Franco Morone is one of the protagonists of contemporary fingerstyle acoustic guitar
His artistic personality, made of music that marries simplicity and refinement with a surprising consistency and taste, has made him one of the reference musicians for a wide range of professionals and fans of the six-string. In his thirty-year career, he has always carried out composition, concert and teaching activities. He has recorded nine solo albums, including original compositions and arrangements of traditional songs, ranging casually in various styles, including blues, Irish / Celtic and Italian. Very well known both in Italy and abroad, from the nineties he performs regularly in various parts of the world, sharing the stage with the greatest exponents of the fingerstyle guitar.
For several years he has started a project with the singer Raffaella Luna, making two studio albums, also presented live.
Regarding the didactic activity, he boasts a list of publications/methods for fingerstyle guitar and a regular activity guitar workshops.
Aware that with this vast and important curriculum in the interview we will be able to satisfy only a small part of our curiosity, we warmly thank Franco for his availability and we ask him some questions, trying to privilege the creative aspect and the origin of his fascinating music.
How the passion for the guitar and subsequent musical experiences born
Do you remember how your passion for music and guitar was born? Did you have someone in your family or with your close friends who approached you and started you on the instrument?
Noting my great passion for music, my parents led me to the guitar lesson. Even before reading, I could recognize the 45 laps from the color of the label, spending the whole days listening to songs on the radio. It was the late 60s/early 70s music. My paternal uncle played the drums on a cruise ship and when he decided to quit he asked me if I wanted his battery. I was very shy, so I did not say a real yes. Fortunately, otherwise, I might have become a drummer. At that time my family was near to the great decision to emigrate to the United States. So they took the chance to a first trip to test the ground. My father told about this new jazz music that was starting to be shoot also in Italy. But the economy started to run also in our country. So they decided to stay in Italy.
Tell us about your subsequent musical experiences.
My teacher was an accordionist who rounded up with plectrum guitar lessons; in those years he taught me to read the pentagram, the basic chords and some of the most popular melodies. I had become quite good from a rhythmic point of view so with my first bands I had this role. As I began, I started with my first solos. I also recognized the basic chords and the main intervals by ear. This period did not affect me so much musically, but playing around I got to know the stage and started to have different experiences. I played the electric guitar; taking into consideration the acoustic-only towards the 5th year of high school where the experience of the groups was over and I was preparing for the university. In those years it was a real shock to find the fingerstyle of Leo Kottke and John Fahey. In Bologna, I was able to find other recordings of the folk revival and listen to emerging fingerpickers who would then become colleagues and friends like Duck Baker, Woody Mann, and others.
When he starts to compose and his sense of the melody
When and how did you start composing?
I immediately started composing songs but I was not as good as a singer and then even the lyrics were not very good. However, I felt that the “commercial” genre did not excite me too much. I then began to develop the fingerstyle technique learning more from the records than from the score. Only later, when the first Grossman’s tabs or the Unterberger or Carpi’s manuals arrived, I found familiar, types of arpeggios at that point. I started to study music more seriously and the contact and the comparison with different musicians in Bologna were important for me. I began to compose just fingerstyle as soon as I acquired the necessary techniques that allowed me to do it.
Your sense of musical beauty seems very linked to the melody: the melody is one of the strong points for your music. Are your compositions always born of a melodic idea?
Very often. But do not forget that the notes of a melody are always in a rhythmic context: above all, it is from the meeting of these two elements that something interesting can be born. No less important is the harmony, that is, the chords that you build around the melodic line. On the acoustic, it is fundamental to choose the right shades, also because of the frequent use of open strings. But this is also a weak point, as it leads to the habit of playing and read-only in certain keys. But since you insist on the composition, I want to tell you this: today everyone is in a hurry to compose. I first started to gain some experience in other authors compositions and not just guitar. We need to play a lot, let’s say at least a hundred or more songs by great authors or musicians that we like; this refines sensitivity, taste and a lot more. Moreover, before composing, it is good to also have a minimum of arrangement experience, to better understand the potential but also the limits of the guitar. Then, since we are there, the melodies are born from the scales and this is a practice that is not very loved by acoustic guitarists. In too many then, they take the habit of reading only the tablatures and then they remain with an approximate knowledge of the pentagram. This delay and affect the learning of harmony. Finally, playing too often alone, can slow the growth with the risk of possible metronome defects.
Which musitians have stimulated his creativity
Time ago, you told me that often a composition can arise from listening to someone else’s idea, that you can develop in a different way, opening new paths. In this sense, where there any musician who stimulated your creativity that you think had an important role in the development of your musical personality? If so, can you mention some?
In music it is very difficult to find or have truly original ideas, when it happens it is a miracle. More often it is easy to find various influences that a musician can develop and make his own. There are many influential musicians. When you’re young you play everything. After you begin to select the one you really like. The first illuminations came with folk, ballads, blues, jazz. Even today I feel stimulated by phrases and melodic improvisations from blues or Celtic music. I also like authors related to the new age from the Windham Hill catalog, musicians who somehow had experiences in folk music like Alex De Grassi, George Winston or Michael Hedges, Philip Aaberg, Metamora.
Use of alternative tunings
In arranging your compositions you make very often use of alternative tunings. In these cases, does the musical idea arise from the standard and then it develops on a different tuning?
It depends. First of all, you must feel a particular condition that surely comes after an intense period in contact with the instrument. Then a personal sensitivity, in which you want to communicate something. You can feel good or not, the desire to externalize has a lot to do with it. I use the tunings in traditional music where you can imitate the style of another instrument and where however the harmonies are not very complex. It’s more the research of a sonority that can There is more a research on the sonority to enhance the instrument. Therefore the standard is used for blues, jazz or harmonically more complex tunes. I usually develop everything on the standard, but the sounds of alternative tunings often help. An important thing that I want to tell you is, above all, that in tunings it makes sense to play only in the main tones. For example, on DADGAD I use the keys of D major, D minor, G major, G minor. It does not make much sense for me to play everything on a single alternative tuning as I see some of my colleagues did. At that point, the standard is better.
Approach to the study and the recording of tunes
When you embrace the instrument in the intimacy of your home, do you study in a structured way or do you prefer to play and have fun more freely? Since when you started playing, your approach to practice has changed?
It depends. Sometimes I practice on the songs that I think I’ll play in concert, other times I train on new songs that are under construction and definition, other times I still like to practice on particular scales, exercises or arrangements. However, the longer you stay away from the instrument, the more time it takes to get used to a certain mastery.
When are you going to the recording studio, it’s all clear? Do you think that the registration phase is a further opportunity for creativity?
Better if your creative moments you had them before. It is quite risky to create new things while recording. Better to write everything as it should be played with maximum security and fluency. You must get there after a long period of study.
Do you prefer to be free from “tic” or use the metronome in the studio recording?
Better to study the songs with the metronome and use it even when you record. It is not enough to play in time, you must also be able to use the right accents, have expression and dynamics. Without metronome, there is always the risk of increasing or decreasing speed, especially in complex divisions. Then it’s better to pay attention also when you play songs with simple divisions. It is easier to go well, but also to be wrong when you think you are good.
What he thinks of improvisation in the solo fingerstyle guitar
Your first two teaching methods deal with blues and jazz guitar. Those texts are a mine of ideas in the form of exercises, studies and original songs in fingerstyle that I believe have done school. Limiting ourselves to jazz and blues, what do you think about improvisation in the solo fingerstyle guitar? What advice would you give to those looking for an improvisation approach?
Thanks for the appreciation. When I was composing and selecting material for these books, I often tried to combine different fingerstyle techniques with beautiful phrases that could make sense even on their own. Maybe that’s why many fans found them interesting. Several exercises as well as teaching those two or four bars remain examples that can then be used in other contexts; think of the turnaround, a typical two-bar phrasing at the end of the blues round. Improvisation is a very demanding and almost impossible practice when talking about polyphonic fingerstyle, ie played in two lines (bass and melody). Of course, if you do not play the bass you can play with your fingers or a plectrum and at that point, you are free to play in every part of the keyboard. But if you want to accompany your improvisation with a bass line it becomes very complicated. I have personally bypassed the problem by preparing solos with ad hoc bass lines, like in my CD Miles of Blues. Of course, at that point it becomes a “prepared improvisation” but it does very well. You can also improvise more freely as Lenny Breau or Duck Baker tried to do with alternating results, as in the majority of the cases, we can say it is a risk.
What is music for Franco Morone
I believe that music is a rather important part of your life. I would like to greet you with an easy or difficult question … you will tell us! What is music for you?
In my opinion, and I’m sure it’s the same for many others, music is a language that conveys sensations, emotions, and different moods and above all is a culture that becomes part of our existence. It often accompanies our days in line with our mood and therefore it is also up to you to add content around the music you play or listen to. For this reason, it is always better to choose ourselves what we want to hear or play and not passively get what others propose to us. There are music and music, just turn on the radio and you can realize it. It is good to know then, that even when music becomes your job, it is not always possible to play what you like: to do so you have to play and/or compose something that is really worth listening to! Good music and see you soon.