There are many accounts of people using knives, bottles, socket wrenches and anything else that comes to hand as a guitar slideRead More
1) LCM Grade 8 Classical Guitar Playing – In my opinion the best exam board for choice of pieces at each grade, the layout of book is clear and simple. I think exams offer a satisfying challenge to any player, with 4 diplomas on top of 8 grades. Something here for everyone.
2) The Classical Guitar Compendium Bridget Mermikides – The only book on this list to show tablature as well as notation. There are lots of really beautiful arrangements here to test any player. Well known studies start the book that leads nicely into some classical works not always associated with guitar. The Satie pieces and swan lake are particular phrases of mine. Bridget’s name will be familiar to anyone who subscribes to Guitar Techniques Magazine and is a stunning player and arranger. The CD’s are also incredibly good quality.
3) The Classic Guitar Collection volumes 1-3 by Amsco Music Publishing Company – When learning to sight read volume is as important as quality and all 3 of these volumes helped me improve my reading. The idea was simple, wake up in the morning, open the book to a random piece and start sight reading. The same hold true for building a repertoire of pieces. The pieces here are well structured and well chosen and I have spent many hours either reading or learning the pieces here.
4) Vincent Lindsey Clark Spanish – This collection of beginner and intermediate pieces are part of a series by one of the most respected contemporary guitarists and are very pretty. The Spanish collection is a personal favorite and this book is popular among my students.
5) Villa Lobos – Choosing only one of the many dedicated studies from the likes of Tarrega and Sor was difficult but these challenging pieces by Heitor Villa-lobos are some of my favorite studies for classical guitar. The other 4 books on this list provide many pieces for the beginner and intermediate player but once you have progressed beyond this the Villa Lobos pieces are so much fun to study and a lot can be learned about dynamics, feel and performance. This book shows how beautiful classical guitar playing can be.
This week I have deliberately avoided including books dedicated to one particular artist as this is just too subjective. Instead I have concentrated on books that focus on core skills or that I feel have value to a wide audience.
1)RGT Electric Guitar Exam Grades – Even if you do not wish to take exams I find these books a good way of tidying up any gaps in your knowledge, forcing you to spend time improvising, chart reading, improving scale and chord knowledge and your aural awareness. As a frame work for teachers they are brilliant, that’s not to say that I don’t add a lot of pieces and other exercisesto lessons.
2)Mickey Baker’s Complete course in Jazz guitar books 1 and 2 – Any book that gets recommended by Robben Ford deserves to be on a list like this. Full of new chord voicings and rhythm and lead ideas for any player I have spent many hours with this book on my music stand slowly building on core jazz skills. Very well structured, it’s been in print for ever. I know many players wish it came with tab rather than just notation as this limits it’s audience but well worth the money.
3) Jazzin’ the blues by John Ganapes and David Roos – There came a time in my playing where I felt I was getting stuck in a rutt in blues playing which broke when I bought this book. Crucially this book has a number of lead licks and phrases that lots of players will be able to drop into their own playing and has a great balance between some easier phrasing and some that provide a challenge. Very clear layout and comes with the all important backing tracks CD.
4) Play Guitar With the greatest guitar solos of all time by Wise Publications – I have long since given up on the idea of playing every song in a book but this book has loads of pieces that are really good fun to play and are likely to come up on gig set lists. Backing tracks on CD and clear layout, there are loads of books of this kind but it’s amazing how many miss the mark with unclear notation or even lapses in accuracy, I have found this to be one of the best.
5) Rhythm Guitar Playing books 1-3 by Chaz Hart – Chart reading is a mainstay of my practice routine, whether it be increasingly difficult charts with dynamic markings, performance directions and chord extensions or looking at relatively simple chord sequences to find new voicings or strumming patterns, it’s such an important skill and the key is quality chord charts in very large volume. I will read a few charts having never seen them before and then pick one or two to practice over and over again to find new rhythms. Transposing a few of these charts into different keys is a great practice and all the charts here are graded.
Last week I compiled a list of my top 5 books for bass guitar. As promised here are my top 5 for acoustic guitar. I have tried to avoid niche players or styles but any list of this nature is going to be highly subjective but if you are trying to decide between two books or just looking for a new challenge and not knowing what to buy this may help.
1. Registry of Guitar Tutors grades 1-8 – As previously mentioned I am a registered teacher with RGT. I find these books an excellent starting point that provides structure to lessons. The pieces are well written, this being a repertoire based syllabus and there is enough choice in the pieces at each grade to let any player play to their own strengths and play in a style they will find interesting.
2. The Acoustic Bible by Eric Roche – Eric Roche’s reputation in the acoustic guitar community as a player and as a teacher is impressive. Somewhat of a pioneer in percussive playing, this is not the primary focus of the acoustic bible. (Instead see Thomas Leeb’s transcriptions of Eric’s arrangements). Instead, the acoustic bible is a balanced start at looking at the most important elements to all acoustic guitar players. This book is full of exercises that are worth studying by any player. I revisit this time and time again as a warm up and when I get a whole morning to focus on technical aspects of playing.
3. Fingerpicking Guitar Bible by Hal Leonard – If you are just starting out this isn’t for you, but then there are so many books on the market that are really good for beginners (email me). I found myself wanting a challenge a few years ago and found this book interesting as it promised pieces by Andy McKee and Chet Atkins. The transcriptions are accurate and well laid out but the great thing here is the range of players and styles. The pieces are really well chosen, especially if you are looking for a challenge and a few have made it into my regular repertoire. When I buy books, I buy them for one or two pieces I commit to learning, knowing full well I’m unlikely to learn all of the pieces cover to cover but it’s surprising how often you hear a piece much later and find you already have a transcription of it.
4. The Tradition/The Heritage by Stuart Ryan – I attended one of Stuart’s acoustic guitar workshops this year and found it full of little tricks and things that I hadn’t thought of before to include in my arrangements of traditional tunes. I really enjoy arranging and playing traditional Celtic and folk songs and before you can start arranging you really need a supply of good quality arrangements to study. I’ve had The Tradition for a few years now and have really enjoyed steadily working through. The Heritage builds on this nicely and both books make good use of altered tunings including DADGAD and a few more unusual tunings.
5. Justin Guitar Beginner’s Songbook by Justin Sandercoe – Many will be familiar with Justinguitar.com via youtube. I think any acoustic guitar player needs atleast one good chord song book to practice chord changes, strumming patterns and most importantly because getting to play songs is the reason we picked up the guitar in the first place. We will all have opportunities to be an accompanist or sing to ourselves at the end of practice and not only are the song choices good here but there are specific bar lengths and suggested strum patterns included. Other books in the series are definitely worth checking out too
I’m lucky enough to play some fantastic instruments, but I spend more annually on guitar books than I do on guitars. It’s an obsession. I love having a little personal library that I can dip into whenever I have a question or need to plan a lesson or just need to rekindle my love for different styles or techniques. In a world full of different products including digital downloads and videos to help your playing, you still can’t beat books on a music stand in my view, but I’m old fashioned. Having the book accompanied by a CD is a big advantage for many players. Sadly, there are lots of mediocre books out there and a few really substandard so to help I have written 4 articles recommending my top 5 for acoustic, electric, classical and bass guitarists. We will start with the bass. These are not in any particular order.
1. Standing in the shadows of Motown: The Life and Music of Legendary Bassist James Jamerson. by Dr Licks – You don’t have to be a fan of Motown records to appreciate just how good a bass player Jamerson was. I love this book! Jamerson is a huge influence on me and I keep coming back to it again and again trying to get the feel and the tone accurate for all of these lines. Helped by the fact that the list of people who wrote these transcriptions and introduce each piece is virtually a who’s who of session bass playing greats, Pino Palladino and Anthony Jackson to name just 2.
2. Registry of Guitar Tutors Bass Guitar Playing grades by RGT@LCM – Ok, let me start of by saying I’m a registered teacher with the RGT. That being said before I was a teacher I was a student taking grades. The picture shows the higher grades but grades 1-8 are covered in 3 books, beginner intermediate and higher grades and all are recommended. The exams are carefully designed and even if you don’t want to take exams the structure still helps you to fill in gaps in your learning.
3. Building Walking Bass Lines by Ed Friedland – Firstly, Ed Friedlands books are all excellent. It was hard to choose but I reached a point in my playing where I had a lot of rock covers memorized and could find my way through a 12 bar blues in several keys and what I wanted was to be able to create my own walking bass lines over jazz standards. This book made the process very clear. It’ still a very long process and this book has a follow up called expanding walking bass lines but if you feel you need a fresh challenge the examples in this book are fantastic.
4. The Total Jazz Bassist by David Overthrow and Tim Ferguson – I tried to make this list of books accessible to all players and all styles and when it came to blues and funk there were too many great titles to choose from. There are a lot of jazz books in my collection but nothing I’ve bought since has surpassed how balanced and detailed this book is. I think it arrived at my house in the same week as my double bass which was lucky but all the lessons here are just as relevant to electric bass. Highly recommended.
5. The Bass Bible by Paul Westwood – Always recommended to students because this book has something for everyone style wise. Playing bass lines from around the world including Brazil and Africa is such fun and did my internal sense of rhythm a lot of good. One of very few books where I think examples written in the style of important players are accurate and fun to play.
It was very difficult to limit this to five. Hopefully I have selected a range that appeal to as many possible as people and can provide most benefit to a wide range of players at different ability levels. Should you have questions, please drop me an email.
In conversations with students of all ages, over several years of teaching, one of the most common pieces of advice I give for students sitting an exam is about exam technique. The following points should be useful to anyone sitting a music exam but will be centered around those students studying for exams with the registry of guitar tutors.
· Scales and musical knowledge sections are easy marks: repertoire pieces and improvisation are designed to be testing and carry a higher percentage of marks in the exam. Scales however should be so well known by the time you sit your exam they should feel like easy marks, ensure you have definitely heard the correct scale to be played so as to not play a different scale by mistake, take a breath, play the scale accurately and don’t be tempted to play it as quickly as you can, better to play it accurately and smoothly remembering to turn around on, not to repeat the highest note. Also where appropriate play the scales in as many different keys as possible (not applicable to early grades). Likewise with musical knowledge, write ot model answers little and often and test yourself, all the answers are in the book.
· Read each section of the book carefully, recently I had a student assume a chart would be in the same form as in the grade book, however the book clearly states that the chart could take any form in the exam, avoid unnecessary surprises caused by your assumptions. It has to be said that students with more exam experience have an advantage, not that I insist on students taking every single grade. If in an aural assessment such as a pitch test, your are torn between two answers, it is always possible that the possible outcomes are limited at each grade, for example grade 5 pitch tests will be limited to 5 scales. Knowing the grade criteria may be the difference between passing and getting that distinction.
· Write a list of everything you need to bring the night before, don’t practice too late and ensure you are calm. I turn up to exams with spare tuners, books and strings just incase for my students but there is nothing worse than seeing a student walk into an exam in a real panic because they’ve forgotten something.
· Don’t ignore sections of the exam. Many students play more lead or bass patterns and ignore musical knowledge or scales, many classical students put off their sight reading. Identify your own weakest areas and make sure they get more attention in the run up to your exam.
· Don’t put yourself under unnecessary pressure. If you want to be a grade 8 classical player enough you will get there but at any age each grade takes time to study and trying to put unrealistic time pressures on yourself never helps achieve the goal.
· Practice little and often, but make sure it’s practice. Playing that song you know really well is great fun, but it does little to help you progress as a player. Have a routine and a structure to your practice time, this should include pieces for fun so it’s not all exam work, though this might decrease in the fortnight before exam date.
Students often ask me for advice on buying a new instrument. Here are a few points that hopefully will help you find a guitar that lasts you and makes practicing ad playing as pleasurable as possible.
1) There is a popular misconception that having a more expensive instrument doesn't make you a better player, and this is true to a point. However, In my opinion a student who really loves their instrument will pick it up more often and improve as a player as a result. . Compare this scenario to the student who desperately wants to play guitar but has an instrument that is hard to play. This is eventually going to lead to frustration and the belief that playing guitar is too difficult.
2) Some new instruments are completely unplayable. There are many excellent student instruments in guitar shops that are within reasonable budgets and are fun to play. Sadly there are also a large number of instruments in some music shops and many charity shops that whilst they may look similar to more expensive instruments, are built so poorly as to be difficult to play.
3) Buy a second hand instrument. For all but the lucky few, budget is a large factor when buying an instrument and there are a large number of good quality second hand instruments available and buying second hand can result in a much better quality instrument for the price. New strings and a clean can often transform a preowned instrument. I am always happy to be sent links before you make a purchase if you would like specific advice.
4) There are so many guitar companies as to be impossible to give advice, however many of the larger companies that have been building instruments for a long time such as Fender, Epiphone and Yamaha make consistently good quality guitars and hold their value better should you sell your instrument to upgrade later.
5) Go into your local guitar shop and play as many guitars as you possibly can in order to see what is comfortable to you or ask a friend or the assistant to play so you can hear the differences and don't be afraid to ask questions. I regularly demonstrate for local guitar shops and invite students to come along so i can demonstrate the differences between instruments.
Finally, my life is made much easier as a teacher if my students are playing fully working, quality instruments and from time to time i may have instruments available. Please email if you have any questions on the above or need further information.