What led me to write “The Guitarist’s Link to Sight Reading”

I just watched a video by Steve Vai, that took me on a trip down memory lane. Vai had gotten his first high profile gig with Zappa after he had successfully transcribed a bunch of Zappa’s twisted melody lines (or so goes the story I heard). In this video, you can see that Vai has a huge passion for the written note. I share that passion and that’s what led me to learn to read music. In the late 70s and early 80s, I would read Zappa’s column in guitar player, and marvel at his easy use of the pencil in laying down his ideas. I wondered, how can a self taught guitar player such as myself, learn this skill? I was heavily influence by Zappa’s composition style, as well as other artists in the fusion vein such as Weather Report, Jeff Beck, Sons of Champlin and Herbie Hancock. Each one of these artists had to possess that skill without a doubt. The music is too complex to just rely on showing the parts to the other players at rehearsal. You have to have a musical system to lay it all out. It wasn’t like knocking out a three chord Bachman Turner Overdrive song.

I had tried in vain with all the books I could find. But the only books that taught reading were either for child beginners, or were very dry and technical. After I had taken all my theory in college, and still didn’t feel like I could sit down and read a music chart. Circling chords in a four part choral helps you learn your way around, but that’s a different skill, even though it’s on the staff.

Eventually, as I was teaching guitar, I began to write out exercises for my students in the 5th position. I was about to explain a page to one student and he started playing what was in front of him, better than I could have. I started to see strengths in limiting yourself to one position to learn to read. Too many choices will slow you down. But if the position you choose is the open position (as with all beginner books), you are hampered by the limitations of that position. It’s not where the guitar is centered on the staff, AND it’s not a moveable position. The 5th position is centered on the staff perfectly, and anything you learn there can be transposed up or down simply by sliding up or down a fret. Those exercises eventually became the first edition of my book, The Guitarist’s Link to Sight Reading.

Another strength of The Guitarist’s Link to Sight Reading is, it’s laid out like a method book for beginners, but it’s not for the day one guitarist. It’s for somebody who at least has started being able to get around the neck and play some songs. It’s also not for a child mentality. It’s not a children’s book. It doesn’t assume that since you’re not a proficient reader that you must be a kid. It’s for guitarists who play– at SOME level– whether you’ve been in one band or playing for 30 years– and want to learn to read.

Additionally, the book contains 9 songs, which are recorded by a live band on the cd which comes with it. You play the melody part you rare reading, along with backing tracks of a live band. If you’re teaching, this can also be used for recitals, where you want the sound of a full band while the student plays the melody. The songs are blues, classic rock, country rock, jazz and latin. 

I almost forgot to mention… there are exercises in the book that put you on the writing end of the process also. If you’re a player that wants to read, or a guitar teacher looking for a way to teach your students to read, I really think you’ll have a good time with this book.

Thanks, J

Jennings Publishing
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