Thursday, November 18, 2010

guitar instructional books

I've been meaning to write about some of the guitar instructional books that I have picked up recently, but never seem to have the time to put my thoughts on all of them together at the same time. So, I'm going to start and will either add more later to this post or to a separate post.

I barely played guitar at all for a number of years and when I picked it up again I felt stagnated and wanted to learn some more and think outside of my personal box. I'm not good with "teachers" and "lessons" and other people's schedules so thought I'd pick up some books and try to learn some on my own. These have helped me to realize just how much I do not know - hell, I never even properly learned scales - and given me plenty of food for thought. I have been listening and digging a lot of blues lately, so many of the books are designed with this in mind. Here's a few that I currently own:

Blues by the Bar: Cool Riffs That Sound Great over Each Portion of the Blues Progression by Chris Hunt

I believe that this was the first book that I picked
up, probably because it goes for a good price – listing at just $9.95. As the title suggests, this gives you licks separately by the bar of the blues progression so you get bits and pieces at a time that you can mix and match. Each lick is played on the CD with a full backing band so you can hear what it should sound like in a song. Unfortunately, as with many of the other books, the only tracks that you can play over without the lick already there are at the end of the disc so it’s not very easy to learn a lick and then play it over a backing track – unless you record these tracks onto a separate CD, like I did!

Overall, this is a great compilation of cool riffs, giving you an overaview of 12 bar blues guitar melodies. Definitely worthwhile!


Blue Licks You Can Use – John Ganapes

This is another good book of licks, from the simple to the complex, slow and easy to fast and furious. It takes the sections of the blues songs and gives you pieces that go with each part and shows different keys and different blues styles, from nice’n’easy to grungey Chicago-styled to jazzy. What I don’t like is that the CD only has the lead guitar on it – no backing track of any sort (not even a click track!), so you cannot hear the riffs in context. The book does show what chords would go behind the riffs, but without hearing them with the backing, it takes some good imagination (or better musical training than I have) to figure out what it would sound like in a song. The CD does have full backing tracks to play along with at the end of the CD in various keys, but you have to skip to track 80 or so before you can get to these. When you are playing track 5 and want to hear what it would sound like with a backing, it is a bit of a pain to jump over 75 tracks to get to the backing track and then to figure out what part of the progression it is supposed to fit into. If they had that section of backing right after the example of the riff, if would help immeasurably.

The other gripe about the CD is that each riff is played slowly (about ½ time) and then at regular speed, which does help to learn them initially, but both of these are on a single track so if you want to play along with the standard speed, you have to fast-forward past the slow speed version.

But in general, the quality of the licks overshadow the issues I have with the book and I would recommend this as a good selection of styles and sounds.


Blues Turnarounds – Dave Ruben and Rusty Zinn

I was noticing that a lot of the other blues books that I had gotten did not spend a lot of time on the turnaround,which I

feel is one of the most distinctive sections of the blues song. So I went looking and found this book. I was somewhat disappointed at first because the riffs are pretty simple overall and there are a lot of variations on a theme – a couple of notes different or just a different rhythm for the same pattern. But as I went through it I realized that this is part of what make the blues the blues and it also shows that you can play around with a lick and make it your own and still have it fit.

I do like that this book shows a lot of fingerpicking styles, such as folks like Robert Johnson or Bill Broonzy would use, because that is something that I had never learned. There are also some jazzy pieces and plain ol’ Chicago blues. The authors give a bit of historic and melodic information to go with the different parts, as well. There are also pieces that show you some jazz-oriented chords, which provides some nice variations and (for me) some challenges.

The CD is simply one guitar playing the licks with no band and so no backing tracks for you to play along with. But not a bad compilation of turnaround licks that, despite my initial reservations, gave me a lot to think about and work on and were more interesting than it initially let on.


100 Killer licks and chops for Blues Guitar – Phil Capone

This book has a ton of cool licks, though the “100” in the title is slightly misleading – it also includes the scale practices in the back of the book. Regardless, this has everything from rhythm-based blues runs to blazing lead riffs and everything from Muddy

Waters Delta/Chicago blues to jazz blues to Stevie Ray Vaughn and Hendrix blues/rock hybrids. A really versatile and useful collection and even the scales section gives you some interesting ways of working within the scales and fun exercises. The CD has all of the riffs played over a full backing track, which is nice – I like hearing these in proper context – though there are no tracks of just the backing for you to play along with without the lick already being there. But overall, well worth the price and one of the better books that I’ve gotten.


12-Bar Blues Solos by Dave Ruben

This book is very much a beginner’s book and something that I wish I had when I was first trying to play lead guitar. That said, there are still some good ideas in here, though most of the ideas are used in such

a basic way that it will probably be boring for most players. I do really like the fact that the accompanying CD is set up so that you can listen to the lick with a guitar backing track (unfortunately not a full band backing track) and then the next track is just the backing track so you can play along with the backing. So many of these books do not have backings that you can play with or if they do, they are 70 tracks away from the track you are learning!

Anyway, a cool starter’s book, but anyone else shouldn’t bother.


Jazzin’ the Blues – John Ganapes and David Roos

After learning some other jazz-oriented bluesy licks in some of the other books I’ve picked up, I wanted to try to learn a bit more and so I picked up this book. This is a good

overview of jazz-oriented guitar playing, with plenty of theory to explain the why’s and wherefore’s of the licks. The book starts out slowly with a lot of basics and builds from there. Nothing too extraordinarily complex, though just the weird jazz chords are taking me a while to master, along with the different melodic patterns used in jazz that I am not used to. They also get into chord melodies, which I’m having a hard time with – hell, I’m still learning things like sixths so chord melodies are a bit much!

This is a good, useful book for anyone who wants to learn the basics of jazz-blues. Not just a book of licks, this gives you a ton of information and is something I will be working with for a long time to come.