My favorite kind of instruction book is one that gives you snippets of information – a quick technique to focus on, instructions on how to do it, and then a couple of bars of music to practice on. I think that this gives the player enough illumination on the technique and practice to get decent at it, but also gives them the freedom to go off in their own direction.
With this in mind, it’s not hard to see why I like Hal Leonard’s 100 Lessons books so much. HL sent me two to review: 100 Country Lessons and 100 Jazz Lessons and both are large books with about 200 pages of instruction each, and both also come with two CDs each.
The books are broken down into 100 different lessons covering specific topics. I wouldn’t say they are organized by difficulty, nor would I say you should progress from the front of the book to the back. Rather, I think the best approach is to look at the table of contents, see what sounds interesting to you, and start that particular lesson. Almost every lesson is only two pages, so digesting the actual instruction is easy enough to handle, and then with a bit of practice, you’ll have the licks down as well.
Regarding picking your lessons, my approach has always been “lessons by necessity.” When I have a sound in my head that I want to incorporate in my writing, but don’t know how to do it, I’ll track down the information and work on it until I can get that sound out of my head and into my amp. I’m definitely not a “technique for technique’s sake,” type of guy. That’s another reason I really like these books. When a player just wants to learn how to bend behind the nut, they should be able to easily find a lesson to get the to the point where they can do it and in the Country Lessons book, it’s lesson number 77.
I like short lessons, personally. Usually it means that the information is easy to grasp and gets you to the playing portion quickly. When you add just a few bars to learn, there’s a good chance players will stick with the lesson to completion and not be so frustrated they give up. In this regard, these books walk the line of giving you enough information to grasp the idea or technique, but not so much you’re either drowning in words, or frustrated by the music portion perfectly.
All of the lessons are written in standard notation and tab, with chord boxes as well. And, while the books aren’t dedicated to teaching you music theory, they do go out of their way to let you know what kind of scale you’re using, what notes you’re using or moving to, and (if you pay attention), you’ll begin to see the patterns emerge which will help out your own writing.
The included CDs cover all the musical parts of the books, giving you a better chance of nailing what the book was trying to teach you. For those that don’t read music and aren’t able to space out notes the way they’re written because TAB is all you know, this addition is wildly beneficial.
The series that these books belong to (the Goldmine Series) is something I consider essential to my bookshelf. To date there are five books (Blues, Jazz, Country, Rock, and Acoustic) and since they all have individual lessons broken down easily (though there are certainly challenging lessons), I can think of what I want, reference the book, probably find a quick lesson about it, and soon be incorporating it into my writing. The goal of the series is not to have you parrot off songs or even licks necessarily, but rather give you lessons to introduce and reinforce techniques to use on your own. They’re just teaching you how to walk – where you go is all up to you.
Seriously, these books are invaluable to me as a player and writer and I’ll be tracking down the remaining three books on my own because I think they’re just worth it.