learn about music,
learn to play the guitar
At the mid-point of the 20th century, the musical landscape in America and in the Western world was vastly different than it is today. The possibilities for exposure to music were very limited, at least by contemporary standards. There was no MTV. There were no music videos, and there were no music-only channels on cable TV. There were relatively few radio stations, and there were hardly any stations that played alternative or unusual styles of music. Music was a much less important and prominent part of television and motion picture productions. The music recording industry was a much less influential factor in the American lifestyle than it is today. Most of the recordings that were available were of Classical music, Broadway music, and adult-oriented popular music.
Early on in the second half of the 20th century, the American musical scene underwent dramatic changes. There was an explosion of new sounds and new styles of music, and music became a much more important part of people’s lives. Folk music, the roots of which can be traced back to the troubadours who roamed the European countryside centuries before, became much more relevant owing to a newfound interest in song lyrics that better expressed the realities and conditions of modern life. A folk movement sprang up in New York’s Greenwich Village during the 1950’s, and folk music had become widely popularized by the early 1960’s.
Folk music soon evolved into a contemporary folk idiom that featured lyrics of a more personal and introspective nature, and that greatly expanded the range of musical ideas from which songwriters and musicians could draw. Jazz music, which was born in New Orleans around the turn of the 20th century, and which was largely confined in the early years of its development to urban night clubs and a small circle of followers, similarly became more widely popularized during the 50’s and 60’s. Country music and the blues, which were primarily rural art forms before then, also began to grow enormously in popularity at about the same time. Most of these developments were the direct result of advances made in sound recording technology.
And then of course there was the all-important birth of rock and roll, which by all accounts occurred sometime during the early 1950’s. The single most important feature of this new music was that it was geared toward a youthful audience. Parents hated it because it was irreverent and rowdy. Their children loved it because it was irreverent and rowdy, and because the lyrics were about the things that mattered most to them, and because it made them want to dance. It is obvious enough that the children won the day. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, rock and roll evolved from the somewhat primitive but still engaging doo-wop tradition into a wide variety of wildly popular musical styles, some of them bearing little resemblance to early rock music.
With the possible exception of jazz (although jazz guitar is an important component of jazz music), the common thread of all these developments is the fact that they were based on and centered around the music of the guitar. This explains the guitar’s tremendous popularity today, and also points toward the versatility of this most widely owned and most genuinely unique musical instrument. But in the mid-20th century, no one could have foreseen the enormous changes the guitar would eventually effect in the world of music. The guitar has become, without question, the single most important instrument in the Western musical tradition.
Conservative estimates put the number of guitars in American households alone at well over 30 million, and since the sale of guitars has become the driving force behind the music store business, this staggering number is constantly growing. The simple and unfortunate truth of the matter, however, is that most of the owners of these guitars either have never learned to play them or have not come very far along in the development of playing skills. This is so for a variety of reasons, foremost among which is the lack of a simple and effective means for representing the music of the guitar in written form.
Classical guitar music and jazz guitar music are represented in written form more or less exclusively by means of staff notation, which is rather abstract and somewhat complicated, and which has therefore prevented countless aspiring guitarists from reaching their goals. The extent to which they are motivated to learn is the main determinant of the degree of success achieved by beginners in the study of classical or jazz guitar. Given a sufficient measure of motivation, students can and do overcome the challenge of mastering staff notation, although this can seldom be accomplished without the benefit of professional instruction.
Other styles of guitar music are for the most part represented in written form by means of guitar TAB notation, a system developed more than 500 years ago that is no less complicated and decidedly less accurate than the staff system. Apart from classical style and to a somewhat lesser extent jazz style, the most widely used and the most effective method for learning to play the guitar is and has always been the oral teaching tradition, a face-to-face method by means of which one learns by imitating the movements of a more accomplished player than oneself. The prevalence of the oral tradition accounts for the great popularity of guitar instructional videos and one-on-one private studio instruction, both of which are extensions of the same methodology. The proliferation of guitar TAB publications over recent decades has done little by way of changing this state of affairs. This is so because, as with staff notation, it is very difficult, though clearly not impossible given sufficient motivation, to learn to play the guitar solely by means of guitar TAB scores (a score is music in written form).
This study, on the other hand, is based on a highly innovative and far simpler notational system called visualinear tablature, which is in fact so simple that the theoretical principles on which it is based can easily be mastered in a matter of minutes. Yet despite its deceptive simplicity, visualinear tablature is a precisely descriptive form of notation by means of which complicated and challenging guitar music can be represented faithfully and accurately. The use of visualinear tablature places the burden of learning to play the guitar where it rightly belongs, namely on the process of mastering the physical movements required for playing guitar music effectively, rather than on the process of mastering the notation by means of which that music is expressed. More importantly, the use of visualinear tablature is a viable alternative to the oral tradition that allows for independent learning and all but eliminates the need for face-to-face instruction.
The many skills and techniques discussed in the context of this study are not style-specific. This means that this course of study is a broad-based introduction to playing the guitar in rhythmic styles that can serve as a stepping stone to the development of skill in virtually any style of play, including classical guitar, jazz guitar, and rock guitar. That said, this course of study is based on the acoustic guitar, and more specifically the steel string acoustic guitar, and is most closely associated with the contemporary folk idiom. But because the contemporary folk idiom is very divergent and multi-dimensional, components of style and technique that are commonly associated with a wide variety of genres of guitar music are discussed in this study.
The goal of this study is to allow you to achieve independence as a student of the guitar, and to provide you with the knowledge and skills that will allow you to determine your own individual path for learning, and to proceed along that path without the benefit or expense of private instruction. In consideration of this goal, equal emphasis is placed on practical matters and on theoretical matters. For example, rather than being presented with fingering diagrams for chords, which is usually the case in introductory guitar studies, you will learn how to devise chord diagrams. This will allow you to develop an understanding of the theory of chords, which will serve you well as you further pursue the guitarist’s art independently after completing this study. Similarly, you will also learn how to devise and transpose chord progressions (sequences of chords that make sense musically) and how to devise and improvise specific patterns of play.
The means by which the goal of this study is achieved is an innovative course of instruction consisting of four threads that are developed simultaneously after the basic elements of each have been introduced in the first four chapters. These four threads are the theory and practice of fashioning guitar chords, general musical knowledge and technique, flatpick technique, and fingerstyle technique. In addition, and no less significantly, three separate learning tracks are developed in the context of this study. The first and most obvious of these is given by the playing Exercises, which are illustrative of specific playing skills and techniques and are primarily intended to ensure your proper understanding of them.
A second and equally important learning track is given by the fact that you will be provided with an interesting and effective means for the gradual development of playing skills. This is in truth the only manner in which your level of skill can be increased, since no amount of understanding of playing techniques can change the fact that the fingers must be trained to accomplish the necessary tasks, and this requires time, patience, and above all practice. The means for this gradual development of skill consists of the use of chord progressions and of generalized treatments of specific playing techniques. As new skills and techniques are discussed, you can then apply them in your work with a variety of chord progressions, quite apart from your work with the playing Exercises, and in so doing gradually become a more competent guitarist.
The third learning track is given by the inclusion in this study of numerous brief discussions of more advanced skills and techniques. Although many of these more advanced topics are not reinforced in the playing Exercises, their inclusion will provide you with a great many ideas and suggestions regarding how to move forward independently after you have completed this study. The treatment of these advanced topics, in combination with the general emphasis in this study on understanding how to play music effectively, will better enable you to continue growing and developing as a guitarist and as a musician, regardless of the manner in which you choose to pursue that development.
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