Why this book exists and who it's for.

Why this book?

This is the book I always wanted to learn guitar from.

Though I searched for decades, I could never find a straightforward explanation of the core knowledge that was obviously possessed by those I considered masters of the art. They would share bits and pieces of wisdom, but it was always incomplete, and left a tremendous amount unsaid. It had yet to be analyzed and distilled into an accessible method.

Eventually, I assembled it myself. Now I use it as the basis for my ongoing music study and teaching.

Intermediate material is needed

Countless resources are available for beginning guitarists, and excellent materials exist for advanced musicians with a solid background in theory and practice. But for those of us in between, the “intermediate” guitarists, it can be a long and hard slog to master the instrument well enough to really express ourselves.

Most of the material aimed at this level sorts into either classical or jazz styles.

Classical guitar instruction tends to focus on the precise performance of a composer’s work, with little emphasis on improvisation or creativity.

Jazz digs deep into improvisation and theory, but with techniques that often don’t translate well to other styles because of an emphasis on dissonance and extended chords.

And both approaches promise at best a long and winding road toward mastery, requiring years of study and a somewhat blind faith that it will lead somewhere we want to go.

Triage is needed

The approach taken in this book is different. It’s based on an idea of “triage”, doing the most important things first to make the best of limited time and resources.

In the long run, it would be ideal to learn everything. But life is rarely ideal, and the length of our run is unknown.

If our studies get interrupted in a few months and we are unable to return to them indefinitely, will the next months of study have been well spent? Making music we enjoy, building a foundation that will endure throughout our lives? Or will that time be essentially lost, with nothing to show for it?

Right now, given the overwhelming amount there is to learn, how can we make the most progress in the shortest time? What’s the minimum we need to learn, and the fastest way to learn it?

Obviously the answer depends, in part, on where we want to go. But there is a common foundation that is generally required. This book aims to provide that foundation in the most practical way.

Perspective is needed

The pedagogy of Western music is somewhat insular.

Teachers tend to present material from a single theoretical perspective, a “euroclassical” framework that was popular among affluent Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries.

These ideas are often presented as facts, like “the V chord wants to resolve to the I chord”, even though they are really just elegant descriptions of one particular way of doing things that, in some cases, is not even that common anymore.

It is well known among music theorists that many concepts of Western harmony are not very useful for describing modern popular music, or even the quintessentially American sounds of the Blues, let alone styles like rap or ambient music.

Then consider that many cultures use more than the twelve tones of Western music, and that some have arguably more advanced and useful theoretical frameworks (such as the Arabic “maqāmāt”). In these other systems, Western harmony is treated as just one mode (the “Ionian mode”) among many.

By simply taking a step back and realizing that Western harmony is just one framework among many—albeit one that is particularly suited to Western musicians—otherwise confusing concepts suddenly become clear, even obvious.

For example, why don’t V chords in popular music follow the harmonic function of pulling home to the I chord? Because that’s just one way of doing things, and most popular music does things differently.

Why doesn’t the “blues scale” sound like actually playing the Blues? Because the Blues uses tones from outside euroclassical tonality.

This book attempts to sustain a broader perspective, in the hope that it both clarifies the material and encourages others to take a broader perspective about music outside the euroclassical tradition.

Who this book is for

If you are among the audience imagined for this book, you might describe yourself as an intermediate guitarist. You can play some songs, and you know whatever you consider to be “the basics”. You can play chords, and maybe some scales (or maybe not). The subjects in this book sound at least vaguely familiar to you.

Most importantly, you want to make music on guitar, with a facility and a graceful freedom that allows you to express yourself creatively, and produce the sounds you hear inside as fluently as possible.

If this describes you, welcome. I’m glad you’re here. Please read on.