William Bay,
Mastering the Guitar
(Mel Bay, 1997)

For anyone who wants to learn guitar but isn't sure which style of music to focus on (or would like to learn a wide variety), this instructional series fills a void. Even compared to other guitar method books I have a high opinion of this series. From the very beginning a solid grounding in reading music is introduced -- string by string, note-by-note -- along with songs to practice. Tablature is also included but it is definitely to any guitarist's advantage to take the time to learn how to read traditional music notation too. The two CDs provided with each book in the series makes learning even more fun. You can play along to the backing tracks or along with the lead guitar which is helpful in associating what's on the printed page with the sound listeners will hear.

The genres of music in this first book cover traditional folk songs, rock, blues, jazz, rockabilly, boogie, Celtic, classical, country and bluegrass. And though fingerstyle is given it's due (most of these tunes can be learned both ways) the unspoken preponderance of music assumes a beginner will start out with pick. I also liked how the songs were organized by keys. A beginner starts to learn some basic music theory early on. The first book focuses on the keys of C, A minor, G and E minor. Plenty of finger studies and pick studies are included. Simply focusing on these studies alone has improved my pick-style playing tremendously. I simply start out the picking scales at a slow beat (about 70 bpm) and go no further than I can while playing without tension in my right and left hands and without missing a note.

Recognizing chords both from chord diagrams and more importantly from their standard music notation form is introduced and given plenty of coverage. Power chords, blues progressions, time signatures, various strum patterns, sharps, flats, vibrato, free stroke, rest stroke, are just some of the things covered. The fingerstyle section introduces classical guitar technique as one the representatives of fingerstyle with beautiful music that is standard for any beginning classical guitarist's repertoire. And all of this is a delight to play along with the backing studio tracks on the 2 CDs. I enjoyed many of the compositions -- especially toward the latter half of the book. Most are originals from the author. But even if you don't care for much of the music in this book the actual lessons taught will help anyone play any style of music they might want to practice later. For anyone wanting to learn the guitar and actually willing to take the time to devote to everything this book provides they will have a firm foundation. I am definitely looking forward to getting the rest of the books in this series.

- Rambles
written by Dana Fletcher
published 8 March 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.