Frederick M. Noad,
Solo Guitar Playing: Book 1
(Music Sales, 1976)

A few months ago I decided to get serious about learning to play the guitar. However, I knew I would not be able to afford private or even class instruction. After going to music stores and carefully studying many beginning guitar books I settled on this one. I did not want to learn guitar by laboriously picking apart tunes from CDs note by note or relying solely on tablature. As Noad so rightly says in Chapter 3, guitarists are notoriously poor readers (that is, poor at reading traditional music notation). With this he launches into a very direct and easy introduction of traditional music notation and relating it to the guitar.

I believe even people who has never read sheet music in their lives will have no problem learning with this book/CD. I certainly am not. Noad provides plenty of musical exercises (they start short but get longer as you learn more and get further into the book), each one short and specific with commentary where it is needed. The point is that anyone who is teaching themselves must not get in a rush. I devote a minimum of one week to each chapter (and usually more) and that is practicing every night for a minimum of 30 minutes.

The book starts with chapters and photos with explicit demonstrations of the proper way to hold the guitar as well as meticulously describing (with photos) exactly how the hands and fingers should be positioned for optimal playing (and to avoid bad habits that will make playing more advanced pieces difficult).

The next chapters introduce music notation immediately linking each note with the corresponding position on the fretboard and reinforces it with very short musical exercises. He explains whole notes, half notes, time signatures, correct fingering and liberally adds exercises to continually drill the lessons just learned. As an example, all of Chapter 3 focuses on learning to recognize, read and play correctly the open notes of the guitar. That is, recognizing the six notes on the staff that correspond to each string when it is played open (no need to press on the fretboard). And that chapter is filled with little musical exercises to reinforce recognizing and smoothly playing just those six notes.

This same careful approach is taken throughout the entire book. As you learn more the exercises become more varied, interesting and exciting. Once you finally have an extensive background of each individual note on the staff and on the fretboard, even chords are taught in relation to their traditional music notation. By Chapter 7, if you've carefully practiced exactly as Noad suggests, you will have a great foundation for sight-reading music notation many guitarists with more years experience could never play. Chapter 7 also introduces the first "real" song based on a theme by the Spanish composer Albeniz. It is a piece that looks (and sounds) harder than it actually turned out to be for me. From Chapter 7 on progressively more difficult instrumentals from various composers are included. By the end of the book you will have an extensive repertoire of songs to play for your friends or any performance occasion.

There are chapters that cover subjects such as "voices," ascending and descending ligado, various types of scales, 2nd, 3rd, 5th & 7th positions, traditional music vocabulary and their meanings, half-bar, full-bar, vibrato, portamento, trills, mordent, reverse mordent, appoggiatura, tremolo, tips for developing accuracy, speed, dexterity, tonal phrasing, ear-training, playing natural harmonics, playing harmonics with chords, contrapuctual music (i.e. playing music in which the melodies are in more than one part -- thus a good guitarist can often sound like two people playing), mastering the fretboard, etc., etc., etc.

Noad says in one of the prefixes that the entire book contains approximately two years' worth of study material if you follow the practice/study sessions as he suggests. The back of the book also has an appendix of graded guitar ensemble pieces for three and sometimes four guitars, which is useful for a classroom or friends who want to play together.

If you can afford to get the accompanying CD I definitely recommend it -- particularly if, like me, you are having to teach yourself.

This is not a book to be rushed through by any means. But if you are willing to put in the time and practice you will be one heck of a classical guitarist by the end.

- Rambles
written by Dana Fletcher
published 6 April 2003

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