Crossover maestro

SINGAPORE - Guitar enthusiasts are familiar with John Mills as one of the most recognised classical guitar players in Britain and the author of several books on the instrument.

But what many might not know is that he plays the violin too. In fact, some of the 66-year-old's distinctive guitar-playing style comes from the violin.

"I played the violin for several years," he says in a telephone interview from Cardiff.

"I don't really play it much these days, there's not enough time, but the violin is one of my loves because you can sustain a note from it. A guitar, once a note is plucked, it dies; on the violin, you can keep it going on."

Fans of classical guitar music can hear for themselves his distinctive style when he performs at the RELC International Hotel on Wednesday.

His show is part of the 11th International Guitar Festival 2013, which runs from today till Sunday and features other names such as guitarist Berta Rojas from Paraguay and luthiers such as Amalia Ramirez from Spain.

Mills will also conduct masterclasses and private lessons during the festival.

On how playing the violin influenced his guitar playing, he says the way he shifts his left hand along the guitar's fingerboard is similar to the way violinists do it, for example.

"There's also this technique called vibrato where your hand moves side to side and you make the note rise and fall and make it sing.

"I also incorporate some ideas from the bowing, in terms of relaxing and flexing the right wrist and arm, to help with varying the finger action and speed of attack."

He first picked up the guitar at the age of nine, playing on steel-stringed guitars. He credits classical guitar icons Andres Segovia from Spain and Julian Bream from Britain for turning him to the classical guitar.

"I was very interested at that time in popular music and I still like it very much. So for the first few months, I was playing that on steel-string guitar and then I heard Segovia and Bream on the radio, and I literally, immediately overnight, changed to playing classical. From that moment, I was really right into it."

Mills, who went to the Spanish Guitar Centre and Royal College of Music, both in London, counts himself "lucky" to have studied under Segovia in Spain and Bream at the University of Warwick.

Over the years, Mills became a teacher himself, and was head of guitar and professor at the Royal College of Music, head of guitar at New Zealand's Nelson School of Music and coordinator of guitar at the Welsh College of Music & Drama.

Besides giving live performances all over the world and regular radio performances for the BBC, he has also released three CDs and books such as The John Mills Classical Guitar Tutor (1992).

He is married to fellow classical guitarist Cobie Smit and they have a son, 22, and a daughter, 25.

He says that his performance here will be a showcase of classical guitar music from all around the world.

"It's mainly Spanish music that Segovia played but I will also play some Polish music from composer (Alexandre) Tansman, Brazilian and Argentinian music, a bit of Swiss music and pieces from the Baroque era from the 1600s. So it's quite a varied programme."

Book it


Where: RELC International Hotel, Auditorium, 30 Orange Grove Road When: Wednesday, 7.30pm Admission: $50 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to

"A guitar, once a note is plucked, it dies; on the violin, you can keep it going on." Classical guitarist John Mills (left) on what he likes about the violin

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