Miguel Mateu Interview with Jazz Guitar Life

I try to choose transcripts that contribute something. Then I transcribe the music bar by bar (sometimes note by note). Above all, I spend a lot of time trying to make the rhythm as precise as possible. I think many times we worry too much about the notes that we play, but if the rhythm does not work well, the notes will not work.

Miguel Mateu

I first “met” Miguel when I happened across one of his Pasquale Grasso transcriptions on YouTube. Suffice it to say I was super impressed with his commitment to make every note count and the seemingly ease that he presented the material. I was delighted when he agreed to be interviewed and please keep in mind that English is not his first language but he did a great job in getting his thoughts across. A highly informative and enjoyable read. Enjoy! 🙂

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JGL: Hi Miguel and thanks for taking the time to speak with Jazz Guitar Life.

MM: Thanks to you, for me it is a pleasure.

JGL: How old are you and where are you located?

MM: I am 34 years old and I live in Mallorca, a small island in the Mediterranean Sea.

JGL: I know of you because of the wonderful transcriptions that you have done and shared with us all on YouTube. However, for those who are not aware of you, can you give us a brief description of who you are?

MM: Well, I think it is very difficult to describe yourself. It could be said that I am a great lover of music, and that thanks to a lot of effort I have managed to make my passion, my work.

JGL: Thank you and now let’s jump in. What got you into transcribing in the first place?

MM: Actually, I have been transcribing for many years. I did it for me, to analyze the phrases that I liked and see what scales or arpeggios the jazz greats used on chords. I realized that it could be very interesting to put those transcripts on YouTube so that we could all take advantage of this knowledge. And I think it was a great idea, since many people tell me that it works for them and learn from it.

JGL: Did you study music at a school, privately or are you self taught?

MM: Well, in all three ways. I have given private lessons with great guitarists. I have also spent long periods studying on my own and I have learned at the conservatory since I recently finished my career in jazz interpretation.

JGL: What tools/resources do you use when you are transcribing?

MM: Just the guitar, the musescore and youtube or audacity.

JGL: If you don’t mind sharing, what is your process when transcribing a solo?

MM: There are several parts: first I have to choose the songs that I want to transcribe. For this I listen to a lot of music but from an educational perspective. I try to choose transcripts that contribute something. Then I transcribe the music bar by bar (sometimes note by note). Above all, I spend a lot of time trying to make the rhythm as precise as possible. I think many times we worry too much about the notes that we play, but if the rhythm does not work well, the notes will not work. Transcribing is actually a slow and monotonous process, but you learn a lot when you play and analyze what you have transcribed.

JGL: Do you have perfect pitch or great relative pitch? And do you need one or the other when learning to transcribe?

MM: I don’t have absolute pitch. I studied the first years with the Berklee system, we called it C mobile, and it is the one that I use the most, although I have also studied with a more chromatic system.

For me I think it is more important to have relative pitch, every day I study a little, especially with the mobile app. Absolute hearing is a great tool, but what if you find a transcript that is in the middle of two notes? Like many of Django … Or what if you play with a piano that is not tuned to 440 MHz? I’ve talked to people who have absolute hearing and believe that it can often be a problem when playing.

JGL: What has been the response from your audience regarding your transcriptions?

MM: Great, I can’t be happier.

JGL: Can someone commission a particular transcription from you? And if so, how would they contact you?

MM: Yes, I have already been commissioned several transcripts in the year and a half that I have been with the channel. On my website (www.miguelmateu.com/) you can contact me for any request. For now the web is only in Spanish but soon I will make a section in English.

JGL: Do you have any favorite players you like to transcribe more than others?

MM: For me the transcripts of Pasquale Grasso and Ed Bickert are always special. I always learn something with them.

JGL: How long – roughly – does it take you to transcribe a piece?

MM: I have calculated that it takes about 1 and 2 hours for every minute of music, although it can take much longer with the more difficult ones. Sometimes it takes me half an hour with a phrase. I try to be as precise as possible, to give the best possible product to the people who trust me.

JGL: What is it that excites you about a solo or piece of music that makes you want to spend a ton of hours transcribing it?

MM: It can be many things. Sometimes I transcribe the entire solo just one or two phrases. Other solos because they use a specific technique. The most important thing is that everyone has something new, something to contribute to the people who see the video. That is my motivation.

JGL: What has been the most difficult tune/solo that you have transcribed? And conversely, what has been the easiest?

MM: Possibly the Grasso ones. The last of him: “in a sentimental mood” was really difficult. Although, as I have already done a few of him, each time I find him me less difficult since I understand their language better. There are other guitarists like Barney Kessel or Chuck Wayne, who, having transcribed little of them, tend to be difficult for me.

Easy are none if you want to be precise but some that I did from Jim Hall or Django were not particularly complicated.

JGL: You seem to favor transcribing Jazz Guitar solos which I guess is obvious given that you are a Jazz Guitar player 🙂 Have you transcribed other instruments or styles?

MM: I have made few transcriptions of other instruments, the truth is that it is a lot of work since apart from the transcription, I also have to take a fingering, look for a recording base, etc. But I like to transcribe other instruments and I have projects in mind that I think will be very interesting, as to transcribe and go on guitar to Coltrane or Cannonball.

JGL: What advice would you give to someone who wants to start transcribing?

MM: I could tell them to be patient and try to be as precise as possible. If they have to take half an hour with a short phrase, don’t worry, taking longer you learn better and you will take advantage of the transcription more.

JGL: Have you ever been approached – or thought about – publishing a book of transcribed solos by either one player or a variety of players?

MM: Yes, I have thought about it, and I think that in the near future it is possible that I will. I have not spoken with any publisher yet but it may be an interesting project for the future. I’ve already done is a solo compilation by Django Reinhardt, and I’m already preparing a second volume!

JGL: Have any of the players you have transcribed – who are alive today – reached out to you to say “thanks” or to leave comments?

MM: Just one person, and it wasn’t from a jazz transcription. It was a cover of ” Is this love ” by Ben L’oncle soul and I really liked it. But I have been congratulated by guitarists that I respect and admire and that is enough.

JGL: In your opinion can one make a living from just doing transcriptions?

MM: I think it is very difficult. I’m not even close to anything like that yet, but it’s true that I’ve been here for a very short time, just a year and a half. For now I can be happy with what I have been doing. Also my main source of income are gigs, the transcription are only a complement.

JGL: What gave you the idea of putting your transcriptions on YouTube?

MM: I’m not actually the first to upload transcripts to YouTube. But I knew I could bring something new, like for example Grasso’s transcripts, or the goal of transcribing all of Django Reinhardt’s solos. Those are things that nobody has done and they are very useful for the community of jazz guitarists on the internet.

JGL: What other work do you do as a professional Jazz Guitarist?

MM: My main activity is gigs. I am lucky to live in a place where there is a lot of work for musicians. There have been years that in the summer season I could perform every day. I feel lucky to be able to dedicate myself to playing the music that I like. In winter there are also many gigs but I complement these with music and guitar lessons.

JGL: What make of guitar do you play and any other gear of interest?

MM: I actually only play one guitar! It is a guitar from a well-known luthier in Mallorca, Pepe Mauriz. This guitar changed my life, because with it I got the sound I wanted. It is made of cedar, Spanish guitar wood, it manages to give a sweet and round sound. I have other guitars: a Gibson 125 from the year 1948, an American Stratocaster, a 7-strings guitar from Matt Raines and others. But I really only play one, and I don’t think I’ll ever change it. Another important aspect of the sound is the strings, I have been playing with D’Addario 0.12/0.52 for many years and I am very happy. I’ve always thought that one of the most important aspects of sound, and one of the least taken into account, is the pick. I have used GUZZ S3 picks for more than ten years, a picking company in Madrid that unfortunately has already closed, but I still have a few. Lately I am also using the horn Pick boy and I also like them. The important thing is that they are quite thick, like those used by gypsy jazz guitarists, since that affects the sound.

JGL: When you are not transcribing or performing what other things do you like to do for fun?

MM: I really like sports, I try to do everything I can. After 4 or 5 hours sitting playing, there is nothing better than getting up and going for a walk or doing a bit of running, it is good for the body and the mind. I like to go looking for mushrooms, asparagus or blackberries in the field whenever I can. And I also like to travel, when I have a couple of days off I try to escape with my partner.

JGL: What does the future hold for Miguel Mateu?

MM: Well, I have a lot of projects in mind right now. In October I start studying for postgraduate studies. This will be a year of studying hard, in which I will not be able to work on other projects. For the next summer season I will continue and improve the Django tribute project that I have been working with all this summer and which I am very happy with. And of course, keep transcribing. I will not stop uploading a weekly transcription, I still have many surprises that I am sure will be interesting.

For next year I want to record an album, I have a few compositions that I think can work as a trio with double bass and drums. This is a project that I hope to launch soon and that excites me enormously. A project that I have already started and will also resume next year will be a method to improvise. I have read a lot of different methods and I think I have a lot to show for this topic. As a clear and progressive methodology in terms of the way of studying, in how to achieve a language according to the style or the use of the metronome.

This is what I have in mind for the near future, later, nobody knows.

JGL: Thank you again Miguel for taking the time to speak with Jazz Guitar Life and I wish you nothing but the best in all your endeavors!

MM: Thank you! It has been a pleasure for me and I hope we can meet again.

Please consider spreading the word about Miguel and Jazz Guitar Life by sharing this interview amongst your social media pals and please feel free to leave a comment. We would love to hear from you 🙂

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