While he’s only 15 years old, Matt Wong is already receiving accolades for his guitar dexterity, and is starting to perform outside his home area of Central New Jersey. While starting out as a classical guitar player, he has developed a finger-picking style that is now garnering a lot of attention. “This method allows me to play the melody, rhythm, bass, and a little percussion, simultaneously,” Matt explains. “I started playing guitar when I was six years old. I’m a classically trained guitar player and finger style is similar to classical guitar, so the transition was easy. I started playing finger style in 6th grade.”
Matt had a lot of exposure to music when he was younger, so the fact he is musically inclined isn’t a surprise. However, his choice of instrument was a bit unusual. “My mom grew up playing the piano, and my younger sister also plays piano,” he relates. “I chose to play guitar, because when I was young my parents took me to music programs for young kids, and I remember being fascinated with the guitar. When I was six, I begged my parents for guitar lessons and that’s how I got started. Since my mom played classical piano, I heard a lot of Bach, Chopin, and Mozart in the house when I was young. When I began playing guitar, I had no clue on what I wanted to pursue since I was a kid, so my teacher started me on classical guitar, and I liked what I played since I was used to hearing that stuff at home. Then when I was 11, I came across Australian guitar legend Tommy Emmanuel on YouTube, and that’s when I was inspired to start playing finger style. His music was so interesting and challenging that I knew immediately that I wanted to do what he was doing.”
Venues around his home in Princeton that have hosted Matt include the Grover’s Mill Coffeehouse, the Small World Coffeehouse, Cafe Improv, the Hopewell Valley Vineyards and the Art All Night festival in Trenton, among others. But his 2012 summer tour has taken him to Philadelphia, New York City, Ardmore, PA, Keyport and Barrington.
“My goal is to become a professional guitar player,” enthuses Matt. “I also have interests in audio engineering. I’m at the Grammy Camp in Los Angeles at the moment, studying audio engineering under Nathan Adam from Nashville. My mom came across Grammy Camp online, and I decided to audition because I had a little interest in audio engineering that I wanted to develop further. Grammy Camp was an amazing experience, because I met so many kids my age that were serious, like me, about their music, and I met many important people in the music industry.”
Both classical guitarists and finger style players usually work in a solo setting, which is what Matt typically does as well. However, he does occasionally get the opportunity to play with others, and to explore other styles. “I play solo in most of my shows, but playing with others is lots of fun,” he says. “I’ve played with a jazz combo called Rebop, which is made up of guys from school. I also jam on the weekends with some friends. I am mainly a jazz guitar player, but playing finger style allows me to play a broader range of styles.”
For such a young artist, the fact that he not only works in styles that are outside the mainstream, but also that he composes most of his own music, is especially impressive. “My songs usually come from some kind of inspiration; a mood, place, or even a plane ride,” Matt says. “Since I compose instrumental music, I usually develop the melody, and then I come up with chords and then a bassline. Other times, there is a really groovy bassline in my head, and I have to write it down. Then the melody develops around that.”
Songs that have become favorites among fans and that have gotten attention include his original piece, “Summertime Skies,” as well as a cover of the classic “Fly Me To The Moon.” Both come from Matt’s debut album, which was released late last year.
Many artists have unusual and entertaining tales from their experiences on the road or while recording. Matt hasn’t reached that point yet, but he’s getting there. “I don’t really have any funny stories,” he says. “I can’t even tell jokes on stage while I’m tuning. But I’m working on it!”
You can check Matt out at mattwong.webs.com, and also see an example of his playing at youtube.com/mattwguitar123