Article from the Sun daily by Yee Jie Min (posted on 2 June 2016)
SEEMINGLY shy, Melvyn Gnai Zhi Yong's personality radiates the moment a guitar lands in his hands. It was obvious he has a deep connection to the string instrument, as his fingers skilfully pluck a melody at intervals during this interview.
The 15-year-old rose to fame after winning the 2014 American Protégé International Music Talent Competition in the acoustic guitar solo category. His rendition of Kotaro Oshio's "Ready, Go!" impressed the judges, and all the more for me.
As a matter of fact, he also snagged second prize in the ukelele category at last year's competition.
"In competitions, we are not allowed to use speakers, and mistakes take away a lot of marks. A lot of people also tend to play the wrong notes. Everyone wants to win, including myself. So you actually just do your best. No matter where you perform, you should try to produce the best sound," commented Gnai of his performance.
Tell us about the fingerstyle technique.
People mainly play the guitar by strumming or plucking, but you can add percussion and tapping harmonics to it. Using a pick is akin to using one finger to play the song, but with fingerstyle you are using your entire hand. The idea of fingerstyle is to play the whole band with one guitar.
How has performing with renowned guitarists enriched you?
I feel proud being able to play at the international level. Every guitarist has his or her own style; we don't really play the same genre. I like playing what my favourite Japanese guitarist, Kotaro Oshio plays. When you play with someone else, you have to listen to each other. It is all about having fun and sharing ideas.
Could you share your progress as a guitarist since you picked up the instrument three years ago?
I used to not follow musicians such as Sungha Jung and Tommy Emmanuel because Kotaro Oshio has been my biggest influencer. But mid last year, I decided to check out their events and videos.
At that time, Sungha Jung posted some blues solos and I realised that that is what I've always wanted to do. When playing with someone, you have to come out with a solo to feature yourself and I wasn't good at that. Now I am practising a lot and trying solos.
How do you juggle school, friends and performing?
My mum would usually make the most of the holidays for me to fly for performances and competitions. But if there's something big coming up, sometimes you just have to grab the chance.
Most people in school know me, and I have friends who play the guitar but they mostly like computer games. They like listening to people sing and some feel it is not trendy to listen to guitar-playing. I am trying to inspire them, but they are not very receptive.
What do you attribute your success to?
I think 60% goes to hard work, 20% to luck, and 20% to talent. Some of my friends have YouTube channels, but their parents don't help to promote them. I am lucky my mum helps me to do that. I never expected to meet Kotaro Oshio, so I'm lucky my mum knew (Taiwanese guitarist) Huang Chia-Wei, who brought me to watch Oshio's show.
Do you think you'll continue to perform in the future?
I never thought of performing actually. Most people think I'm doing it permanently, and will continue to do it. If I can make a good living by playing the guitar, then I would. Otherwise, I'd go do something normal.
I also plan to write my own songs. Many have asked me for them but I haven't published them yet. I wish to have my own show one day and perform with other guitarists.
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