Saturday, May 9, 2009

Interview - Shred Teacher Tommaso Zillio

Tommaso Zillio is a guitarist and teacher living in Alberta, Canada. He will appear in the compilation Album “Under the Same Sky”, whose release is imminent, and is currently working on his debut album. Check out the juicy insights that Tommaso shares with us on the topics of teaching and practicing.

How long have you been teaching guitar?

3 years professionally but I’ve always been teaching for passion. Two months after picking up my very first guitar 15 years ago I was already showing other kids how to play chords… I guess I just have it in my veins. 

Why do you teach guitar?

Teaching for me is a way of life. Every time I find something cool or some new tricks I want others to know it. I’ve had many good teachers and mentors in my life, teaching is my way to give back all the good that I’ve received. Moreover, the more people I help in becoming good musicians, the more good music I will listen to in the future 

Besides that, have you ever seen how wide are the eyes of a 13 year old who suddenly finds himself able to play the intro riff of “Crazy Train”?

Where is your teaching practice based?

I teach in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada).

As far as teaching goes, what is your specialty?

The many facets of application of music theory! Let face it, guys: it’s not that difficult to play fast (with the right approach). What is truly difficult is to know what to play! I’ve made a point of explaining theory concepts such as modes or substitutions so that my student can understand and apply them immediately. Also, I tend to be big on fretboard visualization, because theory has no use if you can’t see it on your instrument.

What level of player do you prefer to teach?

I enjoy teaching all levels. As long as the student really has the desire to learn, I know we will have fun together! I am equally satisfied when a beginner learns to change between two open-string chords or when a more advanced player finally nails a solo. Both students will live it as a progress – and I do too!

What makes a player a virtuoso?

A virtuoso is someone that plays what he means and means what he plays. In other words, a virtuoso is someone that listens to the music inside him and plays it on the instrument for us to listen and enjoy. A virtuoso is someone that has enough technique so that he can express what he feels without compromises.

How fast is too fast, if such a concept exists?

When the pick catches fire.

Seriously, I think the problem is not the speed, but the number of notes. Let me explain: in every song, even the slowest ballad, there are a moments where you can play the fastest lick that your technique allows and sound amazing… if you keep it short enough (think “Another Day” by Dream Theater). What is annoying to the listener is not speed per se, but to be flooded with notes over and over and over… and over and over! So I guess my answer is that there is no such a thing as “too fast”, but definitely there is a “too much”.

I mean… listen to classically trained violinists. They are blindingly fast. Yet, have you ever heard someone complaining that the violinist was “too fast”? No, because they play fast when it’s needed, but not ALWAYS! Obviously, having your repertoire written entirely by some of the greatest composers in all history helps a great deal…

From a Teacher’s point of view, what is the number one roadblock to becoming a better player?

Not believing you can be a good player. If you are slow, there are exercises that can help you play faster. If your soloing is not clean, there are exercises to correct that. For all the possible problems you may have, from the technical nitty-gritty to creativity crises, there are solutions that a good teacher can give you – and that will solve your problems if you practice. But if you do not believe that you can become a good player, then there’s nothing anyone can do for you.

NEVER underestimate yourself! There is nothing you can’t play with enough practice. Remember: Django Reinhardt had only 2 fingers on the left hand. Tony Iommi too lost 2 fingertips in a factory accident. Do you think that mere details like not having all fingers stopped them?

What makes a good student? Describe the student who progresses really quickly.

A good student listens to his teacher as a guide. A good students set some time every day exclusively for practice. A good student WANTS to become a good player, and KNOWS he will!

Do you find that older or younger students progress faster/learn quicker?

I find that age is not really a problem or an advantage. What makes the difference is how much the student believes in him/herself. Older students tend to think that they can’t learn as fast as a teenager, and this belief alone keeps them to develop their potential. It’s actually the same as the #1 roadblock we discussed before.

What is your teaching format?

I use a variety of teaching formats (private lessons, group lessons). Different people and different topics require different formats, so I tend to mix and match. I may explain some concepts either in a frontal lesson (whiteboard and all) or in a jam session format, depending on the situation. Also, I think that if a student follows only private lessons, he will find himself at a disadvantage later because he is not accustomed to playing with others.

What models of learning benefit the student the most?

The best model is… variety. People get bored if things are predictable, and boredom is our worst enemy. Students need to have a good practicing routine, but they also need a sudden curve ball here and there. If you get bored during practice… change it! Make it interesting again!

Is there one piece of advice that you can give the readers to improve their playing right now?

As Caesar said: Divide et Impera (Divide and Conquer). Isolate the difficult bits and work on them until they are no more difficult. Break down your exercises in groups of 4 notes, and work on playing these 4 notes in an absolutely perfect and relaxed way (relaxation=speed!). Work on small things (a small portion of the fretboard, a single lick, one note’s vibrato). Once you achieve perfection in a small thing, this will reflect positively through all your playing skills.

How can prospective students contact you for lessons?

They can either email me at or visit my website


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