Come learn from the guitar gurus

Kim Lim and Lee Swee Lin are the masterminds behind Musica Workshop. - Pictures by Choo Choy May and Yin Yin Boey
Kim Lim and Lee Swee Lin are the masterminds behind Musica Workshop. - Pictures by Choo Choy May and Yin Yin Boey

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 21 ― Imagine a lone guitarist strumming slowly at first and then rapidly in a melodic frenzy. Imagine his audience listening in rapt attention. You’d be forgiven if you thought this was a scene from a sold-out concert.

Instead the “stage” is a private apartment, the guitarist an experienced instructor and the audience participants eager to learn and to share. Welcome to the world of guitar playing workshops.

This homegrown guitar workshop is called Musica Workshop, the brainchild of Kim Lim, a 24-year-old KL-born guitarist in her final year of studying music at UCSI University.

“I used to teach music at secondary schools. These music clubs tend to only have a half year cycle so I found that my students had to start again the next year. As a result, half a year is wasted as they usually forget what they learned,” she says.

This became Lim’s motivation to organise a guitar-playing workshop, to complement the lessons she gave her students. Her partner-in-crime is Lee Swee Lin, a 21-year-old from Batu Berendam, Malacca, who is taking accounting and finance at UCSI.

“I first met Kim Lim at our university hostel. I used to play the piano when I was younger but my role with Musica Workshop is more like an operations manager. This basically means I do everything but the planning and marketing,” says Lee.

The girls have thus far organised two Musica Workshops through Lim’s music company Munky Studio. Lim shares, “At Munky Studio, we write, record and produce music as well as promote up-and-coming musicians. Besides Musica Workshop, we organise other music-related events such as a one-night acoustic event to promote local musicians called Acoustic Saturday.”

So what goes on in a guitar-playing workshop?

“At our first two-day workshop, we had 17 young participants, mostly from school. They were taught to play in different ways, such as electric, acoustic and classic. They also learned the difference between playing in a band where you have drums and a singer in addition to the guitarist, and playing in an ensemble where the guitar is carrying the melody,” says Lee.

Participants also learned more about composition as Lim observes, “What we are learning is to create music.”
At the second Musica Workshop, participants were introduced to acoustic guitar techniques such as fingerstyle playing. Lim adds,

“My former instructor, Alexander Formosa, a Canadian currently based in Hanoi, came over to teach them about improvisation and other new styles of playing.”

Those who are interested in music as a professional career were not left out either. Publicist (and guitarist Az Samad’s manager) Yin Yin Boey presented on public relations for musicians and offered a low cost guide to launching an album.

Boey was very impressed with the young but detail-oriented organisers. She explains, “It’s incredible how they got a whole bunch of people to attend as it’s difficult to attract people to pay to learn in Malaysia. Most are more than willing to spend a lot on their instruments but not on attending a workshop. In fact, the energy level during the workshop was very high and I could tell the participants were really interested.”

The Musica Workshop girls are elated by the positive response. Lee shares, “We don’t only have students who join us; we even had a 40-year-old participant attending our second workshop. They were really committed despite the intensity and long hours.”

The performances or “concerts” by the presenters such as Az Samad at the end of the workshops were particularly well-received. Lim says, “We find that this helps the participants absorb more as the performances incorporated what they were taught during the day.”

The concerts are often a group effort. Lee recalls, “Once we came up with a collective improvisation spontaneously. The participants were asked to name an animal (someone shouted “a unicorn”) and a location (“the balcony”). Then everyone started to sing and made use of what they learned in the workshop. The best part was how the improvisation was impromptu, rather than scheduled.”

Lim notes that they are open to anything as they do not want to be rigid. She says, “Maybe we will do festivals and camps in the future. Whatever works.”

Eager participants have plenty of questions for presenters during Q&A time
Eager participants have plenty of questions for presenters during Q&A time

There is still plenty more to do as they are already planning their next event. Musica Workshop 3.0 will feature Az Samad as well as Richard Moss, a British multi-instrumentalist who will teach advanced fingerstyle playing techniques. There will also be an introduction to DADGAD Rhythm Guitar, using alternate tuning to create different compositions. Another highlight is the ensemble masterclass to be conducted by the duo Squirrels in Space.

It is heartening that, instead of complaining that there are no such musical workshops here, these entrepreneurial girls and music lovers decided to create one themselves. Lim says, “I was inspired by my own guitar instructor, so I hope to inspire others the same way too.”

Smiling shyly, she adds, “I used to be the type of person who would hide in my bedroom to play. Soon I realised that there are others out there doing the same thing. I discovered this when I tried to come out to play and many came out to offer musical support. We are now a community.”

Musica Workshop 3.0
Sunday, March 2, 2014: 10am--5:30pm.
Fees: RM250 per person. Limited to 15 seats only.
For registration, contact 017-6125029/
016-6619523 or [email protected]

This story was first published in Crave in the print edition of The Malay Mail on February 20, 2014.