Thursday, 14 May 2009

Guitar Resources (part 1)

I'm often asked about this. Within the mass of printed matter on the subject of guitar playing, which are the best books? This list is subject to change because new books are being produced all the time, but for now, this is my current list of suggestions for the best all-round guitar/ theory/ general musicianship books (or series):

Elementary Training for Musicians - Paul Hindemith
Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns - Nicolas Slonimski
The Advancing Guitarist - Mick Goodrick
For Guitar Players Only - Tommy Tedesco
Modern Method for Guitar (parts 1,2&3) - William Leavett
Music Reading for Guitar (The Complete Method) - David Oakes
Musicianship and Sight Reading for Guitarists - Oliver Hunt
Creative Guitar (parts 1&2) - Guthrie Govan
Modern Reading Text in 44 - Louis Bellson
Chord Chemistry - Ted Greene
Modern Chord Progressions - Ted Greene

Friday, 8 May 2009

Restriction as the basis of development

I was recently asked to be “task master” for the guitarist collective forum. This is a great forum where each month a contributor nominates a taskmaster to give each of the forum regulars a challenge in the form of a composition which must be completed within the parameters of a given framework. This could be anything from using a slide, a strange time signature, only one position on a guitar fingerboard etc… something to make a guitar player think about what they are doing, and really ‘craft’ a piece instead of getting stuck in ruts by relying on familiar shapes and patterns. These monthly tasks are very useful challenges because they force people to think and react creatively and find new ideas on the guitar which they may not have had without thinking beyond their own ideas.

The task I proposed for May 2009 is based on an exercise I give my students all the time:

“Compose a piece for solo guitar, in any style (but so that it stands on it's own without any backing track or other instruments filling out sonic space) which uses only the inner 4 strings. Strings 2,3,4, and 5 are the boundaries, no notes to be played on either string 6, or string 1.”

When I give my students this exercise, it’s not just for composing. I use this exercise for improvising, technical exercises, everything! Because every technique you would use is ‘gated in’ with a string either side of the one you are playing on, it can't help but to develop your playing. Spending long periods of practice time working on the outer strings (1st and 6th) can actually develop a lot of bad habits because of the technical laziness which it is possible to get away with playing on these strings. For example, there is all the room anyone would possibly need to execute a picked down-stroke on the first string, and similarly, there is all the room anyone would possibly need to execute a picked up-stroke on the sixth string. These techniques require a new level of refinement when played on any of the other strings so to my mind, it makes sense that the inner four strings (2,3,4, and 5) are the strings on which technical skills should be practiced for the most productive and refined results. In my experience, when you move back to using all six strings after doing this kind of practice for any length of time, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for your guitar playing.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Guitar Teaching (part 2.1) “Knowledge Is Power?”

Originally posted on 03 Nov 2008

There is a bizarre culture amongst guitarists to be very protective of what they know, and can do. When I first started posting ideas in the online forums, there was certainly a culture of resistance to what I said, and a sense of ‘Who is this guy to tell me how to practice?’, and ‘What right does this person have to post links in here to his ideas and online blogs on guitar playing?’ I never understood this because whenever I’ve seen anyone answer questions online, or post ideas about practicing, I’ve always thought that was generous of them to share their thoughts and ideas, and I and read what they’ve had to say with sincere interest. I asked myself recently where this culture actually comes from and what purpose this may serve. Whenever I play at any of the trade shows and someone expresses an interest in what I’m doing, I’ll break everything that I’m playing down into smaller fragments, play slowly, and score (or tab) what I’m doing out for anyone. It seems to me that in a situation where everything anyone would ever need to know (in terms of resources) is available online, why would anyone be at all protective of what they know? I guess knowledge is still 'power', but it's certainly worth being aware that this is only the case for people who don’t actually know very much.

Maybe my attitude is based on the fact that I actually wanted to teach, and I didn’t start taking on students out of necessity to survive or as a bittersweet compromise because I didn’t ‘make it’ as a player (as some guitar players do). From the very early days of my own teaching I was actually approached, and asked to teach by the co-ordinator of the local music service. My first teaching job wasn’t a job I applied for; it was one I was offered while I was still at 6th form college. Since that time, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been asked to do every teaching job I have ever done, and I’ve now had over 300 students pass exams at every level on guitar, piano, and double bass (using different exam boards including ABRSM and ‘Rockschool’ (where students have wanted to do that).

All this leads me to strongly believe that if you’re looking for someone to teach you how to play the guitar, it would be a good idea to look for someone who actually wants to do the job. You’ll get more out of a teacher who wants to share their skills and knowledge with you than anyone who is doing the job because they haven’t had the breaks they wanted with their playing career. There are loads of guitar players offering lessons, but I seriously doubt that they all actually want to do it.