Not Your Grandfather’s Guitar Method

Sound Innovations for Guitar

Does the world really need another guitar method?

So, my first inclination when offered the opportunity to write Sound Innovations for Guitar was to step firmly and quickly backwards. I had already written two method series and my musical focus at the time was on recording, producing and performing. However, the prospect of doing something really special and unique was pretty enticing. The challenge was to write a method that would empower students and teachers to focus on building real world guitar skills and encourage the rewarding creative experiences that students are both seeking, and intuitively sense are the essence of the music experience. In fact, I think it is the lack of rewarding creative experiences that leads many students to be disappointed in traditional method book-centered guitar lessons.

I said yes, now what?

Virtually every guitar method, in fact virtually every instrument method in general, is centered on the same very linear, note-reading based approach to learning. How do we keep what is most valued from that type of well-established systematic approach while simultaneously breaking the mold to empower creative exploration? Well, the model for how to do this was right in front of us—it’s in how most of us really learn to play guitar in the first place: a friend showed us something we really had a desire to play; a teacher gave us some good advice; a book helped fill in some of the questions; we performed with or for a friend, loved it and then we proceeded on to another song, and another, and another. Linear, systemic logical methods have their strengths, but playing music is a non-linear, non-systemic creative activity that requires some freedom to blossom.

So let’s start at the bottom.

The key to playing guitar in virtually all styles and genres of popular music is chords and fundamental patterns. The great news is that all songs are built on very similar, if not the same, basic chord and pattern vocabularies. So as we learn to play one song we love, we lay the foundation for many others. By beginning on the low strings students are introduced to note reading in a logical, alphabetical sequence instead of the seemingly random and very confusing sequence taught when beginning on the high E string.

Beginning on low E encourages much better left and right hand technique. And best of all, it allows us to immediately and logically introduce chords right away, from their root tones on the low E and A strings.

What about some spice to bring the music to life?

Most methods wait many, many months before introducing eighth notes or sharps and flats. By introducing them early on, and combined with beginning on the low strings, students immediately start playing foundational blues-rock bass line riffs. The kinds of patterns they need as part of their basic vocabulary. Listen to virtually any Led Zeppelin song, or practically any great “guitar song” of any popular genre and you’ll notice many of the songs are based entirely on low bass-line type guitar riff patterns.

Let’s keep it creative and fun!

We don’t teach creativity, it’s in all of us, but we can encourage it and most important, let’s not to quash it! Too many “rules” block creative musical activities. Music is an experience and people can have the experience first and then later discuss and explore intellectually what it is they are experiencing. In fact, that is probably the most common, and natural, musical learning process. The old cliché that music is a language and that we learn language by listening and imitating, not by studying grammar, is profoundly true. It is very important to experience and explore music before we try and intellectualize it otherwise the learning process can become counter-productive and confusing. So here’s a fun idea that is stressed throughout the book. Guitarists and songwriters often take a standard open chord shape and move it to other locations on the neck exploring the interesting sounds it creates. Countless songs have been written in just that way. Students are encouraged from the very beginning to do just that in this book.

Drop and give me 20.

Exercises have their place, but music is not an exercise. The best advice I ever got was “Just find a song you want to play and work it till you sound great on it. Then find another.” Rather than isolate skills and techniques into technical exercises we’ve tried to present everything in the form of usable musical vocabulary (riffs, patterns, chords, rhythm techniques) and exciting repertoire, spanning traditional, rock, blues and classical music, that is rewarding, fun to perform, and lays a foundation for more songs to come. The idea is “play music to learn music.”

If you’d like to give the book a test run, you can request a free desk copy by visiting alfred.com/siguitar. And we’d love to hear from you so, please feel free to leave questions/comments in the box below.

Thanks!

Aaron Stang

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2 responses to “Not Your Grandfather’s Guitar Method

  1. That looks an interesting book. It’s a shame I couldn’t get a preview copy, I’m in the UK.

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