts; always make music that does".